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A Great Legal Source: Law Libraries

A Great Legal Source: Law Libraries

Law libraries are the fundamental locations where legal research takes place.   Because the law is such a common practice throughout all of American society, law libraries are located all throughout the United States, but many have vary degrees of accessibility, depending upon where they exist in the private or public sectors.
 
As a rule, most law libraries serve the primary function of providing access to the law to anyone who needs it, but there are private law libraries just as there are private libraries.  However, large firms and legal organizations may have far more than simply a few shelves of books, and may be able to support full legal libraries with their own full or part time staff of legal librarians, to be kept at the private disposal of the firm’s own associates and their representatives.
 
Many more public law libraries will usually be associated with municipal court houses, and may vary in size based on the size and volume of legal actions that are undertaken within that courthouse.  Courthouse law libraries are entirely for the public use, however, and there are generally limited restrictions placed on their use for the public.  Most of the best courthouse libraries are found in county courthouses, which will be located in the country seat.   In very large cities, like New York City or Los Angeles, their main branch public libraries will sometimes feature a very significant legal libraries that would compare favorably to any at a local courthouse or law school.
 
Finally, there are law school law libraries, which will located on the campuses of most major law schools of any note or reputation.  Thought these libraries are typically for the use of the law school’s staff, teachers, and student populations, many offer some public services, and will provide what are commonly called “friendship” services, where a researcher pays an annual fee to use the library (kind of like an annual payment on a library card). 
 
Finding these programs can be as simple as knowing where to look, but there are many services online that will list local law libraries in the area (though not private ones since they are for organization use only), and most Internet search engines will provide location services.

Do You Know How to Find Local Laws?

Do You Know How to Find Local Laws?

Local laws are, in essence, laws that are made that effect a very limited area geographically. Local laws can vary in scope, varying with how one decides to quantifying   Most definitions of local law would almost be synonymous with municipal law, meaning related to a town or city. (judicial review), meaning it must adhere to overarching legal standards, up to an including the Constitution.  
Local law is the category of legal research that relies predominantly on primary source research comparative to all others, since the scope often precludes there being an abundance of secondary research from which to draw.  Naturally, because of their limited scope, many local laws are less likely to produce written material in reference to the law as a something like a Constitutional Amendment would.
 For example, if an attorney was making a case that a local town ordinance was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment (The right to keep and bear arms)
Therefore, cases and arguments that are based on local laws often have to base their arguments more so on practical argument of the written law, than other arguments or opinions pertaining to that law.
Based on the scope of the law, the means by which it can be made available for public perusal can vary.  In some cases, they will not be published at all, save for online, and online publication  This means that finding the law in question, despite its specific nature, many involve field work or outsourcing of paralegal work in order to obtain the letter of the law, which will always be available at the local city hall or municipal courthouse, if there is one.
Finding secondary sources, if there are any, can be more difficult as well, since there will likely be very little, if any.  Therefore, legal research will often have to be done in the interest of finding similar work, meaning that secondary work will almost always have to rely on digests, which primarily work on the basic of subject or key word.

The Secrets of the Rules of the Court

The Secrets of the Rules of the Court

Every court, at every level, from the smallest traffic court to the highest court in the land, has rules and regulations that determine everything from proper decorum (behavior)  Any legal action that is undertaken will have to appear in some form of judicial hearing or meeting at some point during their legal action, and thus it is important that an attorney engaged in the proceedings, and his or her staff, become intimately familiar with the process of the particular court. 
Court rules often carry with them a great deal of uniformity from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, even state to state, but there are also particulars that have to be recognized in each jurisdiction that will inevitably come into play during the proceedings. The rules also vary depending on the nature of the court.  In many cases, these rules are outlined to ensure ethical conduct, and can contain provisos that prevent lawyers from behaving in a matter that does not benefit their client.  Usually, the rules will outline notions of candor that the lawyer must display toward the court, which includes preventing a lawyer from making false claims to the court or withholding evidence that may pertain to the proceedings
It is the particularity of court rules that presents the predominant reason why lawyers have to bass a bar exam in a state within which they practice.  This prevents arguments of ignorance from having any validity in an attorney or client’s conduct.
The price of not being familiar with the laws of a courtroom can have very high costs, which can involve contempt of court, and the disavowal of material presented the court if it is not administered in the proper way.
The onus to know these rules remains on the attorney and his or her staff, which means that any paralegal charges with learning court rules would be wise to learn them implicitly; in many respects, they can be as important as knowing the particulars of the case itself.

Have the Right Authority in Research & Writing

Have the Right Authority in Research & Writing

Authority in legal research and writing is a description of the need for legal arguments to reference key sources that will support their writing. 
 
 
 
Authority is driven from two categories of resource, primary and secondary.  Usually called statutes in legal terminology, the laws referenced as primary research come from the text of the statute as approved by a legislature.  In essence, when the research references a particular law, rule, or code as written, then it is a primary source.
 
 
 
Secondary sources refer to any material that has been written in reference to the written word of law, as a means of interpretation.  Therefore, secondary sources can be fairly tricky when examining them for the purposes of authority, because some secondary sources hold greater legal merit that others.
 
 
 
As a general rule, secondary sources that hold the greatest authority in legal writing are those that represent official actions of the court, such as opinions and precedents. When opinions come from higher courts, where decisions are rendered by a panel of justices (judges), there is a high frequency for there to be dissenting, minority opinions, which are usually also written down in the form of a minority opinion.
 
 
 
Precedents are usually opinions where a decision rendered upon a law sets a standard interpretation of a statute that dictates how that law should be followed.  If a higher court examines a case that set the precedent an reinterprets the law or renders that law invalid (unconstitutional), then that precedent returns to being a majority opinion of a lower court.
 
 
 
Other elements of authority can be used in legal argument, such as treatises or articles by reputable scholars and authorities in the field of the law, but they will always hold a lower authority than written rule of the law or judicial opinion. 

Know the Categories of Legal Research

Know the Categories of Legal Research

Legal research categories can be determined on two different categories: the nature of the research, and the nature of the law. Nature of law specifically refers to the categories of law that one is trying to research, and are as varied as the categories of law itself.
 
The nature of research will generally pertain to the three categories of legal materials.  (save international, which can be a much wider gray area).  Evidence represents material or testimonial data that will be analyzed through legal interpretations (which are determined by primary and secondary resources).
 
Some particular areas of legal research can involve particular categories of material.  Since most opinions are rendered in cases that involve a decision rendered by a judicial vote from a judiciary, they can take the form of majority opinion and minority opinion).  Ordinances refer to laws that are mandated by an authoritative body, while executive orders are laws that are implemented by an executive branch of government.  Court rules refer to specific rules of decorum and procedure that are required by specific courts and committees. 
 
Otherwise, the other format of legal research categories are identical to the categories of law itself, but a general overview follows:
 
Criminal law refers to acts that violate the statutes by which social behavior is governed, where violations of these statutes (crimes) are considered actions against the state and will be pursued and punished by the government.   Tort law covers negligence where damage is accrued to an individual’s person or property, which can have numerous subcategories, including medical malpractice and personal injury.  
Administrative law refers to the administrative decision and regulations that are enacted as law on the behalf of government agencies, while Constitutional law involves constitutional amendments, which serve to instruct government and civil rights throughout various levels of society.  Most legal systems are divided between civil law, where laws are legislated, and common law, which is crafted through judicial decisions that establish unwritten precedents (the United States is a civil law system that incorporates common law oversight in the form of judicial review).
 
Often a researcher will be tasked, on the basis of the work of their firm, with research laws related to that category of law, but since many legal actions cross these legal categorical boundaries, it is not uncommon for a researcher to perform research outside of their realm of experience. 
 

Exploring Case Law

Exploring Case Law

Case law is predicated entirely on the laws that are interpreted through the process of stare decisis, or judicial review; its rule of law is thus based on judicial opinions and precedents that are derived from these cases that are contested before a higher court judiciary. 
 
Finding case laws, as a rule, is far easier than it used to be. 
 
While many databases are now computerized, the basic content and organizational systems upon which these databases are predicated are still based upon the rules established by their hard copy equivalents, and many legal libraries will still insist on owning hard copies of specific case records.
 
Case laws, when rendered, become part of the public record, but that public record still needs to be published.  These publications take up numerous volumes per year, as one would expect, and come in many different formats, specified for law school, lawyer’s offices, court libraries, and so forth.  Lawyer’s editions tend to be smaller editions than the ones given to legal libraries, with smaller typeface and lower page counts.
 
Even outside the realm of publishing, these cases are always on file at the court of record, so they can be acquired by going to the local courthouse and speaking to a clerk of the court. Usually the records will have to be examined under supervision and depending on the records office may not be photocopied.
 
 

Do You Know How to Find International Law?

Do You Know How to Find International Law?

International law can become a very complicated matter for any legal researcher, as the legal systems between governments can be fundamentally different, even if they share the same democratic principles.  while Canada relies predominantly on a Common Law system, which is predicated on judicial decisions.  Actual international laws, which exist primarily under the governance of the United Nations and the UN Charter, where they do exist, represent recognition of legal systems (nations) over private individuals, and refer to such elements and issues as jurisdiction and treaties between nations.
 
Generally, International Law takes three different forms: public international, private international, and supranational.  Private international laws cover conflicting laws between nations, that cover issues of jurisdiction; namely which court will overhear a proceeding or what nation’s laws govern a certain situation.  Supranational law is not overseen by the United Nations or other government treaties and is based heavily on theory, so it will not be covered in greater depth here because it does not pertain much to the concept of research.
 
Research in international law involves research on two basic fronts, examination of the sovereign rights of nations involved in the dispute, and of international laws mandated by the United Nations and other institutions, such as the International Criminal Court. 
 
Researching the laws of individual nations, especially in nations other than the United States, can be extremely varied and involve comprehensive study.  nations, like the United States, have systems built heavily on legal discourse and the maintenance of legal records and decisions, especially in Common law systems where precedents rule above all other laws.  Other nations, especially those that restrict personal freedoms and offer less government transparency, can be more difficult, but most civilized nations will have laws placed on the public record, and will usually have a functional legal profession who will generate literature about itself.
 
Researching public or private international laws will mainly involve working with facilities that oversee those particular laws, just as a paralegal would go to a local courthouse to examine material on local laws. 
 
There are also many web portals and research tools that deal specifically with International Law.  The Electronic Information System for International Law (EISEL, or eisel.org) is one of the more popular web based systems for researching international law, and many of the major law schools, such as Harvard, have their own journals for the study of international law. 
 

9 Major Search Resources You Must Know

9 Major Search Resources You Must Know

There are many resources available to paralegals, attorneys, or law students who are looking to perform comprehensive legal research for the preparation of a case, motion or article.  Listed below are the nine most important forms of research resources:
 
1. Catalogs – Legal catalogs are online databases that provide access to a many different sources of research information, including newsletters, journals, books, magazines, and professional directories.  Other catalogs generally offer their information on pay per view or delivery by mail basis, which includes sites such as https://www.LawCatalog.com.
 
2. Digests – Are organizational systems of case materials or legal articles, that are organized with either electronically or in hard copy, where the materials are organized by subject, and not by chronological order (such as court reporter or chronicle, which catalogs the decisions made by a court in order of their publication).  Digests are ideal for paralegal researchers who are not looking for a particular case, but a particular subject matter.
 
3. Annotations – These are comments that summarize, analyze, or criticize a particular case, law, statute, regulations, or group of any of the above in the interest of categorization and simplification.  Sometimes, annotations can be published in a standing publications, and will contain information to how to reference the text of the actual laws, cases, and so on that it is reference to.
 
4. Shepard’s Citations – Shepherd’s Citations are listings of citations that are accredited to a particular case or statute, that help provide sources of authority to anyone researching a particular law or case.  While these bound editions are still published, they are becoming rarer and rarer.  While there are many publications that provide services similar to Shepherd’s, the method of cataloguing is so synonymous with the publisher that “shepherding” has become a verb in legal circles describing the process of checking legal citations.
 
5. Loose Leaf Services – Also known as subject matter services, are publications that are devoted to providing consistent, updated information on a particular case or statute, especially on ones that are subject to ongoing interpretation throughout the legal system or discussion in legal media. 
6. Legal Periodical Literature – Legal periodical literature as a general term refers to material published as a manner of legal discourse, usually in the form or legal article, essay, treatise, court cases, decisions, and so forth.  Hard copies of this index are published every three years, though for the most part, like many other indexes and catalogs, there most up-to-date presence can be found online.
 
7. Legal Encyclopedia – Legal encyclopedia’s contain comprehensive, objective articles, often listed alphabetically, that describe particular legal terms, concepts, subjects, figures, and cases in comprehensive detail.  Usually, legal encyclopedias, even electronic ones, will be update annually; many published in hard copy often tend to be devoted to particular elements of the law, like medical law, environmental law, etc.
 
8. Legal Treatises – Legal treatises are publications, that can be one volume or several, that are works that are generally centered around a central point or argument and incorporating research and smaller arguments and studies as part of the larger work.  In general, they should be seen, in essence, as books on the law written to a central purpose.
 
9. Phone and mail – Most states and many non profit legal groups offer free hotlines or free email services designed to provide legal information as a courtesy to the public. Typically, these services are offered to lay people who are trying to figure out their rights or courses to legal action available to them, and not necessarily for comprehensive legal researchers, but paralegals can find them to be very useful means for finding information or having particular legal questions answered quickly.

Understand the Terminology of Legal Research

Understand the Terminology of Legal Research

 
The assorted terminology of legal research consists of an extended glossary of legal terms, the entirety of which is too great to be categorized here.  should absolutely know and understand if one is to become in anyway engaged with the legal process and specifically with legal research.
 
Primary to these legal terms is the understanding of the various forms of law that exist in society.  In most legal research, the common phrase used to describe an individual law is “statute.”  The term “statutes” also infers that a law has a set starting point, which is why it is often used more often in legal discourse rather than the vernacular term “law.”
 
Terms like “act” and “code” can be synonyms for “law” or “statutes,” but they can also have slightly different meanings.  A code is a term generally applied to a list of statutes or laws that serve a larger, unified purpose.  However, the laws that are part of these lists can than sometimes be referred to as “codes.”  legal terms in most legal literature will be statute or law.
 
Differing from statutes are “regulations,” which can also sometimes be referred to as administrative laws or authorizing statutes.  Regulations have no less power than legislated statutes, but they are still answerable to the laws of judicial review.
 
Common legal terms that will be seen often in legal research are the terms precedent, opinion, and the Latin term stare decisis. It is significant part of the system of checks and balances, as once a law has been determined to be rejected by judicial review it becomes inactive.  The case’s admission or rejection for review has no bearing on the statute that has been contested by the case at hand.
 
When a court enacts judicial review on a law, determining whether it should be rejected or enforced, it will tender an opinion, which will explain the legal findings of the court.  Once a court has rendered a judgement on a case, it becomes what is called a precedent, or binding precedent, which is to be used as benchmark by which the law questioned is to be determined from then on.  Precedents can be contested, provided that the court who renders the precedent agrees to hear a case that argues against the precedent at a later date.
 
 

Reading & Finding Statutes

Reading & Finding Statutes

“Statute” is the term most used in the legal profession to refer to a law that was created through legislation.   Statutory law is thus law that specifically examines statutes as they are written and legislated into being, unencumbered by secondary legal analysis and even of the opinions and precedents associated with judicial review.
 
Reading and finding statues are a key part of any legal action, as nearly every legal suit or motion requires the authority associated with referencing the primary source upon which it is based, which are often statues (though they could be administrative laws, which are laws enacted by empowered government agencies).  where to look.
 
Statutes, when they are added to the laws of a particular jurisdiction, whether that level of government is municipal, state, or federal, are said to be codified, meaning they have been added to the state’s overriding “code,” or listing of laws.  Municipal laws would be on file with the local city hall, state laws with the state courthouse, and so on. 
 
Fortunately, nearly all state statutes can be found online at the state’s individual, and official government site (“.gov”), making access to these codes and statutes far easier than it used to be.  Most legal databases and legal Internet portals also keep up to date listings of legal codes, therefore having access to those databases make finding them fairly easy.
 
The ability of certain statutes to read easily can vary.   Reading statutes usually should entail a basic ability to read legal writing, and to do so analytically.