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Finding and Understanding the Rules Through Legal Research


“Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law” by Attorney Stephen Elias and the Editors of Nolo is another book in the vast legal library released by Nolo. This publisher prides itself on making the law available to everyone. Even though I’m a litigator, I enjoy reading Nolo books—especially those that cover topics I need to brush up on. As usual, Nolo comes through.

The two most popular subscription-based online legal tools, Lexis and Westlaw, are out of reach for some people. We had access to both during our time at law school because competing firms competed for our allegiance once we entered the legal profession. Many businesses belong to either, and larger ones might have both. I’ve found that even when I can access one of these, I can often find what I’m looking for much more quickly and easily using free tools. The laws of many jurisdictions are now available online. The availability of more and more is constantly increasing.

Here, “Legal Studies” by John M. West is functional. It lays out simple research strategies to find the answers to your legal concerns. The book is divided into sections for online study and law library research for those with access to such facilities.

The book’s 386 pages are organized into ten parts packed with information. Among the segments are:

The first is a foundational knowledge of legal concepts. Definitions, references, state vs. federal, and the judicial system. This book is not for attorneys because it is too basic, but an excellent introduction for the layperson.

Two, locating appropriate legal aid. In this section, you will learn how to conduct legal research, including where to find primary and secondary sources, what websites to use, and what the internet offers in law. Lexis and Westlaw are there, as are some other free services. I also appreciate the cautionary tales and advice sprinkled throughout. Remember that not all opinions you read will amount to valid legislation. Evident to a lawyer, but presumably not many laypeople who didn’t attend law school.

Step three is to zero in on the specific nature of your legal problem. Things to consider before beginning your search include the heart of the case at hand (civil or criminal), the specific area of law you wish to investigate, the particular resources you seek, and your research query. This is crucial, as you need a clear idea of your search parameters before you begin.

Method Four: Exploring Supplementary Literature. This chapter investigates various tools, including the Internet (discussing whether it is trustworthy), books written specifically for laypeople, encyclopedias, form books, practice manuals, CPE publications, law reviews, etc. You can locate many of these materials at a law library and many more at a law firm. This chapter provides a high-level explanation of where these come from.

The fifth strategy involves locating and utilizing constitutional, statutory, regulatory, and municipal documents. These are the main types of laws made by legislatures and governments. How to identify and make use of such materials is covered in this section. It includes information on where to look for and how to use the Constitution, federal and state legislation, the laws of individual states, and related regulations and ordinances. Each of these may be crucial depending on the nature of your problem. This chapter is a solid primer if you are venturing into uncharted terrain.

Sixth, Identifying Situations. Some of the law in this country is not codified in laws but rather in past judicial rulings. These precedents interpret statutes and constitute the law until changed by the legislature or overturned by another precedent. A well-known case often cited in discussions of the abortion legislation is Roe v. Wade. This section guides the viewer through using citations to locate points, whether online or in a physical law library.

Seven: Relying on precedent. In this section, you will learn what a case is, how it is released, and how it can impact future legal disputes. This volume is for you if your situation calls for the application of precedent.

Validating Your Findings is Step Eight. In addition to the hint I gave, this chapter will show you how to Shepardize a Case, a method that lawyers use to ensure the cases they rely on are still suitable. The things that attorneys know that many laypeople don’t if you’re trying to make your case: making sure you depend on “good law.”

Num. 9. Putting Your Law Investigations to Use. Research is a significant responsibility for clerks, interns, and associates in the law field. When you’ve tracked the relevant details, you must commit them to paper for the people who initially requested your investigation. The foundations of a law memorandum are laid out in this chapter. Suitable for a layperson, though not as comprehensive as the semester-long course that most first-year law students take. There’s a short breakdown of the judicial system and a couple of pages on locating and hiring an attorney.

Research Hypothesis and Note, Number 10. Perhaps this chapter offers a research problem, how to discover the facts, and how to approach the question to research because lawyers learn by case studies and examples. It’s brief but will show the layperson how to examine the law and discover the solution.

On page 255, the book’s parts end. If you already have a legal lexicon, you can skip the following hundred pages that contain a glossary. In fact, Nolo publishes a concise law dictionary that isn’t as comprehensive as “Black’s” but is still valid. Finally, an index and a brief appendix on subjects are provided.

This book may be an excellent resource if you need to conduct a legal study but don’t know where to start. If you’re in a bind and need to figure things out independently, this book can help. Those without a legal education will benefit significantly from this detailed explanation of the legal study process.

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