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Introduction to Legal Research Handout

Introduction to Legal Research Handout

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Published by Yale Law Library
Outline of the basics of the legal system and legal research.
Outline of the basics of the legal system and legal research.

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Published by: Yale Law Library on Aug 29, 2013
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09/24/2013

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 Yale Law SchoolLillian Goldman Law Library Fifth Hour Legal Research / Fall 2013 JGK rev. 8.23.13
1
Introduction to Legal Research
I.
 
Basic Function of legal research = find the law:
 A.
 
Sources of US Law = Primary Authority 1.
 
US Constitution, Supremacy Clause(1)
 
Interpreting the Constitution is often an issue; locating it is not.2.
 
Executive Branch (state and federal): executive orders.3.
 
Legislative Branch (state and federal): enacts statutes and codes.(1)
 
United States Code: subjects organized into Titles.4.
 
 Judicial Branch (state and federal): makes case law/court decisions5.
 
Executive Agencies (state and federal): promulgate regulationsB.
 
Levels of Authority: must understand authority to determine which types of authority (cases, statutes, regulations) are necessary.1.
 
Mandatory Authority: authority that must be followed (facts, rule, holding applicable in your jurisdiction).(1)
 
 Always primary authority (2)
 
Case law from a higher court in your jurisdiction or a statute.2.
 
Persuasive: authority that
may 
be followed.(1)
 
Can be primary or secondary authority.C.
 
Court Structure1.
 
Courts of Last Resort / High Court / Supreme Court:(1)
 
Decisions are mandatory authority in given jurisdiction.(2)
 
Usually determine matters of law 2.
 
Intermediate Appellate Courts(1)
 
Determine matters of law and/or fact.(2)
 
Decisions may be mandatory.3.
 
 Trial Courts(1)
 
Decision are never mandatory.(2)
 
 Typically have original jurisdiction/general jurisdiction. Court where oneparty files a case against another party or where criminal charges are filedagainst an individual.(3)
 
Determine facts(4)
 
Can be referred to as Superior Court (Connecticut), Supreme Court (New  York), or a specialty court such as Probate Court.4.
 
Federal Court Structure(1)
 
US Supreme Court: highest court(2)
 
US Courts of Appeals: appellate court(a)
 
13 Circuit Courts of Appeal: 11 numbered circuits (geographic) plus theFederal Circuit and DC Circuit
 
 Yale Law SchoolLillian Goldman Law Library Fifth Hour Legal Research / Fall 2013 JGK rev. 8.23.13
2
(1)
 
US District Courts: trials court2.
 
State Court Structure:(1)
 
Resembles federal court structure but courts may have different names andthere will also be specialized lower courts (e.g. probate court; family court).(2)
 
Larger more populous states typically have more lower courts.
 
 Yale Law SchoolLillian Goldman Law Library Fifth Hour Legal Research / Fall 2013 JGK rev. 8.23.13
3
Legal Authority
 Type of Primary Authority When and Where Mandatory When and Where Persuasive
US Constitution Always mandatory on federal andstate courtsNAUS Supreme Court Decisioninterpreting and applying federallaw  Always mandatory on federal andstate courtsNAFederal statute * Always mandatory on federal andstate courtsNAFederal administrativeregulations** Always mandatory on federal andstate courtsNAUS Court of Appeals decisioninterpreting and applying federallaw  Always mandatory on federalcourts within the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals issuing thedecisionRegarded as persuasive by thefederal courts that do not need totreat the decision as mandatory State Constitution*** Always mandatory on all statecourts within the stateNA
Decision of a state’s highest court
interpreting and applying that
state’s law***
  Always mandatory on all lowerstate courts within a given state.Regarded as persuasive by federaland state courts that do not needto treat the decision as mandatory.
Decision of a state’s intermediate
appellate court interpreting and
applying that state’s law***
  Always mandatory on all lowerstate courts within the jurisdictionof the intermediate appellate courtissuing the decision; in some state,may also be mandatory on lowerstate courts outside of thosejurisdictional boundaries.Regarded as persuasive by federaland state courts that do not needto treat the decision as mandatory.State Statute+ Always mandatory on all statecourts within the given state.NAState AdministrativeRegulations++ Always mandatory on all statecourts within the given state.NA* Assuming there is no conflict with the US Constitution.** Assuming there is no conflict with the US Constitution or a federal statute.*** Assuming there is no conflict with the US Constitution, federal statute, or administrative regulation.+ Assuming there is no conflict with the US Constitution, federal statute, or administrative regulations,
or the state’s constitution.
++ Assuming there is no conflict with the US Constitution, a federal statue, federal administrativeregulations, or the stat
e’s constitution or statutes.
II.
 
Starting Legal Research
 A.
 
 Typical Legal Research Process1.
 
Formulate plan(1)
 
Generate search terms:(a)
 
things, actions, people, places (TAPP)(b)
 
 who, what, when, where why (5Ws)(2)
 
Determine: what do I already know about this issue?(a)
 
Case? Statute? Source?(b)
 
 This can serve as a good starting point2.
 
Consult Secondary Sources:(1)
 
 Types:

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