Legal research can be a very complicated undertaking, due in no small part to the complexity of the law itself. Here are a few tips for getting started:
- Begin with secondary sources. In legal research, primary sources are the sources of the law (e.g. statutes, regulations, court decisions), whereas secondary sources are publications that discuss the law (e.g. law review articles, treatises, encyclopedias).
- Don't try to launch into a search in the law itself. You will quickly get lost and lose lots of precious time! Rather, let secondary sources give you references to specific laws that pertain to the situation you are interested in.
- If you are not familiar with an area of law, take a look at a legal encyclopedia like American Jurisprudence, Corpus Juris Secundum or West's Encyclopedia of American Law. You would also do well to read through relevant chapters of a law treatise (Nimmer on Copyright, for example). A treatise is a scholarly work written by a recognized expert that provides in-depth discussion of the law in a particular field. Most of our treatises are located at the Pritzker Legal Research Center.
- Nutshells are another good way to familiarize yourself with an area of law. Although these are not scholarly works, per se, they do provide very digestable treatments of the law with references to pertinent statutes and court cases. For the most part you can find nutshells at Pritzker.
- Your legal research project won't be complete without reading some solid law review articles. Law reviews are published much more frequently than books and delve into specific areas of law that are on the minds of legal scholars today.
- When you find references to primary sources in the secondary literature, you can use a database like Nexis UNI (formerly LexisNexis Academic) to find the specific statute, regulation or court opinion. Be sure to record any citations to the primary source you find. This will make your search a great deal easier!