Legal Research 101: Primary Authorities
What you'll learn
- Students will gain confidence starting a legal research project
- Students will learn how to find state and federal primary authority using print resources
- Students will learn what makes law "primary" and the importance of using primary authority in legal documents
- Students will learn basic legal terminology relevant to this course.
- You should be able to use a computer at a beginner level
- You'll need speakers attached to your computer to listen to the audio associated with each module
Have you ever taken a tour of a cave and had the park ranger turn off the lights? I have and I can tell you that I could actually feel the darkness all around me. I could not even see my hand right in front of my face. Left to myself, I would have fallen down some dark chasm had I tried to find my own way in that dark, dank cave.
I suspect it is that way when people start something new - everything around them is pitch black and terrifying. You don't know what to do first or you are afraid of doing anything for fear of looking foolish. The thought of moving forward can, actually, fill you with dread. What you need is a guiding hand to sustain you for the first little while until you either see the light or have a firm(er) foundation under your feet.
Law and legal research is kind-of like that. Few things terrify people more than having to walk into a law library and start their own legal research project. I know because as a Law Librarian I have worked with countless numbers of people (lawyers and non-lawyer people who are involved in their own lawsuits). Most do not know where to go or how to start a legal research project. One of the reasons they don't know how to start is that they don't have someone they know who can offer a guiding hand to help you know what to look for. Do you want the law (primary authority) or do you want to know about the law (secondary authority)? Do you start with a book or just hop on a computer and start plunking away hoping you'll find something helpful?
The purpose of this class is to offer that proverbial guiding hand and help students become familiar with what primary authorities are and how to find them using print resources.
Wait, what?!? Why start learn how to use "print" resources?! Well, it's important to start with print materials simply because print resources are the basis for online resources (i.e. computerized research). When you understand how print resources are organized in print (and how to find/use them), you are better able to understand how computers are using them online and you'll know what to look for because you know how the computer is thinking.
Concepts covered in this first class include:
How to find state and federal statutes,
How to read a case citation,
How to find case law using headnote topics and key numbers under the American Digest System, and
How to find state and federal regulations
Finally, you will learn (and this one is particularly important) the steps to Shepardize any state or federal statute, case law, or regulation.
Confused? Well, that's how a lot of people feel about the nature of law and legal things when they first start. As you go through this program (and those that follow), you will gain greater understanding of how law and legal things work and are inter-related...and the more you practice, the better you will get.
Who this course is for:
- Lawyers with 1-5 years of experience who forgot what they learned in law school about the "how" of legal research
- Lawyers with 5+ years of experience who are looking for a refresher course on the basics of legal research
- Paralegal students who need to supplement what they are learning in school about legal research
- Pro se litigants who are suing someone (or are being sued) and need an easy (and cheap) way to learn how to find legal resources
- Business owners who need to understand and find laws that affect their business.
- Anyone who is interested expanding their knowledge by learning the basics of legal research
Bret Christensen is a 17-year veteran of assisting the public as a Law Librarian. Bret earned his law degree (J.D). at Western State University College of Law, Fullerton (California) and a Master of Library and Information Science (M.L.I.S.) degree from San Jose State University (San Jose, California).
Bret speaks, writes articles, teaches, and creates media of all kinds on the topic of how to conduct research for attorneys, paralegals, pro se litigants and the general public. His blog at legalresearchiseasy is but one example of his dedication to spreading the religion that legal research really is easy and that with a little practice anyone can learn the finer techniques of the trade.