Research Strategies

  • Use secondary sources to learn about the law and get references to primary law.
  • Use a known case to find citations to other cases and statutes.
  • Use a known statute to find citations to cases.

Key Questions

  • Be sure you have the basic facts. Ask the "who, what, when, where, why and how" questions.  You have to be sure you understand the facts surrounding your legal issue before you start.
  • Articulate the legal issue. What jurisdiction is involved? Federal or state? Is this a civil or criminal matter? Who are the parties and what relief is sought?
  • Consider which of three groups may have established the law on this issue: the legislature, the courts, or the executive branch. It is quite possible that two and possibly all three groups have touched on the topic. Then look for to the statute, case, or regulation that applies.

Search Terms

To begin to research, you need a list of search terms. Here are three ways to come up with search terms:

  • Brainstorm by jotting down as many synonyms and related words as you can because different resources use different terminology to refer to the same topic. For example, "children" could be listed under "infants," "minors," or "parent and child."
  • Use a dictionary, especially a legal dictionary (see Secondary Sources).
  • Ask a librarian or other person familiar with the topic for suggestions.