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Introduction

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Welcome to Newton Gresham Library's Legal Research Guide!  This guide is intended to help you determine the type of law you are looking for and assist you in navigating legal resources.

TYPES OF AUTHORITY:

Mandatory Authority: Mandatory authority is binding. These are the cases, statutes, or regulations that a court must follow.  For example, lower courts must follow decisions from higher courts within the same jurisdiction.

Persuasive Authority: Persuasive authority includes the cases, statutes, regulations, or secondary sources that a court may choose to follow but is not required to adhere to. Examples of persuasive authority include decisions from courts in another jurisdiction or holdings from lower courts within the same jurisdiction.

SOURCES OF LAW: 

Law is comprised of recorded rules and the processes by which those rules are implemented.  Laws are created either by legislatures or through judicial decisions.  The United States is a federal system.  This means that each state has its own state constitution and is empowered to create its own body of laws which consist of statues, case law, and administrative rules.  These state bodies of law coexist with the United States Constitution, federal statutes, federal cases, and administrative rules.

Primary Sources: A primary source is the law itself.  There are four sources of law: constitutions, cases, statutes, and administrative laws.  Case law is created by courts (judicial), statues are created by the legislatures (legislative), and administrative laws (regulations) are created by executive agencies (executive). 

  • Legislative Branch: This branch writes statutes.
  • Executive Branch (Administrative Agencies): Administrative agencies write regulations which enforce the laws created by the legislative branch.
  • Judicial Branch: This branch interprets statues and constitutions in the form of written opinions.  They also utilize opinions made by prior courts when analyzing facts (common law).

Secondary Sources: Secondary sources consist of commentaries, descriptions, summaries, or analytical statements about the law.  Examples of secondary sources are: legal encyclopedias such as Corpus Juris Secundum, American Law Reports, and Texas Jurisprudence, law reviews, treatises (books written by legal scholars), and law dictionaries such as Words and Phrases and Black's Law Dictionary.  NOTE: While secondary sources provide an overview, assist in the understanding of legal concepts, and can serve as a pathway to primary authority, they are not law. 

The Legal Research Process

Five steps in conducting legal research

Feet pictured walking up stairs

Image dedicated pursuant to CC0 1.0

  1. Identify jurisdiction:  Will you be researching federal or state issues? Within which geographic region will you be focusing?
  2. Choose secondary sources: Use sources such as a digest or encyclopedia to help identify relevant constitutional and/or statutory provisions that govern your particular jurisdiction. 
  3. Consult an annotated version of statutory codes:  If you are researching statutes, it is always a good idea to use the annotated versions which will provide not only the relevant sections but related case citations.
  4. Expand case law research: This can be done on the Westlaw database.
  5. Determine if cases remain good law: This can also be done online through Westlaw by utilizing Keycite status flags.

Legal Databases

Legal Research Print Resources


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