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Introduction to Legal Research & FSU Law Library Services. Presented by Robin R. Gault, Associate Director of the Law Library Presentation Originally Created by Faye Jones, Professor & Director of the Law Library Reference Desk: 850-644-4095

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Introduction to legal research fsu law library services l.jpg

Introduction to Legal Research & FSU Law Library Services

Presented by Robin R. Gault,

Associate Director of the Law Library

Presentation Originally Created by Faye Jones,

Professor & Director of the Law Library

Reference Desk: 850-644-4095

Evening Service: The Hotline (Red Phone) at Reference


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Legal Research: A Fundamental Skill

  • The MacCrate Report, ABA Section of Legal Education & Admissions to the Bar, Report of the Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap v, 145 (Robert MacCrate ed. (1992).

    • Fundamental Skill # 3: “In order to conduct legal research effectively, a lawyer should have a working knowledge of the nature of legal rules and legal institutions, the fundamental tools of legal research, and the process of devising and implementing a coherent and effective research design . . . .”


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Legal Research: A Fundamental Skill

  • An attorney’s failure to research a client’s case properly can result in a malpractice award against the attorney (Hickox v. Holleman, 502 So. 2d 626(Miss. 1987)), a public rebuke by the court (Massey v. Prince George’s County, 918 F. Supp. 905 (D. Md., 1996)), or even suspension (Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. Zdravkovich, 762 A.2d 950 (Md. Ct. App., 2000)).


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Legal Research: A Fundamental Skill

  • Legal research must be

    • Correct

    • Comprehensive

    • Credible

    • Cost-effective


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A Legal Researcher’s Goals

  • Find correct resources to rely upon

    • The law that governs the facts in your case and which was in effect at the time the facts occurred

  • Be comprehensive

    • Mandatory primary authority, persuasive primary authority, useful secondary authority

  • Be credible

    • Find the strongest authority to rely upon

  • Be cost-effective

    • Practice, practice, practice

    • Caveat: Ask for help before frustration sets in…


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Legal Research: The Basics

  • Primary Authority

    • IS the law

    • Cases, Statutes, Constitutions, Regulations, Rules

  • Secondary Authority

    • Analysis and commentary

    • Usually the best place to begin research

    • Treatises, Practice materials, Periodicals, American Law Reports & much more

  • Finding Tools

    • Digests, Citators, and other techniques

  • Updating Tools

    • Lexis/Nexis Shepard’s Citators and Westlaw Keycite


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Work From A Research Plan

  • Identify research terms

    • Study the facts, read all available documents, and develop vocabulary before beginning to research

  • Assess the formats available: print or online?

  • Keep a journal as you work

  • Find, read, and update secondary sources

  • Develop issues for primary research

    • Hint: It helps to write out the issues

  • Find, read, and update primary authority

  • Include nonlegal materials as appropriate


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Primary Sources: Cases

  • Courts: explain the dispute, the outcome, and their reasoning

  • Resolve only this dispute, but

  • Set precedent for the future

  • Courts are reactive, not proactive.

  • Typical court structure:

    • Trial

    • Appellate (Intermediate)

    • Highest


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Parts of a Case

  • Caption: names of parties in the case

  • Docket Number: court-assigned tracking number

  • Citation: publication location

    • Subsequent publications

      • 34 F. 211; 34 F.2d 211; 34 F.3d 211

    • Parallel Citations

      • 55 U.S. 193, 14 How. 193, 14 L. Ed. 383, 1852 U.S. LEXIS 435 (1853)

  • Attorneys: names of counsel appearing for each of the parties in the case    

  • Judges: which judges wrote the majority opinion and any dissenting or concurring opinions    

  • Opinion: the actual decision of the judge



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U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Reports

Supreme Court Reporter

Lawyer’s Edition

U.S. Courts of Appeals

Federal Reporter

U.S. District Courts

Federal Supplement

Federal Case Reporters




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Florida Courts

  • Florida Supreme Court

    • http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/

  • 5 District Courts of Appeal

    • http://www.flcourts.org/courts/dca/dca.shtml

  • 20 Circuit Courts

    • Both trial and appellate courts

    • http://www.flcourts.org/courts/circuit/circuit.shtml

  • 67 County Courts

    • http://www.flcourts.org/courts/county/county.shtml


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Florida Case Reporters

  • Southern Reporter

    • Regional reporter that includes Florida

  • Florida Cases

    • A subset of Southern Reporter that contains only Florida cases

  • Florida Law Weekly

    • New Florida appellate court decisions

  • Florida Law Weekly Federal

    • New decisions of federal courts sitting in Florida, 11th Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court

  • Florida Law Weekly Supplement

    • New selected county and circuit court decisions

  • http://www.floridalawweekly.com


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Finding Tools

  • Digests

    • Comprehensive topical indexes

    • Decennial Digest

    • General Digest

    • West’s Florida Digest & Florida Digest 2d

  • Citators

  • Using primary or secondary sources

    • “One good case”

    • “Mining the footnotes”


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Is there a typical path for doing case research?

  • Three questions:

    • Where to begin?

    • How to proceed?

    • When to stop?

  • What is accessible/most useful?

    • Online resources vs. print resources


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Primary Sources: Federal Statutes & Constitution

  • Government Printing Office (Official)

    • Public Laws (slip laws)

    • Statutes at Large (session laws)

    • United States Code (Reorganized into 50 topics)

  • Commercial Publishers (Unofficial)

    • United States Code Annotated (West)

    • United States Code Service (Lexis)


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Primary Sources: Florida Statutes & Constitution

  • Official

    • Laws of Florida (session laws)

    • Florida Statutes

  • Unofficial

    • Florida Statutes Annotated (West)

    • Florida Annotated Statutes (Lexis)


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Primary Sources: Regulations “Delegated Legislation”

  • Federal

    • Code of Federal Regulation

    • Federal Register

    • Administrative agency publications

  • Florida

    • Florida Administrative Code Annotated

    • Florida Administrative Weekly

    • Florida Administrative Law Reports


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Rules of Procedure and Ethics

  • Rules of courts

    • Federal, state, and local

  • Rules of Professional Conduct

    • Rules Regulating the Florida Bar

    • American Bar Association Model Rules

  • Codes of Judicial Conduct

  • Ethics opinions

    • The Florida Bar


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Updating Tools

  • Currency is the lifeblood of the law!

  • Shepard’s

    • Print

    • Lexis

  • Keycite (Westlaw)

  • Hint: Learn both systems!


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Secondary Sources

  • Treatises

  • Practice materials

  • Periodicals & Indexes

    • Index to Legal Periodicals & Books

    • LegalTrac

  • American Law Reports

  • Encyclopedias


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Research Instruction by Law Librarians

  • Librarians teaching legal research

    • In classes: Advanced Legal Research, International Legal Research, Environmental Law Research.

    • In research workshops & Jump Starts.

  • In the Library

    • Ask for help from the reference librarians

    • Margaret Clark is the librarian liaison for 1Ls


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FSU Law Library

  • Guides to resources

    • Online catalog (print and electronic resources)

    • Law Library databases

    • FSU Databases

    • E-journals

    • Other online sources

    • Research guides

    • Research Workshop schedule

  • Services

  • Staff

  • Hours

  • Policies


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Law Library Services for Law Students

  • Individual research assistance

  • Research instruction

  • CALI

  • Past exams

  • Course reserve materials

  • Interlibrary loan

  • Wireless access

  • Printing/photocopying

  • Creation of unique research databases


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Other Libraries

  • Main Library (Strozier)

  • Information Studies

  • Medical

  • Music

  • Science (Dirac)

  • Regional/National Library Catalogs


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Research & The End Game

  • American Bar Association Career Guides

    • http://www.abanet.org/publiced/legalcareers.html

  • FindLaw, http://careers.findlaw.com/

  • The Florida Bar http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/PI/CertSect.nsf/Sections?OpenForm

    http://www.flabuslaw.org/

  • Professional Organizations

    • AIPLA, http://www.aipla.org/

  • Armed Forces

    • http://www.navy.com/officer/legal; http://www.goarmy.com/JobDetail.do?id=318; http://www.marines.com/officer_programs/chooseyourplace.asp?format=flash; http://www.airforce.com/careers/job.php?catg_id=1&sub_catg_id=3&af_job_id=179; http://www.gocoastguard.com/dc/dcprograms/dcl.htm

  • FSU J.D./M.S. joint degree in law librarianship http://www.ci.fsu.edu/Prospects/Grads/ssd98_JurisDrMS_degree_desc.cfm



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