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“You Want Me To Research WHAT?!?” (Getting Background & Keeping Current) Jennifer L. Behrens Research Madness 2010 PowerPoint Presentation
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“You Want Me To Research WHAT?!?” (Getting Background & Keeping Current) Jennifer L. Behrens Research Madness 2010. Today’s Agenda. Getting Background Basic Strategies Legal Encyclopedia Journals and News Sources Other Background Sources Keeping Current Alert Services in Lexis/Westlaw

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“You Want Me To Research WHAT?!?” (Getting Background & Keeping Current) Jennifer L. Behrens Research Madness 2010

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“You Want Me To Research WHAT?!?”(Getting Background & Keeping Current)Jennifer L. BehrensResearch Madness 2010

today s agenda
Today’s Agenda
  • Getting Background
    • Basic Strategies
    • Legal Encyclopedia
    • Journals and News Sources
    • Other Background Sources
  • Keeping Current
    • Alert Services in Lexis/Westlaw
    • Looseleaf/Electronic Services
    • Legal Blogs (“Blawgs”)
    • RSS feeds
our example
Our Example
  • A neighborhood homeowners’ association (HOA) policy prohibits children under 16 from accessing the common pool and clubhouse.
  • Our client feels that this is unfair discrimination based on family status.
  • Does the Fair Housing Act cover suits related to discrimination claims by existing homeowners or renters?
getting background the basics
Getting Background: The Basics
  • Ask a Librarian!
  • Make the web work for you
  • Online research guides
    • Zimmerman’s on Lexis
    • Library Research Guides
  • Research guidebooks
    • By jurisdiction
    • By subject
beyond google
Beyond Google
  • Overlap between search engines is not as high as you’d think.
  • Try a variety of search engines to discover unique content.
    • Google: Do you use expert commands?
    • Bing: Good “related search” filter option.
    • Dogpile: Searches across the “Big 4”
    • Kosmix: results page presents snapshots of information from a multitude of sources.
online research guides
Online Research Guides

Zimmerman’s (LexisNexis)

  • “Online encyclopedia for legal researchers.”
  • Free; no Lexis login required.
  • Provides tips and tricks for researching a wide variety of topics, with links to many free resources.

Topics include legal as well as non-legal (e.g., researching specific industries).

Can browse the alphabet or search by keywords.


Includes a bit of contextual background, links to free (and paid) resources, & suggested search terms.

custom search
Custom Search
  • Cornell’s engine uses a Google Custom Search ( to look across selected law libraries.
  • Not all law school’s research guides are included.
  • If you do a lot of research for a particular state’s laws, create your own custom search for the research guides of all of the law school libraries in that state.
research guidebooks
Research Guidebooks
  • Research guidebooks are published for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • There are also many guides to research on specific topics (e.g., tax, intellectual property, factual research, etc.).
  • Search WorldCat ( for titles, or ask your firm librarian.
legal encyclopedia
Legal Encyclopedia

Legal encyclopedias are a great way to quickly find background information on a topic, with references for further reading.

  • Wex (Cornell LII)
  • American Jurisprudence / CJS
  • State-specific encyclopedias
  • The Wikipedia of legal research (for better or for worse)
    • Free
    • Collaboratively edited (with more control than Wikipedia)
    • Some entries are brief definitions; some are more encyclopedic.
    • Links for further research
general legal encyclopedia
General Legal Encyclopedia
  • American Jurisprudence 2d (AmJur) Published in print by West, and available online in both Lexis and Westlaw.
  • Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS) Published in print by West, and available online only on Westlaw.
  • Practice with the print-- it’s cheaper than accessing online!
  • Organized by alphabetical legal topics and divided into outline sections.
state specific encyclopedia
State-Specific Encyclopedia
  • Many states have their own jurisdiction-specific encyclopedia.
  • Some are available on Lexis/Westlaw.
  • A good list is available at the Harvard Law Library:
legal journals and news
Legal Journals and News
  • Legal journals and newspapers can be a great source for information on a topic.
  • Law review articles can also provide good background (e.g., legislative history), but may not be as helpful for newer, cutting-edge legal topics.

There is a difference between searching “keyword” and “entire document” in this database– “keyword” looks only in selected parts of the article (title, subjects, author, etc.).

To search for a word in the full text of the article, use the “entire document” field.

academic journals law reviews
Academic Journals (Law Reviews)
  • PUBLISHED BY: Law schools, edited by students.
  • AUTHORS: Law scholars (articles); law students (notes).
  • AUDIENCE: More academic/scholarly.
  • CONTENTS: Can range from examination of a single case to a history of an entire legal doctrine. Give extensive footnote references for further research.
academic journals
Academic Journals
  • Lexis and Westlaw offer full-text of many law reviews and legal journals, generally dating back to early 1980s.
  • Historical law review and journal articles can be found in PDF in many databases, such as HeinOnline and JSTOR.
  • Pre-publication articles might be posted free on the journal’s web site, or SSRN (
  • ABA Legal Technology Resource Center offers search engine of open-access law journals (
magazines legal journals
Magazines (Legal Journals)
  • PUBLISHED BY: National/state bar associations; other legal organizations.
  • AUTHORS: Practicing lawyers
  • INTENDED AUDIENCE: Practicing lawyers
  • CONTENTS:Often discuss current/pending cases, with a focus on what impact cases will have on future practice in that area of law.
legal news
Legal News
  • PUBLISHED BY: National/state bar associations; other legal organizations.
  • AUTHORS: Practicing lawyers
  • INTENDED AUDIENCE: Practicing lawyers
  • CONTENTS:The latest cases, jury verdicts, and settlement information.
  • (free registration) is a mega-site from the publishers of several major legal papers.
not full text
Not Full-Text?
  • If you have a citation to an article, but could not find the full text, check the Law Library’s Online Full-Text Journal link, or click the icon in the online catalog or database:
  • Will lead you to full-text sources for a particular journal or newspaper title, which are available through Duke with a NetID.
not full text online
Not Full-Text Online?
  • If your firm has a library, they may have a subscription, either in print or with an online password.
  • Check with your firm’s librarian about obtaining the full-text of specific sources.
  • You may also be able to obtain a copy through a nearby library.
other sources for background
Other Sources for Background
  • Nutshells: Concise, pocket-size outlines of the “general rules” on a legal topic.
  • Hornbooks: larger, one-volume discussions of an area of law.
  • Treatises: Expansive, multi-volume sets of analysis on a legal topic, written by leading law scholars.
    • Harvard Legal Treatises List
    • Georgetown Treatise Finder
    • Often full-text on Lexis (Matthew Bender) or Westlaw
more background sources alr
More Background Sources: ALR
  • American Law Reports: Lengthier encyclopedia-like entries (called “annotations”). Available in print & on Lexis/Westlaw.
  • Provide more discussion and analysis of the “general rule” and link to an extensive number of cases, arranged by jurisdiction.
  • Does not attempt to be comprehensive – there may not be an annotation precisely on point.

In practice, it might be easier and more cost-effective to look in the print index and use print volumes of ALR.

If you must search online, a good trick is to restrict at least some of your search terms to the title field/segment.

more sources 50 state surveys
More Sources: 50-State Surveys
  • 50-state surveys compile the laws on a particular topic from all jurisdictions; provide researchers with easy access to specific code sections for a topic.
  • Search “fifty state survey” in WorldCat ( to find titles on a particular topic, or use a general overview source.
  • National Survey of State Laws (Ref KF 386 .N38 2008 & Westlaw: SURVEYS) gives tables of state code sections on various topics.
more sources 50 state surveys42
More Sources: 50-State Surveys
  • Lexis also offers 50-state legislative and regulatory surveys.
  • Each survey is priced at $125.00 (which sounds expensive, but is a deal compared to searching in “All 50 State Codes” database!).
  • Can be saved as spreadsheet with active links to the code sections.
more sources pji
More Sources: PJI
  • Pattern Jury Instructions (PJI) are delivered by judges to a jury, to explain the causes of action and issues. A.K.A. “model” jury instructions.
  • Often include case references and clear descriptions of the elements and causes which must be proven.
  • Occasionally, only published in print, or exclusive online access in Lexis, Westlaw, Loislaw, or Casemaker.
getting background
Getting Background
  • There’s no one “right” way to begin gathering background information.
  • Keys to success:
    • Brainstorm possible search words.
    • Search a variety of sources; some will be more helpful than others.
    • Begin with free/low-cost resources; then use the terminology or other clues you discover in premium sources like Lexis/Westlaw.
    • Be brave enough to ask for help!
alert services
Alert Services
  • It’s critical to track the status of precedent that you cite in a memo or brief, especially if you know an appeal is pending.
  • Both Lexis and Westlaw offer search alerts, to re-run your search terms at various intervals or to alert you when new items appear in a Shepard’s/KeyCite report.

You can set up alerts from any individual case or search results screen.

Access all of your existing alerts and create new Shepard’s alerts at the Alerts tab.


Create and manage Westlaw alerts from the “Alert Center” screen.

Note: Not all of these alert options are available on educational passwords.

looseleaf services
(“Looseleaf”) Services
  • Lawyers used to receive updates in particular areas of law through looseleaf services, which sent new issues/pages at various intervals.
  • Many of these services have moved to electronic formats, although some libraries still receive in paper.
  • See Bluebook T.15 for a list of services.

BNA includes:U.S. Law Week (recent/pending U.S. Supreme Court decisions); Criminal Law Reporter; Environment Reporter; Securities Regulation & Law Report; many other specialized titles.

CCH IntelliConnect titles include the Standard Federal Tax Reporter; Medicare and Medicaid Guide; Corporation Report Bulletin.

Another publisher, RIA (further down this listing), includes other tax-related services.

You can receive these issues by email or read at the sites.

legal blogs
Legal Blogs

Legal blogs (a.k.a. “blawgs”) exist for virtually every specialized legal topic, although they vary in quality and frequency of updates.

Check the Library’s “Legal Links” page for Legal Blogs to locate blawg directories and search engines.

rss feeds
RSS Feeds
  • Blogs and many government web sites offer RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, which automatically notify you of changes or additions to the site.
  • You need to “subscribe” to the feed through an aggregator service, such as Google Reader.
  • Look for a link which says “RSS” or “Subscribe”, or these symbols:
rss feeds60
RSS Feeds
  • Paste the RSS feed address (usually ends in .xml or .rss) into your aggregator.
  • As new posts are made, they will appear in your aggregator – no need to check each individual site.
  • Helpful video “RSS in Plain English” at
good luck
Good luck!

Jennifer L. Behrens

Reference Librarian

Photo credit: Flickr user maveric2003

(used under Creative Commons license)