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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

“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. Behrens Research Madness 2010

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

  2. 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

  3. 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?

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Topics include legal as well as non-legal (e.g., researching specific industries). Can browse the alphabet or search by keywords.

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

  9. Law Library Guides

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. Wex • • 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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:

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. Results are sorted by type of publication – let’s look at each more closely.

  19. 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.

  20. 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 (

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. Note: This search does not check full-text availability on Law School Lexis or Westlaw.

  25. 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.

  26. 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

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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!

  33. Keeping Current

  34. 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.