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Introduction to Legal Research  

Last Updated: Apr 28, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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The purpose of this guide is to help users unfamiliar with legal research identify the key areas of legal research and locate materials in those areas. 

This guide will focus on Federal materials, more specifically statutes, cases, and administrative law.  In addition, this guide will also familiarize its users with information public laws, slip laws, and code supplements.  Some information on state law will also be included in this guide. 

Furthermore, this guide will inform users how to search for useful secondary sources pertaining to particular areas of the law. 


Outline of Research

Most people think of "the law" as laws that are passed by the legislature, but in reality the law is a complex interplay of three types of law. These types of law typically follow the structure of the jurisdiction's government. Therefore, in the United States the types of law are:

  • Statutory Law: laws passed by a legislative body, such as the United States Congress or the Georgia General Assembly.

  • Administrative Law: decisions, rules, and regulations made by administrative agencies which specify how they will carry out legislation.  A good example is the United States Postal Service or the Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Case Law: court decisions, usually opinions written by appellate courts, which are binding law on the lower courts in the jurisdiction.




    Legal Citations

    Legal citation follows one of two citation manuals, either The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation or the ALWD Citation Manual. Cornell's Legal Information Institute has a good overview of legal citation.

    Generally, legal citations follow this format:

    1. numerical designation of the major part of the set (volume or title number)
    2. abbreviation of the source
    3. secondary numerical designation (section or page number)


    Citation Interpretation
    29 CFR 100.101 Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, section 100.101
    410 U.S. 113 Volume 410 of the United States Reports , page 113
    28 USC 1332 Title 28 of the United States Code, section 1332

    Additional Research Guides



    Pamela Brannon
    Faculty Services Librarian
    GSU College of Law

    Austin Williams
    Ref/Student Services Librarian
    GSU College of Law


    More Information on Legal Research

    Cover Art
    Barkan, Mersky and Dunn's Fundamentals of Legal Research, 9th - Mersky
    Call Number: KF240 .F8
    ISBN: 1599412187
    Publication Date: 2009-05-29

    Cover Art
    Legal Research - Stephen Elias; Nolo Press Editors
    Call Number: KF240 .E45 2012
    ISBN: 1413316182
    Publication Date: 2012-08-31



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