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Introduction to Legal Research  

Last Updated: Apr 14, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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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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