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Introduction to Legal Research

Purpose and Scope

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

    More Information on Legal Research

    Additional Research Guides

    Developing a Research Strategy

    Before diving into a research project, it's essential to have a strategy for how you will conduct your research. 

    At the Law Library, we've developed a research worksheet that you can use to help organize the information you've been given and develop a plan for your research. Feel free to make copies and use it as you're given research assignments.

    Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the State of Georgia, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes. Georgia State University College of Law and the authors of the works contained on this website do not assume or accept any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, currentness, or comprehensiveness of the content on this website. The content on this website does not in any manner constitute the issuance of legal advice or counsel. The information on this website is intended to provide resources that may aid the research of the topics presented, and are in no way a comprehensive list of sources one should consult on the topics presented. Please note that case law, statutory law, and administrative law may be modified and/or overturned. Additionally, because the laws vary between jurisdictions, the laws referred to herein may or may not be applicable to the law within the reader’s jurisdiction.