Legal Research Class Notes 9/12/03


What’s on tap today?




West takes points of law out of a case and puts a note about it at the top of the case.  You can’t simply rely on the Headnote, though.  Each Headnote has a Key Number.  Headnotes are reprinted in West’s Digest.


Lexis, on the other hand, uses “core terms” and does a natural language search.


West’s Digests


This is a comprehensive print index to published opinions to all courts.  It’s useful if you don’t have Lexis or Westlaw access or if you’re searching for older cases that aren’t in Lexis or Westlaw.  It’s obsolete for looking up cases, but now…something about shotguns.


It has an important, unanticipated constituency.  If you’re in a particular field, you can go to any jurisdiction and find cases on the same topic as the ones in your jurisdiction.


We will use West’s Digests even though Westlaw is available.  The Key Numbers are super useful.


The Digests are arranged by topic and broken into increasingly specific subheadings.  The Digests are found after the last Reporter for a particular state.


When you look up a topic, you can get a Key Number that guides you to cases in that area.


The useful thing is that wherever you go in the United States for the rest of your life, Key Number 105(3) means what it means.


Once you find one good case on a certain subject and you have the topic and key number, you can crazy go nuts.


Use the narrowest digest available.


Headnotes are finding tools only.  You must read the case.


Don’t forget to check secondary sources too!


All United States and State Supreme Courts publish all their decisions.  Only selected opinions are published from United States Circuit Courts and District Courts.  However, at the state trial court level, opinions are rarely published.


What is the color of the most recent version of the Federal Register?  It’s always white.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.


Proposed regulations and existing regulations are both in the Federal Register in addition to presidential proclamations and executive orders.


Secondary sources


These are writings about the law that offer persuasive authority.  Why would you want to use them?  All sorts of reasons.


How do you cite a journal article?  How do you cite a book?  Look at Bluebook rules 15-17.


Ride the wave of the Secondary Continuum!  Encyclopedias are very general, while law review articles are very specific.  In between you have “nutshells”, “hornbooks”, and treatises.


Why are law review articles so specific?  Well, there are tons of law journals; there are often several journals at each law school and lots and lots of articles.


General Sources


Encyclopedias include American Jurisprudence and Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS).  These can be found on those low reserve shelves in the library.  They are super general and they’re not written by experts.


Now, let’s get the assignment for case law!


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