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Legal Research Guides
The Research Center curates legal research guides on a number of general legal research topics, as well as Florida-specific research and legal technology. If you are given a topic to research and you don't know where to start, locate a guide on the topic by searching here.
How much will this cost me?
Keep in mind that you have access to your commercial databases (Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg) while you do for-credit school work. However, your office may want you to use their research materials for tracking purposes (or billing purposes, in a firm). Resources may also vary across different research platforms; for example, Lexis Advance does not index the Florida Bar News, an important source of legal updates for Florida lawyers.
- Don't disregard print! Reading a print book doesn't accrue search costs. If your office subscribes to an updated print resource, chance are it's worth using! Updated print (either loosleafs that get new pages or books that are replaced or have pocket parts added) are expensive most law offices, agencies, and courts have winnowed down their collections to only the most helpful materials.
- Check multiple databases for sources before you despair.
- Many sources are available for free through bar websites, official government websites, or nonprofit organization websites.
- Your office may have past research saved! Materials are usually kept on hand for topics that happen often, such as jurisdictional issues.
Congratulations, you've just been given your first legal research assignment at work! Now what?
You should ask yourself some preliminary questions before beginning any assignment:
- What area of law am I in? This can be a challenge for law students. You'll have some idea depending on which court you are in whether a case is criminal or civil. However, you'll need to determine if there are procedural issues with a case, or if the substantive law will need to be applied.
- What jurisdiction is my issue in? What has happened in this case before? If you're working in a court, this might seem like an easy question. However, you still need to remember which courts' decisions are binding on your issue. Learning the procedural posture of the issue will also help you narrow what has already been decided and to better understand any filings (in a trial court) or the record (for an appeal).
- Are there any terms I don't understand? Lawyers love using technical language in their documents. Don't forget that terms may mean different things in specific contexts; always check a legal dictionary or encyclopedia if you aren't 100% certain of a term.
- How much time do I have? The amount of research you can do is always going to be subject to time limits. Need something in 10 minutes before a meeting? You may only have time to pull an encyclopedia article and find the major case or statute that controls for your issue. Have a deadline in two weeks? You may need to seriously organize your research and be able to assure your supervisor you've covered all the relevant sources.
Updating to Current Law
Always do a final check before you submit work to ensure you're citing to good law:
- Check the date on any statute you use.
- Use most recent version OR
- The applicable year of a criminal statute based on the offense
- Shepardize/Keycite relevant case law to ensure it is still good law.
Federal Practice & Procedure Guides
State Practice & Procedure Guides
Often, a guide or handbook on procedural rules or practice is necessary for understanding the application of the rules themselves. The "Florida Practice Series" on Westlaw and the Matthew Bender publications on Lexis are good places to start - they will have subject-specific guides on many states legal areas.
Any time you hit a wall in your research or need help getting started, the librarians are available for consultations. You can fill out our Ask-a-Librarian form or email us at email@example.com.
Black's Law Dictionary by
Call Number: KF156.B53 2014
Publication Date: 2014-05-01
This comprehensive law dictionary contains more than 50,000 terms and includes definitions of more than 1,000 law-related abbreviations and acronyms.
Also available through students' WestlawNext subscription.
Ballentine's Legal Dictionary/Thesaurus by
Call Number: KF156.L95
Publication Date: 1994-12-29
An integration of Ballentine's Law Dictionary-Legal Assistant Edition and Ballentine's Thesaurus for Legal Research and Writing it includes correct understanding and use of legal terms, pronunciation, synonyms, antonyms and parts of speech.
Garner's Dictionary of Legal Usage by
Call Number: KF156.G367 2011
Publication Date: 2011-07-01
This new edition of Garner's Dictionary of Legal Usage discusses and analyzes modern legal vocabulary and style more thoroughly than any other contemporary reference work.
Although every legal research issue is different, there is a basic checklist of resources you can run through to see if you've covered your bases. The checklist is also a good way to brainstorm where you may not have looked!
Basic Legal Research by
There are excellent legal research checklists accompanying the text of this book. It's a good way to organize your legal research.