Thursday, January 13, 2005

Legal Research Tip 3: Finding Legal Resources

These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.

Legal Research Tip 3: Finding Legal Resources
Last month I defined what are legal resources and grouped them into primary, secondary, and finding aids. This month, I will describe how to find those resources. These are the resources used in Wisconsin, not Federal resources. Next month, we'll start discussing individual resources.

PRIMARY RESOURCES: Statutes, Administrative Codes, Caselaw
Each of the branches of government makes some type of primary law. In future tips, we will uncover the specific activities of each branch, but for now keep in mind the following: The Legislative Branch creates Statutes, the Executive Branch creates the Administrative Code and Rules, and the Judicial Branch creates Case Law. All of these primary resources are accessible on the Internet or in a law library. In addition, many public libraries have the print Statutes. Larger public libraries may also have the print Administrative Code as well. On the local level, the legislative branch (City Council or County Board) also creates Ordinances, City and County Agencies create codes and rules (such as building codes or health codes), and Circuit or Municipal Courts create local rules. Some of these codes, ordinances, and rules are on the Internet, but most are available directly from the governing agency or board or designated courthouse office. Many primary resources, including local ordinances, are available on the Internet by examining the WI State Law Library's website first:

SECONDARY RESOURCES: Dictionaries, Digests, Law Reviews
Since secondary resources help you understand the law, there is a lot of information available on the Internet or in public libraries or law libraries. Most larger libraries have at least one legal dictionary. Look for "Black's Law Dictionary" as an example. There are also resources called "digests" that are sets of books arranged by topic that index the state's case law. Each topical entry contains a small description about a case, along with the case citation or source. Some entries in digests refer to law reviews. Law reviews are scholarly articles written or edited by law school professors and students who are examining a particular legal issue, concept or law, often critiquing or criticizing it for a legal scholarly community. Most law reviews are products of law schools, so in Wisconsin there is the Wisconsin Law Review published by UW-Madison Law School and Marquette Law Review published by Marquette University Law School. These are specialized resources that are usually only found in print in law libraries, not public libraries, or on the Internet. Many secondary resources are available on the Internet by examining the WI State Law Library's website first:

FINDING AIDS: Indexes and Legal Topics
Many legal resources have some sort of index or extensive table of contents to aid the user in locating information within them. A digest (see above) is a type of index. In addition, on the State Law Library's website, we have listed numerous topics that contain links arranged by topic or format. Visit the link above for more information. Often finding aids are found in print only in law libraries, not public libraries.