Legal Research at Odum Library
Table of ContentsI. Introduction
II. Finding the Law
III. Finding Cases by Citation
IV. Finding Cases by Name
V. Finding Cases by Topic
VI. Helpful Print Resources
The following pages are designed to give a basic introduction to legal research. Legal information is organized in a very specific and structured way. The basic structure is as follows:
- Bills in Congress become Laws
- Laws are organized by subject into Codes
- Laws are interpreted by courts during Cases
- Cases are published in Reporters
- Digests provide subject access to Cases
- West's Key Numbers help to tie the system together
FINDING THE LAW
Laws are the cornerstones of the legal world. Everything eventually boils down to the law. The basic law of the United States is the Constitution. Every law in the United States must conform to the Constitution. Unfortunately, the Constitution is not the only law in the United States. Laws are passed by both Federal and State legislators.
STATUES AT LARGE
Bills as they are passed by Congress that become laws are published in United States Statutes at Large ([REF] KF 50.U52). Laws are published in chronological order and in the form in which they were passed. Laws in the Statutes can be referred to in two different ways:
- by their citation (72 Stat. 1580)
- by their public law number (P.L. 85-864)
The citation follows the form: 72 Stat. 1580, where the first number is the volume number, the second number is the page number and separating the two numbers is the abbreviated title of the series where the law is found. The Public Law number follows the form: P.L. 85-864, meaning this law is the 864th law passed by the 85th Congress. Statutes at Large also provides a subject index for each year at the end of the year, but the index does not cover prior years. Recent laws passed by Congress but have not been published in the bound editions can be found in Government Documents under the SuDocs Number (AE 2.110: [P.L. Number]).
- SHEPARD'S ACTS AND CASES BY POPULAR NAME
To find a Law by the name of a certain act or bill; i.e. the National Defense Education Act of 1958, look in Shepard's Acts and Cases by Popular Names ([REF] KF 90.S52). This source, which is arranged alphabetically, provides the Public Law number and/or citation for both federal and state acts and laws.
- U. S. CODE To find a law on a subject, use the United States Code. The Code divides all the bills which come out of Congress into groups of similar topics or subjects together. The laws are arranged by title, and each title covers a broad subject area, which is divided into various sections.
U.S. Law can be located in two different places: in either the United States Code ([REF] KF 62 1994.A2) or the United States Code Annotated ([REF] KF 62 1927.W45). Both have subject indexes that provide the relevant title and section numbers. The Code itself broadly states the law. Thus, either version of the code can be used, but the United States Code Annotated has the added benefit of providing notes and citations to relevant court cases for each law. This helps define how the broadly phrased law has been interpreted and comes in handy when looking for cases on a particular law or subject.
GEORGIA LAWSGeorgia law follows the same pattern as federal law. Laws as they come out of the legislator are published in chronological order in Georgia Laws ([REF] KFG 25.A213). Laws and acts are cited as: Ga.L. 1990, p.4943, which is the year the law was passed and the page number of the law. Each volume also includes a subject index.
- OFFICIAL CODE OF GEORGIA
Georgia law is then arranged by subject in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated ([REF] KFG 30 1981.A23). There is a subject index which provides the subject access to the law. The citation's form is 19-9-4, the first number in the title number, the second the section, and the third the paragraph. When you are using the Georgia Code remember that the first number of the citation is the title number and not the volume number. As with the United States Code Annotated, the annotated Georgia code provides notes and citations to relevant court cases.
FINDING CASES BY CITATIONSFinding cases by citation is the easiest aspect of legal research. Cases appear in Reporters, each Reporter contains the decisions from certain courts. Cases are found in the various Reporters by their citation. All citations follow the same pattern: the first part (449) is the volume number, the second part (U.S.) is the name of the reporter (United States Reports), and the last part (39) is the page number of the case. To find this case, look in volume 449 of the United States Reports on page 39. This pattern is the same no matter what Reporter or court the citation refers to. Listed below are the available Reporters at Odum Library with an example citation for each reporter.
FEDERAL CASE REPORTERS IN ODUM LIBRARY
- United States Reports (U.S. Supreme Court)
Sample Citation: 407 U.S. 514
[REF] KF 101.A212 [Vol.]
- Supreme Court Reporter (U.S. Supreme Court)
Sample Citation: 88 S Ct 1477
[REF] KF 101.A322 [Vol.]
- Federal Reporter (U.S. Court of Appeals)
Sample Citation: 730 F2d 136
[REF] KF 105.F432 [Vol.]
- Federal Supplement (U.S District Courts)
Sample Citation: 581 FSupp. 160
[REF] KF 105.2.F43 [Vol.]
- ALR Federal (American Law Reports, significant decisions from federal courts)
Sample Citation: 1 A.L.R.Fed 15
[REF] KF 132.A47 [Vol.]
STATE CASE REPORTERS IN ODUM LIBRARY
- Southeastern Reporter (State and appellate courts of GA, NC, SC, VA, WV)
Sample Citation: 237 SE2d 443
[REF] KF 135.S6 S61 [Vol.]
- Southern Reporter (State and appellate courts of AL, FL, LA, MS)
Sample Citation: 572 So2d 588
[REF] KF 135.S8 S6 [Vol.]
- Georgia Reports (GA Supreme Courts: 1901-Present)
Sample Citation: 111 Ga. 59
[REF] KFG 45.A2 [Vol.]
- Georgia Appeals Reports (Appellate courts of GA: 1907-Present)
Sample Citation: 154 Ga.App. 508
[REF] KFG 48.A2 [Vol.]
COMBINATION FEDERAL/STATE COURT REPORTERS IN ODUM LIBRARY
- American Law Reports ("significant decisions from all U.S. Courts")
Sample Citation: 56 A.L.R.3d 321
[REF] KF 132.A5 [Vol.] 1st series - Years covered: 1919-1948
*2nd series - Years covered: 1948-1965
3rd series - Years covered: 1965-1979
4th series - Years covered: 1980-to date
*Odum Library's holdings of the ALR are not complete.
The selection of Reporters in Odum Library is only a small sampling of all the existing reporters. Our collection focuses on the Federal Courts, the Courts of Georgia, and neighboring states.
FINDING CASES BY NAMEFinding a case by its name is a little more difficult than locating a case using the citation. Often you will be given the name of a case, i.e. Kelley v. Southern Pacific Company, and told to find the actual case.
It is important to remember that the key to finding a case is to have the citation of the case. The citation provides the information needed to locate a case: the volume number, the name of the reporter, and the page number.
The best way to find a case when all that is provided is the name of a case is to use a Case Name Citator.
CASE NAME CITATOR
- SHEPARD'S UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT CASE NAMES CITATOR The Supreme Court Case Names Citator ([REF] KF 101.2 .S58 1987) consists of three volumes, and lists alphabetically all Supreme Court cases since 1900. One can look up a case by either party, so if the first name listed in your case is a common name, you might want to use the second party. Each case name will list up to three different citations referring to different reporters. You will see listed the citation for the United States Reports (abbreviated U.S.), the Lawyer's Edition (abbreviated L.Ed.), and the Supreme Court Reporter (abbreviated S.Ct). Odum Library does not own the Lawyer's Edition, so you do not need to worry about that citation. The Supreme Court Case Names Citator is located at the Information Desk on the second floor of the library.
For Supreme Court cases, it is recommended that you use the Supreme Court Reporter. The Supreme Court Reporter has the added benefit of West Key Numbers and Headnotes, which can come in handy when you are looking for similar cases or seaching for cases by topic.
- SHEPARD'S SOUTHEASTERN REPORTER CASE NAMES CITATOR The Shepard's Southeastern Reporter Case Names Citator ([REF] KF 135.S62 S5), lists cases from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. This Citator has the same format as the Supreme Court Case Names Citator, except it only gives the citation for the Southeastern Reporter (abbreviated SE2d).
- WEST'S FEDERAL PRACTICE DIGEST The Digests become really important when looking for cases on a certain topic, but the Digests also provide both a table of cases and a defendant-plaintiff table. It is recommended to start with West's Federal Practice Digest, 4th ed. ([REF] KF 127.W485). The following is a complete list of the Digests available at Odum Library.
- Modern Federal Practice Digest (subject access to federal cases)
Years covered: 1939-1960
[REF] KF 127.M6
- West's Federal Practice Digest (subject access to federal cases)
[REF] KF 141.W48
- 2d edition Years covered: 1961-1975
- 3rd edition Years covered: 1975-1989
- 4th edition Years covered: 1989-
- General Digest (subject access to state and federal cases)
8th Series Years covered: 1991-
[REF] KF 141 supp. 8
- Ninth Decennial Digest (subject access to state and federal cases)
Years covered: 1976-1986
[REF] KF 141
- Tenth Decennial Digest (subject access to state and federal cases)
Years covered: 1986-
[REF] KF 141
- Georgia Digest (subject access to GA state cases)
[REF] KFG 57.G4
- 1st edition Years covered: 1792-1941
- 2nd edition Years covered: 1942-
- ALR Digest (subject access to ALR 3d, 4th, Federal)
Years covered: 1965-
[REF] KF 132.A45
NOTE: Does not use West's numbers
- Permanent ALR Digest (subject access to ALR)
Years covered: 1919-1948
[REF] KF 132.1.A5
NOTE: Does not use West's number
- Modern Federal Practice Digest (subject access to federal cases)
FINDING CASES BY TOPIC
One of the more difficult aspects of legal research is locating cases by topic. As seen in the earlier sections, cases in the Reporters are not arranged by subject, but chronologically. Digests are used to locate cases by topic.
Digests are very helpful sources that
- Provide subject access to cases using West's Digest Topics and Key Numbers
- Contain cases in particular ranges of years
- Contain cases for particular levels and geographic regions of the court system
- Have case name indexes
- Have descriptive word indexes
- Some have a "word and phrase" volume
Often in legal research a topic will be all that is available, for example:They brought a dog into my son's school to search students' lockers...is this legal?
The first step in finding an answer to this question is to decide what the major issues involved in the question are. In the above example there are at least three major points which need to be considered:
Each of these points can be used as a way to get at this question.
The next step is to look in the Descriptive-Word Index. Any one of the digests listed below will work, but starting with the Federal Practice Digest, 4th ed. ([REF] KF 127.W48 1989) is recommended. This will include recent cases and Odum Library has all the Reporters listed.
Choose one of the major points and look it up alphabetically. Each large topic will list more specific topics. For example, look under Schools for Searches and seizures. There may be times when a term will point to another term. In other words, the entry for Searches and seizures points to the large topic to search, Schools.
Listed with the narrower topic of Searches and seizures is the Schools 169.5 which is the West Key Number. This number is the same for any Digest which uses the West Key numbers. The key number includes both the word and the number. Once you find the West Key Number, look for the term alphabetically among the volumes of the Digests. The terms included in each particular volume are listed on the spine. Next use the number to find that section under the heading Schools. This section lists brief summaries of various cases on that topic.
Note that not every case will meet all the criteria of a particular problem. Remember this is only a brief summary, and the full case should be examined to make sure it addresses the query. At the end of each summary will be listed both the name and the citation of the case.
HELPFUL PRINT RESOURCES
Many helpful sources exits to assist in understanding the law and doing legal research. Below are several sources that should be consulted for additional information.
- Black's Law Dictionary [REF]
KF156 .B53 2009
Black's provides good definitions for legal terms.
- Fundamentals of Legal Research [REF] KF 240.J3 1990
- How to Find the Law [REF] KF 240.C538 1989
This resource explains Shepardizing and West's Digest topics and Key Numbers.
- Guide to Georgia Legal Research and Legal History [REF] KFG 75.C45 1990
- The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation [REF] KF 245.U53
Contains the rules for citing legal resources
SELECTED BACKGROUND RESOURCES
- Guide to American Law [REF] KF 156.G77
- Encyclopedia of Georgia Law [REF] KFG 65.E5
- Constitutional Law Dictionary [REF] KF 4548.5.C47 1985 v.1-2
- Encyclopedia of the American Constitution [REF] KF 4548.E53 2000
- Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court [REF] KF 8742.W567 2004
- Historic U.S. Court Cases 1690-1990: An Encyclopedia [REF] KF 385.A4 J64 1992
- Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory [REF] KF 190.H813
Directory of Lawyers arranged by state and city.
- Martindale-Hubbell International Law Directory [REF] K 68.M37 1992
- Search and Seizure [REF] KF9630.L26
Compilation of decisions based on the 4th amendment, includes a detailed topical index and a case name index.
- Felony Laws of the Fifty States and the District of Columbia [REF] KF 9209.A2
- Subject Compilation of State Laws [REF] KF 1.S9
- Georgia Criminal Law [REF] KFG 561.M64 1990
- Georgia Criminal Trial Practice [REF] KFG 575.D35 1989
- Trial Handbook for Georgia Lawyers [REF] KFG 538.K55
- Georgia Law of Evidence [REF] KFG 540.G7 1983