Sources of American Law: an Introduction to Legal Research
third Edition

Sources of American Law: an Introduction to Legal Research

by Beau Steenken, Tina M. Brooks

This is the Third Edition published August 2017.

At its most basic definition the practice of law comprises conducting research to find relevant rules of law and then applying those rules to the specific set of circumstances faced by a client. However, in American law, the legal rules to be applied derive from myriad sources, complicating the process and making legal research different from other sorts of research. This text introduces first-year law students to the new kind of research required to study and to practice law. It seeks to demystify the art of legal research by following a “Source and Process” approach. First, the text introduces students to the major sources of American law and describes the forms the various authorities traditionally took in print. After establishing this base, the text proceeds to instruct students on the methods they will most likely use in practice, namely electronic research techniques and the consultation of secondary sources. Sources of Law incorporates screencasts currently hosted on YouTube that actively demonstrate the processes described in the static text. Finally, the text illustrates how the different pieces come together in the legal research process.

Sources of Law focuses on realistic goals for 1Ls to learn in a relatively small amount of instruction time, and so focuses mainly on the basics. It does introduce some advanced material so that 1Ls can recognize pieces of information they may encounter in research, but it does not fully cover researching materials outside the scope of the traditional 1L course. As such, it is best-suited for introductory legal research courses for 1Ls.


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Sources of American Law: an Introduction to Legal Research
About the Authors
About eLangdell Press
Notices & Permissions
1. The United States Legal System
1.1. Learning Objectives for Chapter 1
1.2. Introduction to Researching the Law
1.3. Federalism
1.3.1. Origins of American Federalism
1.3.2. Impact of Federalism on Legal Research
1.4. Separation of Powers and Sources of Law
1.4.1. Constitutions
1.4.2. Statutes
1.4.3. Judicial Opinions
1.4.4. Administrative Regulations
1.5. Hierarchy of Authority
1.5.1. Primary v. Secondary Authority
1.5.2. Mandatory v. Persuasive Authority
1.5.3. Determining Weight of Authority
1.6. Concluding Exercises for Chapter 1
1.6.1. Introductory Hierarchy of Authority Exercise
1.6.2. Intermediate Hierarchy of Authority Exercise
1.6.3. Advanced Hierarchy of Authority Exercise
1.7. Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice
2. Constitutions & Statutes
2.1. Learning Objectives for Chapter 2
2.2. Constitutions & Statutes
2.3. Life Cycle of a Statute
2.4. Using Codes
2.4.1. Codes & Topical Organization
2.4.2. Annotations
2.4.3. Using Codes in Print
2.5. Local Legislation
2.6. Interpreting Constitutions and Statutes
2.6.1. Constitutional History & Framers’ Intent
2.6.2. Legislative History & Legislative Intent
2.7. Concluding Exercises for Chapter 2
2.7.1. Introductory Exercise on Code Research
2.7.2. Intermediate Exercise on Code Research
2.7.3. Advanced Exercise on Code Research
2.8. Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice
3. Judicial Opinions & Common Law
3.1. Learning Objectives for Chapter 3
3.2. Judicial Opinions and the Common Law
3.3. Case Reporters
3.3.1. Types of Reporters
3.3.2. Finding an Opinion in a Reporter
3.3.3. Using a Reported Case
3.3.4. Unreported Cases & Court Dockets
3.4. Digests
3.4.1. Types of Digests
3.4.2. Using Digests to Find Opinions
3.4.3. Updating Digests
3.5. Subsequent Treatment of Judicial Opinions
3.6. Concluding Exercises for Chapter 3
3.6.1. Introductory Exercise on Case Research
3.6.2. Intermediate Exercise on Case Research
3.6.3. Advanced Exercise on Case Research
3.7. Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice
4. Administrative Regulations
4.1. Learning Objectives for Chapter 4
4.2. Delegated Rule-Making Authority
4.3. Researching Federal Regulations
4.3.1. The C.F.R.
4.3.2. The L.S.A.
4.3.3. The F.R.
4.3.4. Administrative Decisions & Guidance
4.4. State Regulations
4.5. Concluding Exercises for Chapter 4
4.5.1. Introductory Exercise on Researching Regulations
4.5.2. Intermediate Exercise on Researching Administrative Guidance
4.5.3. Advanced Exercise on Researching Regulations
4.6. Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice
5. Electronic Research
5.1. Learning Objectives for Chapter 5
5.2. Introduction to Electronic Research
5.3. Basic Processes of Electronic Research
5.3.1. Searching
5.3.2. Search Operators & Advance Searching
5.3.3. Browsing
5.3.4. Filtering
5.4. Combining the Basic Processes for Efficient Research
5.5. Using Finding Aids in an Online Environment
5.6. Electronic Citators
5.7. Concluding Exercises for Chapter 5
5.7.1. Introductory Exercise on Electronic Research
5.7.2. Intermediate Exercise on Electronic Research
5.7.3. Advanced Exercise on Electronic Research
5.8. Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice
6. Secondary Sources
6.1. Learning Objectives for This Chapter
6.2. Overview of Legal Secondary Sources
6.2.1. Common Types of Secondary Sources
6.2.2. Uses of Secondary Sources
6.3. Researching Secondary Sources
6.3.1. Finding an Appropriate Secondary Source
6.3.2. Using Secondary Sources in Print
6.3.3. Using Electronic Secondary Sources
6.3.4. Law Review & Journal Articles
6.4. Concluding Exercises for Chapter 6
6.4.1. Introductory Exercise on Secondary Sources
6.4.2. Intermediate Exercise on Secondary Sources
6.4.3. Advanced Exercise on Secondary Sources
6.5. Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice
7. The Research Process
7.1. Learning Objectives
7.2. Essential Steps of the Research Process
7.2.1. Familiarize Yourself with the Legal Problem
7.2.2. Define the Scope of the Research
7.2.3. Construct Search Queries
7.2.4. Gather Primary Authorities
7.2.5. Analyze and Update Primary Authorities
7.2.6. Research and Writing as a Recursive Process
7.3. Common Research Concerns
7.3.1. When to Stop Researching
7.3.2. Not Finding Enough Relevant Authorities
7.3.3. Finding Too Many Relevant Authorities
7.4. Concluding Remarks
7.5. Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice

Beau Steenken joined the Law Library Faculty at the University of Kentucky in September 2010. As Instructional Services Librarian, he engaged in a revamp of the Legal Research curriculum as the UK College of Law shifted from an adjunct-model to a full-time faculty model of LRW instruction. He teaches two to four sections of 1L Legal Research a year and also coordinates informal research instruction of various sorts. Before coming to the University of Kentucky, he managed to collect a B.A., a J.D., and an M.S.I.S. from the University of Texas, as well as an M.A. in history from Texas State University and an LL.M. in Public International law from the University of Nottingham, where he also took up archery.

Tina M. Brooks joined the Law Library Faculty at the University of Kentucky in July 2011. As Electronic Services Librarian, she manages the University of Kentucky Law Library’s website and electronic resources and also teaches two sections of the 1L Legal Research course. She received a B.A. in History and Spanish from the University of Northern Iowa in 2005, a J.D. from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2009, and an M.S. in Information Studies from the University of Texas School of Information in 2011.

Beau Steenken & Tina Brooks, Sources of American Law: an Introduction to Legal Research, Third Edition, Published by CALI eLangdell Press. Available under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0.

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