Steps in the Legal Research Process

  1. Identify legal terminology and factual words describing your issue.
  2. Search secondary research materials such as legal news, encyclopedias, books (treatises and hornbooks) and law reviews (scholarly legal articles)
  3. Use secondary sources to discover primary sources of law, such as constitutions, cases, statutes, and regulations.
  4. Identify the jurisdictions and sources of law to determine whether mandatory or persuasive & find the full text of primary sources.
  5. Research is an iterative process. Use what you've learned to improve your search!

PREZI on Legal Research Process


Choosing and crafting a topic

  1. Follow your passion/interests
  2. Course work
  3. Legal News and Hot Button Issues
  4. Frame topic into a question or group of questions to be answered.



Reading Legal Citations

Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (LII 2014 ed) by Peter Martin is an excellent guide to how to read and write legal citations. It provides guidance on how to reference legal materials using both the two most commonly used standards the Blue Book and ALWD.

Illustrative Case Citation

District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008)

Parties to the case: District of Columbia and Heller

Reporter abbreviation: S.Ct.

Volume number: 128

1st page of case: 2783

Year case decided: 2008

Illustrative Statute Citation

D.C. Code sec. 7-2501 (LexisNexis 2008)

Abbreviation for statute codification: D.C. Code

Section of codification: 7-2501

Source and date: (LexisNexis 2008)

Illustrative Law Journal Article

Allen Rosten, Incrementalism, Comprehensive Rationality and the Future of Gun Control, 67 Md. Law Rev. 511 (2008)

Author: Allen Rosten

Article Title: Incrementalism...

Abbreviation of journal: Md. Law Rev

Volume number 67

1st page of article: 511

Year article published: 2008

Secondary Sources: Encyclopedias

Encyclopedias used by law students

  • WEX
  • American Jurisprudence 2nd via Lexis-Nexis

Secondary Sources: Books, Treatises, Hornbooks

Falvey Memorial Library Catalog Include words such as legal or law or regulation or legislation in your search. Alternately narrow your search to the K "Call Number.

Villanova University School of Law Library Catalog Avoid using the words law or legal or legislation in this catalog. The entire collection is legal in nature. Books available for in library use only.

Secondary Sources: Law Reviews and Legal News

Primary Sources

Primary sources are the law. Only bodies with lawmaking power can create primary sources. Examples of primary sources include constitutions, legislation, regulations, ordinances, executive orders, cases and treaties.

Law Library of Congress Guide to Law Online This is a selective guide to authritative free online sources for state, national, foreign and international law.

LexisNexis This database provides access to state and federal constitutions, statutes, and cases.

HeinOnline Federal statutes and regulations, presidential documents, foreign laws

Google Legal Opinions and Journals