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 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 take in print. After establishing this base, the text proceeds to instruct students on the tools they will most likely use in practice, namely electronic research platforms and legal treatises. Finally, the text illustrates how the different pieces come together in the legal research process.
The text is intended to be used for introductory legal research courses for first year law students with little or no experience with legal sources or legal research. It is the authors’ experience that beginning students better understand the role of each source of law in the U.S. system if it is introduced on its own in print form. Students also tend to focus more on efficient processes if the processes are introduced independently of sources of law. The organization of the text, therefore, deliberately introduces sources of law in print before moving on to electronic research techniques, the use of secondary sources, and the research process. The authors follow a similar organization in their own research courses but would like to emphasize that they do so for pedagogical reasons specifically with 1Ls in mind.