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Finding sources of US Law

Page history last edited by Cecilia Tellis 12 years ago


General information on the U.S. Legal System

*       FindLaw


Guides on conducting legal research

*       A Guide to the U.S. Federal legal system: web based public access sources

*       A Guide to fee-based U.S. legal research databases

*    A Guide to using Secondary Legal Resources (West Integrated Legal Research)



*    Bluebook Abbreviations for Law Review titles

*    Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations

*    Appendices in books (e.g. The Bluebook)

*    Listed in the introductory pages of a book



*       uOttawa Library catalogue

*       Start catalogue search broadly. Use "keyword" and do not place date, language or other limits unless necessary.

*       Take note of the call number and location of the items.

*       Not available at uOttawa? See how to Borrow from other libraries


Cases or opinions[1]





If you know the name of the case

*       Check first in electronic legal databases. Use the “Find by name” option if available.

*       If the case is too recent, check on the court’s website.

*       No luck online? Try checking the Table of Cases in West's Decennial Digests which directs you to the section or footnote where a case is located or cited or the Defendant-Plaintiff Table which indicates the full case name, plus citation, for quick access to this and similar cases

If you have a citation to a case

*       Check first in electronic legal databases. Use the “Find by citation” option if available.

*       If the case is too recent, check on the court’s website.


Finding cases on a subject/legal issue

Consult secondary sources like:

*       West’s Decennial Digests and General Digests : Significant points of law are summarized in headnotes and classified according to the West Key Number System

*       Textbooks (see especially their Table of cases)

*       Encyclopedias

*       Annotated codes


Tracing the judicial history of a case

*       Electronically: In WestlaweCarswell, click on the “Westlaw” tab and enter information in the “KeyCite this citation” field. Or if you are viewing the full-text of a case, click on the “Full History” or “Direct History (Graphical View)” link found under the Related Info tab.

In Quicklaw, from the “Find a Document” option, select “Shepardize a US case”.



Finding cases that consider a statute, regulation or rule of practice

*       Electronically: In WestlaweCarswell, click on “Global KeyCite by Name/Title” found under the Find/KeyCite a Document section. Enter the title of the legislation under the Non-Canadian Legislation section.

Examples of print law reporters:

*       United States Reports [U.S.] (Available through HeinOnline)

*       United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition [L.Ed.] & [L.Ed.2d]

*       National Reporter System [F., F. Supp., N.E., P., etc]   (Available through Westlaw)

*       American Law Reports [A.L.R.]  (Available through Westlaw [ALR])

Both WestlaweCarswell and LexisNexis Quicklaw offer a wide range of U.S. jurisprudence, including materials from all 50 states. Note that the default search for both databases is for Canadian content.

*       To search U.S. sources in LexisNexis Quicklaw, click on the “Source Directory” and browse or search for a source.

*       To search U.S. sources in WestlaweCarswell, click on “Directory” and search for a source using the textbox or browse the U.S. Premier or U.S. Primary databases listed under “International Subscriptions”.

The Legal Information Institute (Cornell University Law School), provides access to Federal Court opinions: and decisions from state courts.

Use HeinOnline to access PDFs of U.S. Supreme Court opinions from the beginning of the Court [click on the “U.S. Supreme Court Library”].

General statements of the law

*       American Jurisprudence 2d, a legal encyclopedia originally published by Lawyers Cooperative Publishing and now by West Publishing, includes both procedural and substantive law organized into 83 volumes. (Available through Westlaw [AMJUR] and LexisNexis Quicklaw)

*       Corpus Juris Secundum: Complete Restatement Of The Entire American Law As Developed By All Reported Cases (1936- ). It contains an alphabetical arrangement of legal topics as developed by U.S. federal and state cases (1658-date). (Available through Westlaw and in print at FTX Law Reports SLR 4-(59-60)

*       Westlaw > see Texts and treatises (TEXTS)

Government publications

*       Catalog of U.S. Government Publications

*       USA.gov: The U.S. Government's Official Web Portal

*       United States Government Manual (via HeinOnline): Annual handbook of the federal government (1935 to present).

Journal articles/case comments













*       WestlaweCarswell see sources such as:

Texts, treatises, and law reviews and journal articles (TP-ALL) and Law reviews and journal articles (JLR)

*       Quicklaw > use the Source Directory to find legal journals and other sources for commentary.

*       LegalTrac

*       Index to Legal Periodicals Full-Text

*       Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective

*       HeinOnline

*       Legal Scholarship Network



Federal Statutes







The statutes of the United States are found in the following series:

The Revised Statutes of the United States – bound volumes; precursor to the U.S. Code

The United States Statutes at Large – bound volumes (available through HeinOnline); permanent collection of all laws and resolutions enacted during each session of Congress

The United States Code Congressional and Administrative news – (unofficial edition) bound volumes + paper parts

The United States Code – (official edition) bound volumes + paper parts + loose-leaf binders, this is a broad 50 title subject arrangement of the statutes of a general and permanent nature enacted by the U.S. Congress.

The United States Law Week – loose-leaf volumes



*       To trace the legislative history of a federal statute

See Zimmerman’s Research Guide: Federal Legislative History



*       To trace the legislative history of a state statute

See Zimmerman’s Research Guide: State Legislative History



State Statutes and Codes

*       See Zimmerman’s Research Guide for more info on this topic

Federal Regulations

Both proposed and final regulations are published officially in the Federal Register which is available online at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index.html and in HeinOnline, WestlaweCarswell (from 1981 onwards, Database identifier: FR) and LexisNexis Quicklaw.



Final regulations are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations. It is available online through GPO Access and through the Legal Information Institute. It can also be found in WestlaweCarswell (Database identifier: CFR) and LexisNexis Quicklaw. A new Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is issued on January 1st of each year



For more information, see Zimmerman’s Research guide on this topic.



State Regulations and Administrative Codes

*       See Zimmerman’s Research Guide on this topic.




*       See: How to Find Theses and Research Papers (uOttawa)



Words and phrases

*       Bryan A. Garner, ed., Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed.(St. Paul, MN: Thomson West, 2004) REF KF 156 .B53 2004 (also available through Westlaw, database ID: BLACKS)

*       Words and phrases : permanent edition, 1658 to date (St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1940-). Kept up to date by cumulative annual pocket parts. FTX Law Reports, SLR 4-(55-56)

*       Use the Source Directory in Quicklaw to find other legal dictionaries.

[1] Some text excerpted from University of Calgary Law Library, “Beginning your research in the law library”, online: University of Calgary Law Library <http://library.ucalgary.ca/branches/lawlibrary-startingpoints/generalsources.php>.


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