Where You Can Go And What You Can Find
The purpose of legal research is to find legal authority that will support your position, help you oppose the other side's position, or generally aid you in understanding your situation or legal problem. Learn where you can go to do legal research and what types of materials are available.
Where You Can Go
The best place to go to do legal research is your local law library. Law librarians are experienced professionals who can help you in almost all aspects of legal research. Click to visit our Law Libraries page to learn more.
If there is not a law library near you, try visiting your local public library or university library. For a listing of public libraries in Nevada, click here. To find a college or university near you, click here.
The Internet can also be a terrific tool for legal research. The Internet gives you access to a huge amount of information, and you should be able to find links to both state and federal law. Click to visit our Rules & Laws page for links to a number of different websites that might help in your research.
What You Can Find
Legal materials can be divided into two types:
- "Primary sources," which include constitutions, statutes, and court cases, and
- "Secondary sources," which include legal encyclopedias, books, and articles.
"Primary sources" are direct sources of information that have not been altered or interpreted by a third party. A written opinion from a judge is an example of a primary source because it comes directly from the court. A primary source – if it is on point in your case – can be strong authority used to persuade a judge that your position is the right one.
"Secondary sources" come from third parties (such as legal historians, scholars, or law professors) who are commenting on or analyzing the law. For example, an article written by a law professor that analyzes contract law in Nevada would be a secondary source. Secondary sources can also be used to help persuade a judge, but usually only if there is no primary source on point. Secondary sources are a great place to track down primary sources and get an overview of a particular area of the law.
- Constitutions. Constitutions describe the different branches of government and how they relate to each other. Constitutions also lay out the fundamentallaw for a nation or state. You should be able to find the United States Constitution and any state constitution at your local law library, public library, or online. Click to visit Other Helpful Links in our Rules & Laws section.
Click to see the Constitution of the State of Nevada. To cite the Nevada Constitution to a court in a legal document, include (1) the document name, (2) the article number, (3) the section number, and (4) the clause number. So for example, if you wanted to support the proposition that there are three branches of government in Nevada, you would cite to the Nevada Constitution like this: Nev. Const. art. III, § 1, cl. 1
FYI! Legal citations are abbreviations used to identify the source of any information you quote or use. Everyone uses the same abbreviations, which makes it easy to identify the source. When you use legal citations in a document, you show that you have legal authority to back up your ideas. Authority for your research is important to persuade a judge that your view of the law is the correct one.
- United States Code. The U.S. Code consists of all the laws enacted by the U.S. Congress. Also called "federal statutes," these laws can be found in the Official United States Code. They are also published in the United States Code Annotated (USCA) and the United States Code Service (USCS). If you do not have the statute number of the statute you are looking for, you will likely want to start your research in the index, which is organized by subject matter. Click to see Other Helpful Links that might be useful.
To cite a federal statute to a court in a legal brief, include (1) the title number of the statute, (2) the name of the compilation ("U.S.C." is the abbreviation for the U.S. Code), (3) the section number of the statute, and (4) the year of the compilation you are relying on, so it looks something like this: 42 U.S.C. § 405(c) (2006)
- State statutes. Each state has its own set of statutes or laws passed by that state's lawmaking body. The state statutes govern the residents of that state. You can find most state statutes at your local law library or online. Click to see Other Helpful Links that might be useful.
For Nevada's statutes, click to visit our Nevada Statutes page for links and other information. To cite a Nevada statute to the court in a legal document, you should include (1) the name of the statutory compilation ("NRS" for Nevada Revised Statutes), (2) the chapter number containing the statute followed by a period, (3) the section number of the statute, and (4) the year of the compilation you are relying on, something like this: NRS 40.253 (2011)
- Agency regulations. Both the federal and state governments have agencies (for example, the IRS or Nevada's Department of Agriculture) which enact rules (also called regulations) that residents must follow. These agencies are part of either the President's (in the case of a federal agency) or the governor's (in the case of a state agency) administration, so they are called "administrative agencies." You can find federal agency regulations in the Federal Register or in the Code of Federal Regulations at your local law library or online. Click to see Other Helpful Links that might be useful.
For Nevada, click to visit our Nevada Regulations page for links and information. To cite a regulation to a court in a legal brief, you can include (1) the name of the compilation ("NAC" for Nevada Administrative Code), (2) the chapter number containing the regulation followed by a period, (3) the section number of the regulation, and (4) the year of the compilation you are relying on, something like this: NAC 118B.010 (2012)
- Ordinances. Cities and counties can pass laws called "ordinances" that govern people who reside or do business in that city or county. Click to visit our Local Statutes and Codes page to learn more about local ordinances in Clark County. Your local law library can help you find ordinances for cities and counties outside Clark County, or you might be able to find them online.
- Case law. Case law (sometimes referred to as a "cases" or a "decisions") consists of the written opinions given by judges when they rule on a case. If you have access to a law library, you can find case opinions in books called case reporters. Each court's cases are published in a different set of case reporters. Ask your law librarian which case reporters publish cases of the court you are interested in. There are also online services (like Westlaw, Lexis, and others) that allow you to locate cases electronically. Your law librarian will be able to explain how to use these services.
In Nevada, only opinions from the Nevada Supreme Court are published. Those opinions are published in two sets of books, the Pacific Reporter and the Nevada Reporter. The rules for citing a case can be a bit complicated. Broadly speaking, when you reference a case from the Nevada Supreme Court in a legal document to a Nevada court, you should at least include (1) the parties' names separated by "v." (for "versus"), (2) the volume of the Nevada reporter in which the opinion can be found, (3) the abbreviated name of the case reporter ("Nev." for the Nevada Reporter), (4) the page number on which the case you are citing begins, and (5) the year of the case. The case citation will look something like this: Smith v. Safeway, Inc., 121 Nev. 724 (2005)
TIP! Cite your source at the end of the sentence where you refer to that source. You must put a citation after every legal idea that you write, even if you do not actually quote from that source. It is very important that the court and your opponent know where you are getting your ideas from.
- Legal encyclopedias. Legal encyclopedias are useful for educating yourself and finding case law on a given area of law. Just like general encyclopedias, legal encyclopedias arrange topics alphabetically and have an index in the last volume. Start by looking in the index for the subject or area of law that you are interest in. Be flexible with the words you use – if one word does not work, try other words that relate to the same area of law.
There are two main legal encyclopedias: (1) Corpus Juris Secundum and (2) American Jurisprudence. Both can be found at your local law library. Click to visit our Law Libraries page for more information.
- Treatises. Treatises are books written by experts on a particular area of law (like contract law, real estate law, construction law, and the like). Treatises can be used to find background information, in-depth analysis, and case law. Ask the law librarian at your local law library to help you find a treatise in the area of law you are researching. Click to visit our Law Libraries page for more information.
- Law reviews and legal periodicals. Law review articles are magazine articles written by legal scholars and students and often give a broad overview of the law in a particular area. Law review articles may be helpful in finding important cases dealing with the area of law you are researching. Law review articles can be found at your local law library. Click to visit our Law Libraries page for more information.
- American Law Reports Annotated (A.L.R.). ALR is a collection of cases from all jurisdictions on narrow issues of law. ALR can be used to find cases on the topic you are researching. ALR can be found at your local law library. Click to visit our Law Libraries page for more information.