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Law, Letters, & Society Research Guide

Introduction to U.S. Legal Research

Researching the law can be complicated, but this guide should help provide an introduction to researching law in the United States. The first thing you should realize is that the United States is a federal system. This means that the relevant primary law can come from both the federal government and from individual states. Your will need to consider whether you need to locate a state law or a federal law; there could also be an area where there is some overlap.

There are three sources of law:

  1. Case law or judicial opinions - law made by judges;
  2. Statutory law - law made by legislatures; and
  3. Administrative law - law made by executive agencies that have been empowered by statute.

In addition to these sources of primary law, there are secondary sources (including treatises, journal articles, and so on) that summarize and analyze the law in various areas.

Sources for Primary Law

Primary law from both the federal and state levels is available from multiple sources, but these are the best, most reliable sources available to users at the University of Chicago. [Please note that Westlaw Edge and Lexis+ are available only to students, faculty, and staff of the Law School.]

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