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United States Legal Research for L.L.M. Students

Overview of basic United States legal research. Originally written primarily for foreign law students, who are familiar with legal concepts but unfamiliar with U.S. legal materials, but useful also for the novice practitioner.

U.S. Legal System Overview

The United States is a common law jurisdiction, meaning that case law is a critical component of legal analysis. There are some areas of the law (e.g., contracts) that are governed entirely by common law as opposed to statutes. The United States legal system is also unique even among common law jurisdictions due to the existence of the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land and the power of the judiciary to examine the actions of the legislative, executive, and administrative arms of the government to ensure that they are consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Andrew D.E. Lewis, Comparisons of Modern English, American, and Commonwealth Law Encyclopædia Britannica (2022). 

Given these unique features of the United States legal system. It is imperative to understand what the sources of law are, how to read the law, and how to find the law. This guide goes over these concepts. 

The two documents below provide a brief overview of the United States legal system, as well as sample citations.

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