Case law & statutes
Created on May 11, 2023
FIU Law Library summer bootcamp
Statutory & Case Law Research Tools
Refresher on best methods for researching primary law.
Game & Thanks
Statute Tools & Considerations
Case Law Tools
A refresher on the basics
If you have no clues and refuse to start with a secondary source, make sure your searches are thoughtful. Make sure you revise when needed.
Start with a good search and an open mind
Have a statute? See what cases cite to it.Have a case? See what it cites to for the same point of law, and what cites to it. See what stats and regs are cited and find additional citations to those, too.
Start with some other clue
A good encyclopedia or treatise will provide you with concise background and citations to cases and statutes where appropriate. Easier to search for because not dependent on inconsistent language uses across written opinions.
Start with secondary sources
These are your best bets to get started with researching case law and statutes
Caveat to number 3- Sometimes browsing the ToC or using an index is a better starting point when doing statutory research.
In a very tiny nutshell...
It's not like Google. That is easy to forget because sometimes you will get something great with no effort.But you need to be smarter than that.
Statute codes are organized by topic, so if you have a statute that you know applies look around 'the same place' can shed light on additional applicable statutes.
Organization of statutes
Certain facts you have and certain facts in a case may be different but fall under a similar category. For example, if your client got bit by an orangatan (a primate) at his friends house, a case you find about a gibbon (a different primate) attacking a houseguest is going to be relevant. Also, the order and frequency of even legally significant phrases can change, so using terms & connectors searching can help you retreive concise results.
Language used in case law
Language & organization matter a lot
Your supervisor is working with two new clients on various causes of action against the hotel where they held thier wedding reception, Le Hotel Fancypants in Miami Beach. She comes to your office and provides you with the following facts:Three hours before thier wedding our clients were informed that there were no function rooms available and they'd have to hold thier wedding reception in what the hotel called its "premier entranceway" which was just the lobby. The hotel crammed 200 guests in a space made for about 50 and the wedding was regularly interupted by pool guests and regular hotel business. As a result, the bride spent her entire wedding sobbing and still has nightmares about the event months later. You are asked: DO we have a plausible IIED claim?
let's figure it out.
Our "clues" are the facts and the question itself. Here are important keywords:She comes to your office and provides you with the following facts:Three hours before thier wedding our clients were informed that there were no function rooms available and they'd have to hold thier wedding reception in what the hotel called it's "premier entranceway" which was just the lobby. The hotel crammed 200 guests in a space made for about 50 and the wedding was regularly interupted by pool guests and regular hotel business. As a result, the bride spent her entire wedding sobbing and still has nightmares about the event months later. And we know what area of law to look into:Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
et's figure it ut.
et's figure it ut.
We also know we are looking into Florida law, so we should search within that jurisdiction.So what can we search?"intentional infliction of emotional distress" AND wedding AND hotelTake a moment to read what you pulled up and we'll talk about it.
Browsing can be better than searching.
Here is Florida's section on Labor, organized into sub sections and further when needed.If you just enter a statute citation into Wexis, you aren't seeing other potentially applicable statutes.
Using Organization to your advantage
There are helpful sections in the code which also have legal effect!
Who does this apply to?What do all these words mean?
Using Organization to your advantage
Special tools for case law
Return precise results pertaining to exactly what you need them to.Click here to follow along.
Cases by practice area
Click here for the TM dilution example
Lexis Fact & issue finder
Special tools & considerations for statutes
You can use keywords, natural language searching, or terms and connectors to find statutes, too.
Wexis has annotated versions of state and federal statutes. They may provide:-Cases that interpret the statute in some major way-cross references to regulations-and more!
Even though we have search capabilities, an index can expose you to the words used in statutes that may differ from those you use every day.
Look 'near' your statute for: -other relevant sections-applicability (FL)-definitions!
Statutory research Tools
How to figure out the 'in between' statutes
A newly-enacted statute, currently in force, won't appear in the U.S.C. yet. It's first permenant home is the statutes at large. The classification tables show where recently enacted laws will appear in the United States Code and which sections of the Code have been amended by those laws.
Do you know where the PATRIOT act was codified?
No? Me niether! That's why the popular name tool is useful for statutory research, too. Click here to access the free version.
Popular Name Tool/Table
- Unless you are directly told "I need you to find the federal statute addressing [an extremely specific issue]", you should start your search in secondary sources.
starting with some terms
- What statute in cited within? Look at the case itself and headnotes, too.
- Pick up on some keywords used near or about the statute, do you see "test", "elements", etc.?
Starting with a case
- Look 'near' it in the ToC
- Look at cases citing to it, narrow by legal topic, then see if there are statutes cited with it.
- Look at secondary sources citing to it, see what they have to say.
Starting with a statute
How to start off statutory research
USE A SECONDARY SOURCE!But if you don't feel the need because you have some clues or are particularly confident, here is a good process.
Let's Play A Game!Put yourselves into groups of three (or two if needed, but NOT four)Read the instructions and look up when you are ready to start. Your 'starting links' are on the next pageThe winning team members each get a $10 Starbucks Gift Card!
(2) INDEX (Westlaw)
(3) Search Within (Westlaw)
(4) Free Online Source (U.S. House of Reps)
(1) ToC (Westlaw)