If It's Legal, We Can Do It!       



Let us show you how to find case law

And other legal resources you need


Searching The Internet


We will take whatever steps are necessary to locate your information


News Sources


CBS News

FOX News


ABC News

USA Today























  • Yahoo's list of Law Libraries

  • Legal Research 101


    Step One: Determine your legal issue: Negligence, Personal Injury, Defamation, Worker's Compensation, Divorce, etc.

    Step Two: Does your issue involve Federal or State Law? Locate both Codes, and search the Index for your subject

    Step Three: What level in the Court system pertains to your issue? Is it a criminal or a civil matter? Will you bring it in Small Claims, Municipal, Superior, Appellate, or the Supreme Court? You are you looking for relevant material in the highest court in which your issue can be raised?

    Step Four: Examine a Legal Encyclopedia and/or Legal Dictionary for additional keywords to use in your search. Make a list of the words you find

    Step Five: Armed with your list of keywords, look for some hornbooks written about your subject. Or, examine the ALRs, law review articles, or the Restatements. Ask the Librarian to point these books out to you, or look in the library's catalog

    Step Six: Finally,  read some of the articles and cases you are finding


    We are going to walk through the Law Library so that you'll be comfortable when you search for legal materials

    Every county has a "County Law Library," which is open to the public. These libraries are not usually restricted to members of the legal profession. You can find your by looking in your local telephone book

    When you get to the library, introduce yourself to the Reference Librarian. Ask for a map of the books in the library. With this map in hand, you are on your way to finding the information you need


    Law libraries divide their materials into two major sections - one section for State law and the other for Federal law

    If you are seeking information regarding a matter which pertains to civil rights, tax, or bankruptcy, your references will be located in the Federal section

    On the other hand, if you are looking for the law about personal injury, family matters, or worker's compensation, etc. you will want to look in the California section

    CAVEAT: It is simplistic to say that all the materials in the library pertain only to federal or state matters because this is not true. There are many resources regarding Administrative law, Contracts, Municipal Court and local Ordinances, as well as forms and procedural issues, etc. But, for this introduction to legal research, and for the purposes of this Web page, we will stick to the State (California) and Federal laws


    •    Put your issue into words.    State it as a question
    •    Keep a list of the keywords you see repeated as you research
    •    Use these keywords to find other words


     Write your subject down, and then list beneath it:

    •         Broader terms

    •         Narrower terms

    •         Synonyms

    •         Antonyms

    •         Any word that comes to mind

    Remember, you are researching a subject area  - you are not researching the total topic

    Most of all - Have fun with legal researching!


    In order to competently locate resources in a law library, you must have some idea of the structure of the Court and the Judicial System

    There are three branches of government:

    •    Legislative Branch - creates the law
    •    Executive Branch - enforces the law
    •    Judicial Branch - interprets the law

    In the Federal and the California systems, the law is found in "Codes," however, many States refer to their laws as Statutes. For our purposes here, we will use the terms interchangeably

    The separation of the three branches of government is not always clear. For instance, in addition to enforcing the law, the Executive Branch can create rules and regulations with regard to administrative procedures, which the Judicial Branch will interpret


    The filing of a complaint initiates a court action. However, you are not permitted to start your action in any court you wish. The complaint must be filed in the proper jurisdiction. There are two types of jurisdiction, and the Court you file in must have both types

       SUBJECT-MATTER JURISDICTION:  Occurs when a court has the authority to make a decision on the matter that has been raised in the initiating pleading

       PERSONAL JURISDICTION: Occurs when the person who did NOT bring the lawsuit (usually called the Defendant) lives, or has a business within the court's geographical area


    In California, the lawsuit must be brought in the county where the Defendant lives, or the county in which the cause of action arose


    The answer depends on whether one of the courts has exclusive jurisdiction over the subject-matter or the amount of damages involved. It also depends on where the parties live


    Superior Court: There are six superior court districts, each of which has from four to twenty-three counties. The Superior Court has general subject matter jurisdiction for various civil and criminal cases. Most lawsuits begin in the Superior Court. This is where the litigation occurs. A case that is lost in the Superior Court may be appealed to the California Court of Appeal

    Court of Appeal: This is a court of review, not litigation. This court reads the "record" from the Superior Court, but does not consider any additional evidence or testimony

    The Court of Appeal has the power to reverse or affirm the lower court's ruling, or send the case (or parts of the case) back to the original court for clarification. An appeal from this court goes to the State Supreme Court

    Supreme Court: This is the highest State court in California. Like the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court is a review court and does not hear any additional testimony. The Court reviews what happened in the Superior Court, and makes a determination as to whether the ruling in the Court of Appeal was, based on the evidence, correct

    When the Supreme Court makes its decision, it is final. The only recourse is to tender an appeal to the United States (federal) Supreme Court. However, the appeal can only be filed if the issue in the case pertains to federal law


    There are usually three reasons a case why a case will be brought in the Federal Court: the issue involves federal law, it raises a question regarding the interpretation of the U. S. Constitution, or it involves parties from more than one state with an amount in question over $50,000

    District Court: The United States is divided into judicial districts. The boundaries of the districts are relevant to population, not to the boundaries of the States. The federal district courts are trial-level courts, similar to the State's superior courts. In California, an appeal from the federal district court is filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

    Court of Appeals: The federal districts are regrouped into circuits, and each circuit has a court of appeals that hears all the appeals from the circuit. Also, similar to its counterpart in the State, the Court of Appeals is a review court, not a trial court. Appeals from the Circuit Courts of Appeals are heard in the United States Supreme Court

    United States Supreme Court: This is the ONLY court that gets its authority from the Constitution. It hears appeals from the Circuit Courts of Appeals and State Supreme Courts, as well as where it has jurisdiction, such as an appeal from a death sentence, or an unresolved issue between two States


    Primary Authority: In dealing with legal materials, primary resources are limited

    The main categories include the Constitution of the United States and the Constitutions of the individual States, the actual Codes and/or Statutes (not the annotations or summaries that usually accompany these resources). and Court Decisions (commonly referred to as "Case law")

    Secondary Authority: All the rest of the legal materials housed in the law library








              Ben's Guide Logo.