If you are just beginning to research a legal topic, consider the following questions to help clarify your information need and best starting points.
(Created by Karen Wallace, Circulation/Reference Librarian. Derived in part from The Nebraska Library Commission’s Statewide Training For Accurate Reference (STAR) Reference Manual, ch. 9, and the Southern California Association of Law Libraries’ fifth edition of Locating the Law: A Handbook for Non-Law Librarians with an Emphasis on California Law, ch. 5.)
Jurisdiction determines which court system should adjudicate a case. Questions of jurisdiction also arise regarding administrative agencies in their decision-making capacities. Jurisdiction is important when researching a legal matter because you need to know the jurisdiction in order to know where to look. (For example, you wouldn't look at federal level documents for information on the City of Columbia noise ordinance.)
Jurisdiction is broken into federal, state, or local sources (but can also apply to geographic area). The list below gives some examples of the types of information you would find at each level.
Admiralty, agriculture, bankruptcy, cases that interpret the U.S. Constitution and civil rights laws, copyright, crimes involving movement of people and substances across state lines for illegal purposes, customs, federal tax, food and drug regulation, immigration, interstate commerce, maritime, Native Americans, patent, postal, social security, and trademark.
Child custody, conservatorships, contracts, corporations, crimes (in most cases), divorce, durable powers of attorney for health care and financial management, guardianships, inheritance, landlord-tenant relationships, licensing (businesses and professions), living wills, marriage, motor vehicles, partnerships, paternity, personal injuries, probate, property taxation, real estate, trusts, wills, worker’s compensation.
Both State and Federal
Consumer protection, employment, environmental protection, health law, labor law, occupational safety, subsidized housing, transportation, unemployment insurance, veterans’ benefits, welfare law.
Local Law (e.g., County or Municipal Law)
Animal control, building regulations, city land use, emergency services, housing, parking, streets and sidewalks, traffic, zoning.
Derived from Kent C. Olson’s Legal Information: How to Find It, How to Use It (Phoenix, AZ: Oryx, 1999) and Stephen Elias & Susan Levinkind’s Legal Research: How to Find and Understand the Law (Berkeley, CA: Nolo, 2007).