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Finding Cases Using Print Resources: Using Secondary Sources

Learn how to find relevant case law in the MU Law Library.

Using Secondary Sources to Identify Relevant Case Law

Secondary sources are a great way to begin the research process.  Seconday sources may help to avoid unnecessary reasearch because they allow one to access work that another has already done on a particular issue.  Moreover, secondary sources are a good starting point for the research process because they allow one to begin the process broadly, instead of narrowly.  Lastly, secondary sources often explain legal principles more thoroughly than a single case or statute.

Secondary sources include:

- American Law Reports (ALRs)

- Treatises and Practice Materials

- Annotated Statutes

- Legal Encyclopedias

This guide is based on material written by Deanna Barmakian.

Treatises and Practice Materials

INTRODUCTION TO TREATISES AND PRACTICE MATERIALS

Treatises are written discourses, usually longer than an essay, on a particular subject.  Treatises are more concerned with investigating the principles of the subject, and they may be scholarly in nature, such as Blackstones's Commentaries on the Law, or they may be geared toward a legal practitioner, such as manual or handbook.  Treatises include legal hornbooks, nutshells, and looseleaf services.

Legal hornbooks are designed as teaching tools, and they explain the general principles of an area of law.  Hornbooks are more in-depth than legal encyclopedias, and they generally contain summaries of landmark cases.

Nutshells provide an overview of a legal topic without the detailed analysis found in other treatises.

Some treatises serve as practice materials.  These works address actual legal scenarios, and they tend to provide useful materials for practicing attorneys, such as forms and tables.

Looseleaf services are an example of such practitioners' materials.  They address real legal situations, and they are frequently updated because the looseleaf format allows single pages to be updated without replacing the entire volume.  They often contain primary sources and finding aids, in addition to secondary analytical material.

FINDING TREATISES

At the University of Missouri, the catalogue used to locate treatises is called Merlin. It may be accessed from the MU Law Library and Technology web page.

USING TREATISES

Using a treatise is like using any non-legal book with a few special advisories.

  1. Use the table of contents and the index to quicly locate relevant sections.
  2. For any publication to provide accurate coverage of contemporary issues it must be updated regularly to reflect changes in the law - this may happen through the addition of pocket parts (small booklets tucked in a pocket at the back of the volume), updated pages in a looseleaf service, or periodic republication of an entire volume.  For any research it is important to be working with the most up to date information, so be sure to consult the pocket parts of the treatise.
  3. Although many treatises are still only available in print, many more are becoming available on Westlaw and LexisNexis - electronic versions of treatises allow for full-text searching, which is a valuable research tool.  Furthermore, tables of contents and indexes can still be accessed in the online version to help locate chapters or sections of interest.
  4. Always remember to check to see how current the electronic text is by clicking the link next to the title of the treatise - this will allow you to see how regularly it is updated and when the last update took place.

Annotated Statutes

INTRODUCTION TO ANNOTATED STATUTES

Annotated statutes are published for all fifty states in the United States. However, the Law Library no longer subscribes to all of them. What it does have are these are found on the plaza level in the statutes materials section at ranges 109-110.  Vernon's Annotated Missouri Statutes (VAMS) are located on the plaza level in the Missouri Reference section under the stairs.

The United States statutory materials are on range 128. 

Annotated statutes usually have the word "annotated" somewhere in the title (e.g., United States Code Annotated), but not always.  If you are in doubt, ask a reference librarian to assist you.

As the name implies, citations to sources interpreting or otherwise affecting the statute will be given in the notes following the text of the applicable section(s).  If you have a citation to a specific chapter or section of the statute, the rest is easy.  If you do not have a citation, the steps below may be helpful.

FINDING CASES USING ANNOTATED STATUTES

  1. Find the applicable set of annotated statutes - decide which jurisdiction in which you want to do your research (single state, multiple states, or the federal jurisdiction), and then located the annotated statutes for the jurisdiction.
  2. Find the index volumes to the set, which is usually located at the end of the set
  3. Choose a key word or words applicable to your subject - some terms will be listed differently than what you may be accustomed to (e.g., "car" may be listed as "automobile" or even "motor vehicle").  Some indexes provide helpful "see..." and "see also...", but not all do.  If you do not find what you are looking for, consult a reference librarian.
  4. Look for the word(s) in the index volumes - the index will refer you to applicable sections in the statutes, usually a chapter or volume number and a section.
  5. Scan the section(s) to determine applicability - if none of the sections are applicable, return to section 3.
  6. Find citations to cases - if the section(s) is/are applicable, search the annotations for citations to relevant cases.

Legal Encyclopedias

INTRODUCTION TO LEGAL ENCYCLOPEDIAS

Legal encyclopedias contain brief, broad summaries of legal topics, while providing introductions to such topics and explaining relevant terms of art.  The two preeminent encyclopedias in the legal field are AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE (AmJur) and CORPUS JURIS SECUNDUM (CJS).  They are arranged alphabetically by main topic, with a keyword index to describe which main topics a particular term or concept might fall under.  The law library only has hard copies of AmJur.

AmJur is available on both LexisNexis and Westlaw, and CJS is available on Westlaw.  Electronic versions of the encyclopedias are updated directly.  However, if you are using a print version of a legal encyclopedia, always remember to check the pocket parts for any updates.

FINDING CASES USING A LEGAL ENCYCLOPEDIA

If you are using a hard copy of a legal encyclopedia:

  1. Determine key word(s) for your subject area - if you are having difficutly, a legal dictionary or thesaurus may be helpful, or a reference librarian can offer assistance.
  2. Find the key word(s) in the index - the index is in several volumes at the end of the set, and it should refer you to one or more main topics and sections (e.g., "Infants and Children 134").
  3. Locate the volume in which the main topic and section you have been referred to are located - for example, the reference "Courts 12" will be located in in the volume "Costs-Credit Cards."
  4. Read the material in that section to see if it is applicable - if it is not, check sections nearby to see if they are more closely related to what you need.  You may also want to check the table of contents located at the beginning of the topic.
  5. Find citations to cases - once you have located an applicable section(s), the footnotes will provided citation(s) to relevant cases, as well as other sources.

If you are conducting your search on LexisNexis or Westlaw:

  1. Determine key word(s) for your subject area - you can conduct searches on both LexisNexis and Westlaw using either terms and connectors or natural language.  In LexisNexis, you can search either only the table of contents or the full-text of source documents my marking your choice.
  2. Enter your search terms and click search.
  3. Browse through your search results to see if they are applicable - if they are not, try changing your search terms.
  4. Find citations to cases.