I recently had occasion to confirm a citation to the codified statutes of Wisconsin. Wisconsin happens to be one of the minority of states that produces both a directly state-published statutory Code and a commercially published (West, in this case) annotated code.
But the quality of the online availability of the “official” code, the Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations is worthy of special praise. Continue reading →
In my last post I mentioned that the technical/mechanical tools for working with legislative materials (at least at the federal level) have lately become much more accessible and, if not intuitive, at least not so much of an actual barrier to research. This has in fact been the general trend in legal information, and therefore legal research — improvements in interface design, and the alignment of law-specific information-seeking with online search and retrieval techniques we use elsewhere in our lives have removed much (not all!) of the sheer mechanical and ‘interface level’ obstacles from specialized research. This is not to say that learning particular tools and interfaces is now unimportant. I, for one, still think every legal and/or scholarly researcher would benefit greatly from an understanding of controlled-vocabulary indexing, for example, and “Google-style” search can certainly be done either well or poorly.
But it does seem quite apparent that the mere mechanics and process of research have become accessible to a degree that proportionately more of our attention can be devoted to the other difficulty of being a good legal researcher; that of simply knowing enough of the institutional structures, law-making activities, and written work-product of the governing institutions you are concerned with that you have an adequate knowledge of what it even is that you are looking for. Read the rest on lawlibrary.case.edu
Knowing how to do legislative-history research, at least in the federal system, is now not really any different than simply having general knowledge of the work-product of Congress: what, in a documentary sense, is it that the legislature actually does?
It wasn’t always so. “Legislative history” research has long had a sort of mystique among legal practitioners, and even among librarians. Early in my career, I even worked for a senior librarian who would “spring” a mock legislative history question upon unsuspecting candidates for entry-level librarian jobs: the idea (besides assessing general demeanor and presence in a reference discussion) was that familiarity with certain indexes and other finding tools was the perfect proxy to distinguish the candidate who actually knew his practical art as a reference librarian from someone who might have gone to law and/or library school but hadn’t acquired any real hands-on depth in the field.
I recently wrote about the fact that website distribution of digitally-signed PDF facsimiles of the “classic” printed versions of certain Government Printing Office publications made it possible to do “official” research into federal administrative regulations freely, online. Among those free resources is the Code of Federal Regulations, the codification of federal administrative-agency regulations.
There isn’t any quite comparable access to “fully official” online legal research in statutory law in the federal system, due to the complicated status of the United States Code. Read the rest on lawlibrary.case.edu
In finding free, or very low cost, ways to conduct legal research one of the obstacles is often the unofficial status of freely available web-based tools. In other cases, even where the official, formal, “weight” of free (or low-cost) resources is equivalent to, say, much-prized unofficial resources like the annotated codes available in print or through Lexis or Westlaw, the effective cognitive authority and assumed merit (deservedly or not) of the resource is much lower.
In the case of Federal regulatory resources, however, the most official and formal research methods — hearkening back to those used for “old fashioned” print-bound regulatory research — are available, for free, online. There is a penalty in convenience, and there are drawbacks in terms of updating to which the wary researcher must be attentive. But the tools are there and they are used, in fact, very much in the fashion of print-based research into the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Register, and the other tools and tables that connect those resources together in response to a real research question.
This post originally appeared on the blog of the Case Western Reserve University law school library.
We recently wrote about the value of secondary sources to the legal researcher. So-called “legal encyclopedias” are a valuable secondary-source research tool. When you are conducting topical legal research in a comparatively unfamiliar subject or (especially in the case of state-specific encyclopedias) jurisdiction, a legal encyclopedia can provide a valuable starting point.
In legal research, when we refer to a “secondary source” we mean a document that is not, itself, legal authority but that explains or describes the law. By contrast, the verbal, documentary, nature of law is such that a “primary source” text—such as a statute or a judicial opinion—is in itself “the law.”
Secondary sources can be valuable tools at any stage in a research process. All of the many genres of secondary sources can be analyzed according to their usefulness at providing: Continue reading →