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Getting Started With Legal Research: Finding Legal Resources

Learn to prepare for research, identify appropriate resources, and locate useful legal material.

Finding Legal Resources

Now that you have a research strategy and you know what kind of authority you are looking for, here is a guide to finding those resources, both in the Library and online.

Several websites provide free access to court decisions, primary law, and journal articles

Patrons on the U-M campus can access legal databases that provide a wide range of materials--state and federal, secondary and primary.

Research at the Michigan Law Library

For additional help diving into a research project, peruse the guide below.

Locating Legal Resources

Print 

The Law Library has a large collection of secondary sources in print.

  • Encyclopedias, American Law Reports, and Restatements can be found in the Reference Collection, behind the Reference Desk. 
    • Consult the index of an encyclopedia or ALR to determine which volume contains the material relevant to your search. Indexes consist of multiple volumes at the end of a set of books.
  • Treatises and hornbooks are in different places throughout the library, organized by subject.
    • Browse the Treatise Finder guide to quickly find relevant works.
    • The Nutshell Series is a good secondary source to start with when trying to understand the different areas of law.
  • Print journals are shelved in S3-N. For easier browsing and access, as well as a greater scope of coverage, explore the journals available online.

Search the Library Catalog to discover what is available and where materials are located.

Online Access

Freely Available

  • Google Scholar includes journal and conference papers and scholarly articles available anywhere on the Internet. Also searches university digital repositories.
  • The Michigan Law Scholarship Repository is a collection of publications produced by members of the Michigan Law School community.
  • The SSRN Legal Scholarship Network provides abstracts and full-text PDFs for thousands of scholarly papers, including working papers and pre-publication versions of legal journal articles. Also includes Research Paper series and subject-matter e-journals.
  • The American Bar Association's Free Full-Text Online Law Review/Journal Search searches the full text of articles from more than 300 open access law journals.
  • American Law Sources Online is gateway site with links to webpages maintained by law reviews and similar publications, including e-journals. Organized alphabetically by title. 

Available On Campus

Library patrons on the Ann Arbor campus have access to a variety of online resources through the E-Resources Page. Browse E-Resources by name, subject, or jurisdiction to discover electronic resources that will benefit your research. Some particularly useful sources of secondary authority are discussed below.

  • Legal Articles
  • Treatises, Hornbooks, Practitioners' Manuals
    • Books and treatises on West Study Aids are available online when using a computer in the Smith Underground Library.
  • Restatements
  • Legal Encyclopedias
    • Nexis Uni includes access to AmJur and Michigan Law and Practice 

State Court Decisions

Michigan

Michigan Supreme Court decisions since 1847 are published in Michigan Reports. 

Michigan Court of Appeals decisions are published online and in print.

Michigan Digest and Michigan Digest 2d contain abstracts or summaries of Michigan court decisions, arranged by subject. Start with the general index to find cases relevant to a particular subject.

Other State Courts

  • Google Scholar allows users to search and read published opinions of U.S. state appellate and supreme court cases since 1950
  • National Center for State Courts directory of State Court Websites provides judicial branch links for each state. Opinions may be available in PDF on these sites.
  • The Library carries digests for the states California, Illinois, Florida, and New York.
    • For all other states, use the Decennial and General Digests (REF COLL) or Nexis Uni.
  • Appellate decisions of state courts are often published both by the individual state in official state reporters, as well as in regional reporters (which are published by West). Regional reporters and their abbreviations are as follows:

    • Atlantic Reporter (A. & A.2d)
    • North Western Reporter (N.W. & N.W.2d) 
    • North Eastern Reporter (N.E. & N.E.2d)
    • Pacific Reporter (P., P.2d, & P.3d)
    • Southern Reporter (So., So.2d, & So.3d)
    • South Eastern Reporter (S.E. & S.E.2d)
    • South Western Reporter (S.W., S.W.2d, & S.W.3d)

Federal

General

U.S Supreme Court Cases.

  • The library carries the official United States Reports (abbreviated U.S.) under call number KF 101.
  • Court opinions since 1991 are freely available on the SCOTUS website.
    • Includes Court rules, slip opinions for the current term, PDF copies of the bound United States Reports, and "sliplist" advance sheets (with links to opinions) for previous terms not yet published in a bound volume. 
  • Nexis Uni coverage of SCOTUS decision dates from 1789-current. Lexis publishes the "Lawyers' Edition" of SCOTUS cases, abbreviated L. Ed.
  • HeinOnline carries the U.S. Reports Vols. 1-566 (1754-2012).

Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal

  • West publishes the unofficial reporters containing these opinions, called Federal Reporters. 
    • The Federal Reporter (F.) ran from 1880 to 1924. Federal Reporter, Second Series (F.2d) began in 1924 and ended in September 1993. The most recent series, the Federal Reporter, Third Series, (F.3d), began in October 1993.
    • The Library carries Federal Reporters under call number KF 105.
  • Nexis Uni carries certain United States Courts of Appeal opinions dating from 1789-current.
  • Check individual Circuit Court websites for freely available opinions.

Federal District (Trial) Courts

  • West also publishes unofficial reporters containing these opinions, called Federal Supplements.
    • The first Federal Supplement (F. Supp.) ran 1933-1998. Federal Supplement, Second Series (F. Supp.2d) ran 1998-2014. Federal Supplement, Third Series (F. Supp. 3d) runs 2014-current.
    • The library carries Federal Supplements under call number KF 120.
  • Nexis Uni carries certain cases of United States District Courts for all 50 States from 1789 to current.

Michigan Statutes

Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL) is the official codification of statutes by the state of Michigan.

Session Laws

Federal Statutes

  • Congress.gov, the official website for U.S. federal legislative information, is a great resource for finding new public laws, pending bills, the status of bills, and committee reports and hearings. Full text legislation is available from 1989 (101st Congress) to present; bill summary/status information is available from 1973-present. 
  • Legal Information Institute provides no-cost access to many U.S. primary federal legal sources, including the U.S. Code, U.S. Supreme Court opinions, the Uniform Commercial Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. LII's collection of state legal materials includes Internet-accessible sources of constitutions, statues, judicial opinions, and regulations. 
  • Office of the Law Revision Counsel prepares and publishes the U.S. Code; offers several options for accessing both current and historical editions of the U.S. Code, in both HTML and PDF format. The OLRC also publishes U.S. Code Classification Tables, which can be used to show where public laws will be enacted into the U.S. Code and which sections of the Code have been amended by those laws.
  • Govinfo provides full-text access to the U.S. Code (1994-present), Public and Private Laws (1995-present), the Code of Federal Regulations (1996-present), the Federal Register (1994-present), the Congressional Record (1994-present), and other government documents published by the U.S. Government Printing Office
  • Catalog of U.S. Government Publications is a searchable database of official United States government publications including those in electronic format on the Internet.
  • HeinOnline U.S. Code includes the current U.S. Code and past versions. 
  • These commercially published, unofficial editions are annotated and can be found in the Library.

Session Laws

Other States

  • Legal Information Institute provides no-cost access to many U.S. primary federal legal sources, including the U.S. Code, U.S. Supreme Court opinions, the Uniform Commercial Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. LII's collection of state legal materials includes Internet-accessible sources of constitutions, statues, judicial opinions, and regulations. 
  • National Conference of State Legislators - State Legislative Websites Directory provides access to state legislative materials; where available, includes access to statutes, bills, and state constitutions.
  • Law Librarians' Society of Washington, DC. State Legislatures, State Laws, and State Regulations: Website Links and Telephone Numbers
  • Nexis Uni. Available on U-M campus.

State Administrative Materials

The following print materials provide information regarding state administrative materials:

Michigan

Administrative Code

Agencies

Federal

Agencies

  • Federal Administrative Agency Decisions & Other Actions, provided by the University of Virginia Library; links to web-accessible administrative decisions and opinions, arranged by agency and by subject. Availability of material varies by agency.
  • Regulations.gov allows users to find and comment on proposed regulations and related documents. Also contains final regulations, notices, scientific and technical findings, guidance, adjudications, and comments submitted by others. 
  • USA.gov is a gateway site providing access to all online U.S. government resources (federal, state and local). Includes an A-Z list of government agencies

Federal Register

  • Freely available on the FR website, including issues dating back to 1994.
  • The U.S. Government Publishing Office website provides free access to issues of the Federal Register from 1980-current in full-text, PDF searchable and/or browseable format 
  • Federal Register Index, published monthly, is available in the Library. Each month's index cumulates those earlier in the year. For past years there is an annual index. Entries are arranged by agency.
  • CIS Federal Register Index published weekly and cumulated periodically (1984-1998) REF COLL KF 70 .A2 Index 
  • National Archives provides access to the Federal Register, as well as information about its organization and uses

Code of Federal Regulations