The purpose of legal research is to find legal authority that will support your position, help you oppose the other side's position, or generally aid you in understanding your situation or legal problem. Learn where you can go to do legal research and what types of materials are available.
Where You Can Go
The best place to go to do legal research is your local law library. Law librarians are experienced professionals who can help you in almost all aspects of legal research. Visit the Law Libraries page to learn more.
If there is not a law library near you, try visiting your local public library or university library. For a listing of public libraries in Nevada, click here. To find a college or university near you, click here.
The Internet can also be a terrific tool for legal research. The Internet gives you access to a huge amount of information, and you should be able to find links to both state and federal law.
What You Can Find
Legal materials can be divided into two types: “primary sources” and “secondary sources.”
"Primary sources" are direct sources of information that have not been altered or interpreted by a third party. A primary source – if it is on point in your case – can be strong authority used to persuade a judge that your position is the right one. Primary sources include:
Constitutions. Constitutions describe the different branches of government and how they relate to each other. Constitutions also lay out the fundamental law for a nation or state. You should be able to find the United States Constitution and any state constitution at your local law library, public library, or online.
To see the Constitution of the State of Nevada, click here. To cite the Nevada Constitution to a court in a legal document, include (1) the document name, (2) the article number, (3) the section number, and (4) the clause number. For example, if you wanted to support the proposition that there are three branches of government in Nevada, you would cite to the Nevada Constitution like this: Nev. Const. art. III, § 1, cl. 1
FYI!Legal citations are abbreviations used to identify the source of any information you quote or use. Everyone uses the same abbreviations, which makes it easy to identify the source. When you use legal citations in a document, you show that you have legal authority to back up your ideas. Authority for your research is important to persuade a judge that your view of the law is the correct one. Cite your source at the end of any sentence where you refer to that source.
State statutes. Each state has its own set of statutes or laws passed by that state's lawmaking body. The state statutes govern the residents of that state. You can find most state statutes at your local law library or online. Click here to see some links that might be useful.
For Nevada's statutes, visit the Nevada Statutes page for links and other information. To cite a Nevada statute to the court in a legal document, you should include (1) the name of the statutory compilation ("NRS" for Nevada Revised Statutes), (2) the chapter number containing the statute followed by a period, (3) the section number of the statute, and (4) the year of the compilation you are relying on, something like this: NRS 125.480 (2009)
Case law. Case law (sometimes referred to as "cases" or "decisions") consists of the written opinions given by judges when they rule on a case. If you have access to a law library, you can find case opinions in books called case reporters. Each court's cases are published in a different set of case reporters. Ask your law librarian which case reporters publish cases of the court you are interested in. There are also online services that allow you to locate cases electronically. Your law librarian can explain how to use these services.
In Nevada, opinions from the Nevada Supreme Court and Nevada Court of Appeals are published. Those opinions are published in two sets of books, the Pacific Reporter and the Nevada Reporter. The rules for citing a case can be a bit complicated. Broadly speaking, when you reference a case from the Nevada Supreme Court in a legal document to a Nevada court, you should at least include (1) the parties' names separated by "v." (for "versus"), (2) the volume of the Nevada reporter in which the opinion can be found, (3) the abbreviated name of the case reporter ("Nev." for the Nevada Reporter), (4) the page number on which the case you are citing begins, and (5) the year of the case. The case citation will look something like this: Rivero v. Rivero, 125 Nev. 410 (2009).
"Secondary sources" come from third parties (such as legal historians, scholars, or law professors) who are commenting on or analyzing the law. Secondary sources can help persuade a judge, but usually only if there is no primary source on point. Secondary sources include:
Legal encyclopedias. Legal encyclopedias are useful for educating yourself and finding case law in a given area of law. Just like general encyclopedias, legal encyclopedias arrange topics alphabetically and have an index in the last volume. Start by looking in the index for the subject or area of law that you are interested in. Be flexible with the words you use – if one word does not work, try other words that relate to the same area of law.
There are two main legal encyclopedias: (1) Corpus Juris Secundum and (2) American Jurisprudence. Both can be found at your local law library.
Treatises. Treatises are books written by experts on a particular area of law (like contract law, real estate law, construction law, and the like). Treatises can be used to find background information, in-depth analysis, and case law. Ask the law librarian at your local law library to help you find a treatise in the area of law you are researching.
Law reviews and legal periodicals. Law review articles are magazine articles written by legal scholars and students and often give a broad overview of the law in a particular area. Law review articles may be helpful in finding important cases dealing with the area of law you are researching. Law review articles can be found at your local law library.
American Law Reports Annotated (A.L.R.). ALR is a collection of cases from all jurisdictions on narrow issues of law. ALR can be used to find cases on the topic you are researching. ALR can be found at your local law library.