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Ch. 2

Regardless of whether you use Shepard’s to find cases, you must always use it to ensure the cases you are citing were not overruled, reversed, or distinguished.

F. Summary

Research is a key step in developing and presenting a legal argument. This Chapter has suggested an outline for the development of your legal arguments:

  • (1)

    Analyze the problem: separate your case into small, separate issues. This will help you get started and provide manageable issues for you to research;

  • (2)

    Get an overview of the subject area: review treatises and legal encyclopedias to obtain an introduction to the details of particular areas of law;

  • (3)

    Find relevant legislation: consult the annotated codes to find U.S. and state constitutional provisions, federal statutes, state statutes, and legislative history;

  • (4)

    Find relevant cases: read cases cited in annotated codes such as U.S.C.A. and McKinney’s. Find additional cases through digests, key numbers, indices, words and phrases tables, and Shepard’s;

  • (5)

    Check other sources: review treatises, legal periodicals, practice commentaries, manuals, form books, texts, and legal dictionaries for additional commentary;

  • (6)

    Update your research: make certain that you rely on the most up-to-date editions and supplements, and that you Shepardize your case law and legislation; and

  • (7)

    Complete your citations: properly cite the authorities upon which you rely.

Two preliminary issues that you will want to confirm before beginning your research are: (1) which court has jurisdiction to hear your case (both territorial and subject matter jurisdiction), and (2) if you are appealing a conviction, whether the prosecutor followed proper court rules to get your case to court. The following are the sources most often used in prison law libraries to find the law.

For federal law:

  • (1)

    U.S.C.A. (for statutes and the annotations that follow the statutory text); and

  • (2)

    Modern Federal Practice Digest (for federal cases on specific topics).

The major reporters you will be looking to for reported federal cases will be: the Federal Supplement, cited as __ F. Supp. __, __ F. Supp. 2d __, and __ F. Supp. 3d __ (the 3d series will contain the most recent cases), for selected cases from all federal district courts; the Federal Reporter, cited as __ F. __, __ F.3d __, and __ F.3d __ (the 3d series will contain the most recent cases), for cases from all federal circuit courts of appeals; and the Supreme Court Reporter, cited as __ S. Ct. __, for cases from the U.S. Supreme Court. In case citations the reporter volume number goes before the reporter name, and the page number on which the case begins goes after.

For New York law:

  • (1)

    McKinney’s (for statutes and for the case annotations that follow the statutory text); and

  • (2)

    New York Digest (for New York cases on specific topics).

The major reporter you will be looking to for reported New York cases will be the New York Supplement (Second Series). It is cited as __ N.Y.S.2d __.

G. Other Ways to Learn About Legal Research

Many organizations have developed materials to help non-lawyers understand the law. For example, West Publishing Company publishes The Guide to American Law, Everyone’s Legal Encyclopedia, which is directed toward non-lawyers. Additionally, a detailed explanation of how to conduct legal research is found in M. Cohen’s Legal Research in a Nutshell. Finally, the law is full of technical terms. Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009) is particularly helpful in explaining legal terms.

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