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Mind the Research Gap: Law School to Real World

Do You Have A Starting Point?

Are you unsure where to start because you do not have enough information?

If you do not have a case, statute, or regulation to help you start your research, generally the best approach is to look at secondary sources on your topic.  Secondary sources discuss the law and give citations to relevant cases, statutes, and regulations.  Reviewing secondary sources will give you background to help you with search terms and will give you citations to the law to start your search.  For further guidance on researching an unfamiliar area of law, see Researching an Unfamiliar Area of Law

If you already have a case, statute, or regulation, see below for tips on where to start your research. This page contains helpful information on where to start if you are looking for:

  • Cases,
  • Statutes or legislative history,
  • Administrative law or regulations, or
  • Litigation forms or samples

Do You Need Cases?

There are a number of ways to search for cases depending on the information you already have.  You most likely will have to try several methods to find the best cases and most relevant cases. 

If you are starting with another case, see questions 1, 2, and 3.  Otherwise, review the list for possible options. 

No.

Research question

Tips on where to start your research

1

Already have a case?  Use it to find a case that follows or cites favorably to it.

The best place to start is a citator.  The three citators are Westlaw’s Keycite, Lexis’s Shepard’s, and Bloomberg Law’s BCite.  To use the citator, first enter the citation for the case you already have.  The citator will tell you what cases cite to it or follow it.  

2

Already have a case? Use it to Find a case that criticizes or distinguishes it.

The best place to start is a citator.  The three citators are Westlaw’s Keycite, Lexis’s Shepard’s, and Bloomberg Law’s BCite.  To use the citator, first enter the citation for the case you already have.  The citator will tell you what cases criticize or distinguish it. 

3

Already have a case? Use it to find a case that discusses the same topic as a headnote from the case.

If you are looking for cases that cite your case on the topic in the headnote, see Questions 1 and 2 above about citators.  If you are looking for cases that discuss the topic in general, regardless of whether they cite your case, use the topical organization system in Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg.  In Westlaw, use the Key Number System (see Question 6 below for more information on the Key Number System).  In Lexis, click on the topic of interest.  In Bloomberg Law, use the topic number. 

4

Have a statutory citation? Use it to find a case that interprets that statute.

The best place to start is the annotations for that statutory section in Westlaw or Lexis.  First, open the statutory section using the citation.  Then, in Westlaw, look under the “Notes of Decisions” tab for cases on your topic, or mine the Citing References.  In Lexis, look under "Notes to Decisions" for cases on your topic, or mine the Citing References.

5

Have a regulation to start from? Use it to find a case that interprets that regulation.

The best place to start is the annotations for that regulation in Westlaw or Lexis.  First, open the regulatory section using the citation.  Then, in Westlaw, look under the “Notes of Decisions” tab for cases on your topic, or mine the Citing References.  In Lexis, look under "Notes to Decisions" for cases on your topic, or mine the Citing References.

6

Find a case by Key Number, e.g. 291k421

Key Numbers are only in Westlaw.  Key numbers represent a topic of law, which you can use to find cases on that topic. 

If you have a Key Number, look it up in the Key Number System, under the “All Content” tab.  You will get a list of cases on that topic of law, which you can narrow by jurisdiction.

If you have a case with a headnote with a relevant Key Number, click on the Key Number to get more cases on the topic.

If you do not have a Key Number, you can either browse or search the Key Number System by topic to find Key Numbers on your topic.  You can then use that Key Number to find cases on your topic.

7

Find a case when starting from scratch (i.e. when you do not have another case, statute, regulation, or Key Number to start)

Generally, the best place to start is with a secondary source on the topic.  This will give you background to help you with search terms and will likely give you some cases to start your search.  For more reminders about secondary sources, see Researching an Unfamiliar Area of Law or ask a Law Librarian for a specific recommendation.

8

Find a particular judge’s decisions

The best approach is to go to a case database in Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg Law, narrow by the jurisdiction where the judge serves, and search the judge’s name in the judge field of the Advanced Search feature or filter by the judge’s name.

9

Find a docket for a particular case

The best approach is to search in Bloomberg Law’s docket database (see Dockets to the left).  Not all dockets are online, but you generally can find federal dockets. For Minnesota Dockets that you can't find through Bloomberg, look at Minnesota Resources for information about using MNCIS.

Are You Looking for Statutes or Legislative History?

No.

Research question

Tips on where to start your research

1

Find a federal statute on a particular topic

The United States Code contains the current federal statutes.  Often, the best approach is to use an index.  Westlaw and Lexis have an online index.  You also can search and browse the USC on Westlaw (USCA), Lexis (USCS), and Bloomberg Law.  You can find free versions at the Office of the Law Revision Counsel or Legal Information Institute.  

2

Find a federal statute when you have the popular name of the statute, e.g. Patriot Act

The best place to start is the Popular Name Table for the United States Code.  This is available on Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law.  You can find free versions at the Office of the Law Revision Counsel or Legal Information Institute

3

Find legislative history for a federal statute

For more information on finding federal legislative history, see the Federal Legislative History Guide.

4

Find a Minnesota statute on a particular topic

The Minnesota Statutes contains the current statutes for the State of Minnesota.  Often the best approach is to use an index.  The official version (including an index) can be found from the Minnesota Revisor's website.  Westlaw also has an online index.  You also can search and browse the Minnesota Statutes Annotated on Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law.  

6

Find legislative history for a Minnesota statute

Fore more information on finding Minnesota legislative history, see Minnesota Legislative History Guide from the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library

 

Are You Looking for Administrative Law or Regulations?

No.

Research question

Tips on where to start your research

1

Find a federal regulation on a particular topic

The Code of Federal Regulations contains the current federal regulations. Often, the best approach is to use an index. Westlaw and Lexis have an online index. You also can search and browse the CFR on Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law. You can find a free updated version from the government at eCFR

2

Find an Minnesota regulation on a particular topic

The Minnesota Administrative Rules contains the current Minnesota regulations.  You can search and browse the Minnesota Administrative Rules on Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law. There is a freeversion also at the Minnesota Revisor website.  

Are you Looking for Litigation Forms or Samples?

If you are looking for litigation forms or samples, such as complaints or briefs, the good option is to use forms or samples from the law office where you work.  In most cases, your law office has already filed that type of document.  If you cannot use a form or sample from your office, or need to supplement it, try using the following table to find forms or samples. 

No.

Form or Sample

Tips on where to start your research

1

Find litigation forms

Westlaw:  Under the “Content Types” tab, select “Forms.”  You can select jurisdiction, subject, or secondary source.  Many secondary sources have forms, usually in appendices.
Lexis:  Under the “Content Type” tab, select “Sample Forms.”  Also, there is a specific link for “Jury Instructions,” if you are looking for those.  You can select jurisdiction or practice area.
Bloomberg Law:  Under the “Litigation & Dockets” tab, look in “Litigation Resources.”  Under “Court Materials,” there are forms for federal and state jury instructions.  Also, there are forms under “Current Awareness and Secondary Sources.”

2

Find litigation samples

Westlaw:  Under the “Content Types” tab, try searching in “Briefs” or “Trial Court Documents” or you can try searching in “Dockets,” but access to documents here is very restricted
Lexis:  Under the “Content” tab, search in “Briefs, Pleadings and Motions.”  You can narrow further by type of document, jurisdiction, or practice area.
Bloomberg Law:  Under the “Litigation & Dockets” tab, try searching in “Dockets.”

3

Find Jury Instructions

Lexis:  Under the “Content” tab, search in “Jury Instructions,” where you can further select by federal or state, practice area, and model or pattern instructions.
Westlaw:  Type “jury instructions” in search box, then under “Looking for this?” select “Jury Instructions,” where you can select by federal or state and model or pattern instructions.
Bloomberg Law:  Under the “Litigation & Dockets” tab, look in “Litigation Resources.”  Under “Court Materials,” there are forms for federal and state jury instructions.