Core Legal Databases
These are the main legal research tools available to students through the University of Illinois Library:
Lexis Academic: contains primary legal resources (case law, statutory law, and administrative law) at the federal and state level, plus law reviews and journals and some international coverage. See this YouTube video for a short tutorial on using Lexis Academic.
Hein Online: contains federal law, law reviews and journals, and several international and secondary resources
Online Research Guides
Legal Research and Writing Guides
The Law Library has several resources dedicated to legal research and writing. Please drop by the library and peruse our Practical Skills collection.
Introduction - Start Here!
Welcome to the Law Library's Guide to Legal Research! Researching the law can be complicated, but this guide will help you figure out what kind of law you are looking for, and then point you toward some resources that can help you find what you need.
If you're researching a certain topic but you're not sure where to start, try the Law Topics by Subject tab. That page contains links to several secondary sources that can help sort out the kind of laws that may be relevant to a particular topic.
While you are considering what kind of law you may be looking for, you also need to consider what level of law you may want to look for. Laws can reach only as far as one small town, or they can apply to many countries at once. Most legal research in the United States looks at laws that are created by the United States Government, that apply to the whole country (also called "federal law"), or laws that are created by state governments, to apply only in that particular state (called "state law").
Once you have a sense of what kind of law you want to look at, and what levels of law you want to look at, you can move into finding primary sources of law. There are three basic kinds of law, one produced by each of the three branches of government:
- Statutory law is law passed by elected legislatures, such as the U.S. Congress or the Illinois General Assembly. When you're researching statutory law, you want to look at the law itself, and you may also want to research how the law was created - this is called the "legislative history" of a law. On the Statutory Law tab, you can find resources for finding federal statutory laws and legislative history, Illinois statutory laws and legislative history, statutory laws and legislative history in other states, or learn more about statutory laws in general.
- Administrative law is the regulations and rules created by the executive branch - the President at the federal level and the Governer at the state level, and all the executive branch agencies like the Department of Labor or the Illinois Department of Education. On the Administrative Law tab, you can find resources for locating federal administrative law, Illinois administrative law, administrative law in other states, or learn more about administrative law in general.
- Case law is made up of the decisions issued by judges in court cases. These decisions interpret, discuss and explain the other kinds of laws. On the Case Law tab, you can find resources for locating federal case law, Illinois case law, case law for other states, or learn more about case law in general.
Foreign law refers to laws that apply in other countries, such as French law or Japanese law. International law is the law that governs interactions between countries, such as treaties or United Nations materials. If you are looking for foreign or international law, click on the Foreign and International Law tab.
Finally, while this guide mostly links to electronic resources, there are many more resources and several helpful librarians at the Law Library. Legal research is complicated, so feel free to drop by if you need more help!
Making Sense of Legal Citations
A legal citation generally consists of some combination of the following elements:
- the author/names of the case, article, law or other resource.
- a numerical designation that identifies which part of a larger set the source is located in.
- the abbreviated name of the resource that the source is located in.
- the page or section number in which the cited source can be found.
- the year or publication date of the source. Court cases often include the name of the court here.
When searching or retrieving documents by citation in legal databases, leave off the title or name and the date of the document. Here are some examples of different types of legal citations:
|Example Citation||How to Read the Citation||Database Searches by Citation|
|Steven G. Calabresi & Kevin H. Rhodes, The Structural Constitution: Unitary Executive, Plural Judiciary, 105 Harv. L. Rev. 1155 (1992).||The named article was published in volume 105 of the Harvard Law Review on page 1155, in 1992.||105 Harv. L. Rev. 1155|
|Kennedy v. Nat'l Juvenile Det. Ass'n, 187 F.3d 690 (7th Cir. 1999).||The decision in the case Kennedy v. National Juvenile Detention Association was published in volume 187 of the Federal Reporter (3rd Series) on page 690. The decision was issued by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1999.||187 F.3d 690|
|810 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1-101||Chapter 810 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes, Act 5, Section 1-101.||810 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1-101|
|42 U.S.C. § 405(a) (2006).||Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 405(a), 2006 edition.||42 U.S.C. § 405(a)|
|40 CFR 87 (2009).||Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 87, 2009 edition.||40 CFR 87|
For more help deciphering or creating legal citations, try these resources:
- Martin, Peter W., Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (2012).
- Boston College Law Library, Reading Legal Citations (2004) (PDF).
- Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, How to Read a Legal Citation (2012).
The Law Library
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The University of Illinois Law Library provides these Web pages as a service to our users and they are not intended to be taken as legal or non-legal advice on any subject. The legal information provided in this website is for general reference only, and should not be relied upon for legal purposes. You should always consult a lawyer to determine your legal rights.
- The Bluebook: a Uniform System of Citation - the main legal citation handbook for law students and lawyers. Several copies are available in the reference section of the law library
- Black's Law Dictionary - available at law library reference
- Law.com - an online legal dictionary
- Prince's Bieber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations - available at the law library reference desk. Also available through Lexis Academic - click "US Legal" and then "Legal Reference"