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Thinking About Legal Research Problems

By Paul D. Callister, JD, MSLIS

Library Director & Associate Professor of Law

Find out everything you can about the research problem.Determine whether primary, secondary or combined sources are most appropriate.For primary materials, determine the kind of law, jurisdiction and appropriate arrangement.Putting all of the factors together to find a relevant document.How to be thorough after you have found a relevant document.

Problems Type: Known Item Subject Institutional Statistical Special Techniques News Reference
Search Type
Used For
Subject Search Subject You are not looking for a specific item but for information on a particular subject. I am looking for something on Wisconsin water pollution law.

Subscription Databases


Lexis and Westlaw 

Secondary Sources

Finding similar cases and other documents

Law reviews--note that most journals do not go back further than about 1994-1990.

Segment searching on Lexis permit topic or "summary" searches.  Both Lexis and Westlaw permit title and author searching.

Online Catalog (MERLIN)

Use subject headings (especially of known materials which are on point to locate similar items).

UMKC Law Library Subscription Databases Page

Hein Online  --  Full-text searching for about 370 law reviews in PDF back (in many cases) to their inceptions.  Search is by title, author and full-text but not by abstracts, subject headings or key words.

IndexMaster (coming soon) -- Database of indexes and tables of contents of modern legal treatises  and looseleafs.

Index to Legal Periodicals & Books -- control vocabulary, abstract service for over 900 legal journals and other periodicals.  Coverage begins in 1981.

JStore -- full text of a few legal journals as other disciplines.

LegalTrac -- abstract service for legal journals and newspapers.  Similar to Index to Legal Periodicals with over a million articles abstracted.  Coverage begins about 1990.

Social Science Research Network--Includes legal and economic "Research Networks" with working papers of law faculty and academics.

Worldcat -- world's largest union catalog with over 52 million cataloging records from 50,000 libraries around the world.

UM Databases (By Subject) UM Databases (Alphabetical)

Academic Search Elite (EBSCO) -- Many full-text legal journals and law reviews (1984 - present). 

Expanded Academic (Gale) -- Large multi-disciplinary article abstract service.

Encyclopedia Britannica -- Key encyclopedia for background readings and bibliography.

Oxford English Dictionary -- Best source for etymology and obscure definitions.

World Almanac -- Sources for political  and other facts.  Includes Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia.

Many other subject specific journal and abstract databases.


Research on the Web


General Legal Subject Resources

Wex (Cornell Legal Information Institute) http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/index.php Combined legal encyclopedia and dictionary of legal subjects.  It functions like Wikipedia and new authors are welcome.  Perhaps the only truly comprehensive subject commentary for legal subjects on the web.

Cornell L. Research Encyclopedia   http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/library/encyclopedia/subjects/submain.htm Subject arrangement of legal websites provided by Cornell Law Library.

Legal Subjects Index (FindLaw) http://www.findlaw.com/01topics/index.html Findlaw's subject arrangement of web links based upon legal practice areas.

Practice Areas Index (LexisOne) http://www.lexisone.com/legalresearch/legalguide/practice_areas/practice_areas_index.htm LexisOne's subject arrangement of web links based upon legal practice areas.

Zimmerman's Legal Research Guide http://www.lexisnexis.com/infopro/zimmerman/ Comprehensive repository of research guides on legal subjects.  Excellent resource for mapping out your research.  Some background information and content is provided.

Yahoo Law http://dir.yahoo.com/Government/Law/ Yahoo's subject organization of law.

Government Docs 

Browse Gov. Topics (GPO) http://www.library.okstate.edu/govdocs/browsetopics/ Excellent subject arrangement to federal government web sites and documents.  Maintained by Oklahoma State University Library.

Meta-Subject Index to Gov. Info. http://www.isu.edu/library/docs/Subjects1.htm Extensive subject arrangement of subjects.  Utilizes Infomine and other resources.  Cut and past suggested subject headings into the Infomine search engine.

Law Reviews 

Law Review (USC)  http://lawweb.usc.edu/library/resources/journals.htm  Links to law reviews and journals with electronic content available on the Web.

Academic Law Reviews & Journals (Findlaw) http://stu.findlaw.com/journals/  Links to law reviews and journals organized by subject.  Free electronic journals are available through Findlaw's University Law Review Project (http://www.lawreview.org).

Open Access Law Journals http://sciencecommons.org/literature/oalawjournals Links to journals committed to open access principles of Creative Commons Science Commons.  May provide access to electronic content. 

Law Reviews:  Submissions & Rankings http://lawlib.wlu.edu/LJ/index.aspx Excellent site providing subject arrangements of over 1,200 law reviews and journals.  Many of the journals are ranked by number of citations, number of citations per article, number of citations in US courts, and average time until articles are cited.  Links to publish information.  Excellent cite for authors and libraries.

Law Journal Abstract List Serv (University L. Rev. Project) http://www.findlaw.com/lists/ulrpsubscribe.html Sign up for list serve with abstracts from law reviews.

Scholarly Papers

BePress Legal Repository http://law.bepress.com/repository Access to scholarly working papers, journals and working paper series.  Place for scholars to upload papers.  Information on most frequently downloaded papers.

L. Research Network (SSRN) http://www.ssrn.com/update/lsn/index.html Access to scholarly working papers, journals and working paper series.  Place for scholars to upload papers.  Some content may cost money if you are not with a educational institution.  Information on most frequently downloaded authors and titles.

Book Reviews & New Titles

Law & Politics Book Review http://www.bsos.umd.edu/gvpt/lpbr/

Yale L. Lib. Acquisitions http://www.law.yale.edu/library/news/acq/index.html

AcqWeb's Director of Law Publishers and Vendors   http://acqweb.library.vanderbilt.edu/pubr/law.html


Other Resources

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Last Update: 01/21/2011  

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