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Legal Research 101: Legal Research 101

A helpful guide to assist library patrons to conduct effective legal research.


Librarians are here to help you! Please ask them for assistance with logging into Westlaw (none of the Westlaw links on this guide will work unless you are signed in), using NovaCat (our catalog), or any other research guidance that you may need. Please keep in mind that librarians CANNOT give legal advice and cannot reseach or interpret the law for any patron.


Black's Law Dictionary

Black's provides definitions of legal terms used in describing legal issues. It can be found on the second floor of the library in the Reserves and General collections. The call number is KF156 .B53. Please ask a librarian or staff member for help.

On the public access terminals, it is available through public Westlaw Next access by clicking here.

Free & Low Cost Legal Help

Lawyer referrals and suggestions on where to find legal assistance.

Legal Resources Accessible From Anywhere

Case Law

Case law research is important because courts are bound by decisions that came before. That is, a court must follow the decisions in previous cases on the same legal topic.  This Florida Bar Journal article explains which decisions are binding in a state court.

A citation is where a particular case is located in a book. Federal cases can be retrieved in the various Federal Reporters (located on the third floor of the library). Reporters publish cases, and the Federal Reporter publishes federal cases. You can find recent Florida cases in the Southern Reporter 3d Series.  It is always a good idea to double check your cases to ensure they are still good law. Bloomberg Law's BCite system and Westlaw's KeyCite system will give you the most up-to-date information for the case.

Legal Encyclopedias

Legal encyclopedias are set up similarly to traditional encyclopedias. Legal encyclopedias contain brief articles relating to different legal topics. One of the  most popular general legal encyclopedias that public patrons at the library is  American Jurisprudence (print version is located in the Core Collection on the second floor of the library). Encyclopedias can be a good place to start if you are researching an area of the law that is unfamiliar to you. They are easy to use and contain citations and other useful information within the articles. The citations listed will be only those that the editors feel are the most important on the subject. The citations given are by no means the only cases that will discuss the subject matter, but are a good starting place in your research.

When using the print version, you will look up the subject in the index located at the end of the set. When using Westlaw, you may type in the key words or subject you are researching.

American Law Reports (ALR) (the print version can be found in the Core Collection on the second floor of the library) are similar to legal encyclopedias, but their annotations treat specific subjects in greater depth than legal encyclopedia articles, and will not contain as many topics. The ALR annotations provide citations to case law, statutes, regulations, and law reviews. They also provide in-depth information and analysis on the topic.

When using the print version, you will look up the subject in the index located at the end of the set. When using Westlaw, you may type in the key words or subject you are researching.



Information about the Federal Court system can be found on the United States Courts website.  You can find out the role of the various courts and the federal court structure

The Florida Courts website provides information on the organization and structure of the Florida court system, including information of and links to the Florida Supreme Court, district courts of appeals, and circuit (trial) courts,   You will find links to additional resources & services, including a list topics in alphabetical order and family law forms.



Model forms are samples of standard legal documents used often by lawyers in practice. There are basically two types of forms, instruments that are used to complete transactions between private parties, and pleadings which are filed in court.

The United States Code

  • The United States Code is the official government publication of Federal statutes.  It has been codified (meaning organized by topic/category).  Your secondary source research should direct you to the proper statute (i.e., 20 U.S.C. § 1681). (Find Online)
  •  West publishes the United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.). This contains the same statutory text as the U.S.C., but also provides helpful references to secondary sources. (Click here to access on Westlaw)
  • Lexis publishes the United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.) which is also an annotated version of the Code and will help direct you to other relevant research.
  • Cornell offers the US Code for free online here.