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WHAT IS LEGAL RESEARCH?
The purpose of legal research is to find “authorities” that aid in reaching a solution to a legal problem.
“Legal research” includes researching aspects of the legal field such as statutes and caselaw.
In other words, legal research is the process of finding and retrieving information relevant to a legal problem or question. It involves using various resources, such as statutes, caselaw, legal treatises, and online databases, to gather information and understand the legal principles and precedents that apply to a specific issue.
The goal of legal research is to identify the relevant laws and precedents, analyze their impact on the issue at hand, and use that information to support a legal argument or decision.
Legal research is an important tool for lawyers, judges, paralegals, and others in the legal profession, as it helps to ensure that they have a thorough understanding of the law.
It is a requirement for certified paralegals and attorneys to have knowledge of how to conduct legal research, as results from legal research can be abundant and so what is being researched can be complicated to find, look through, and know when it is relevant to use in a case.
WHAT IS A STATUTE?
A “statute” is a law enacted by legislature.
A statute is commonly referred to as a “law” and also as a “code.”
There are state laws and federal laws. There are also municipal codes such as ordinances, bylaws, and measures that local municipalities or towns put into place to govern the town.
The “United States Statutes at Large” is the permanent of collection of all laws and resolutions enacted during each session of Congress.
Cited statutes can be extremely confusing if one has not been trained in how to read a statute; however, it is actually very straight forward.
For instance, Utah Code §41-6a-601 (“Speed regulations – Safe and appropriate speeds at certain locations – Prima Facie speed limits—Emergency power of governor”) can be broken down as follows:
|Utah Code||This is the legislation that is responsible for this law; essentially, this means Utah Legislation Law.|
|§||This means section.|
|41||This is the title number.|
|6a||This is the chapter number.|
|601||This is the section of the statute.|
|“Speed regulations – Safe and appropriate speeds at certain locations – Prima Facie speed limits – Emergency power of governor”||This is the title of the statute.|
The above-referenced statute is the law for speeding in Utah.
While it can be intimidating to look at, when breaking down a citation as shown above, it is easy to see that each part means something and can be broken up to find what one is researching.
WHAT IS CASELAW?
Caselaw is law that is based on judicial decisions rather than law based on constitutions, statutes, or regulations.
Caselaw refers to the collection of reported judicial decisions of cases and the principles of law established in those cases.
Caselaw is the body of law created by the written opinions of the courts, especially appellate courts (such as the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, whether they be at the state or federal level), that interpret and apply the law to specific cases.
Caselaw helps to establish legal precedent and provides guidance for future cases with similar facts.
The law of legal precedent is also known as stare decisis, which is a Latin term meaning “to stand by things decided.” It refers to the principle in common law (comprised of civil law and criminal law) legal systems that courts are obligated to follow the precedent established by prior cases.
This means that when a court hears a case that is similar to a case that has been previously decided, the court should follow the reasoning and decision of the earlier case.
The principle of stare decisis helps to promote stability, predictability, and consistency in the law, and it is a key aspect of the common law legal system.
As established above but more specifically reiterated here, in the criminal justice system, stare decisis is the doctrine requiring courts to adhere to established precedent when making their decisions.
Explained differently, “precedent” refers to a court decision, usually made by the Court of Appeals of the Supreme Court, that is considered as authority for deciding subsequent cases involving identical or similar facts, or similar legal issues.
A prior decision serves as precedent only for issues, given the particular facts, that the court explicitly considered in reaching its decision.
If a decision has already been made by the court, it is unlikely that the court will retract that decision, unless new evidence comes to light that would reasonably compel a change. This is one way that case law can make or break a case.
Showing the court that a higher court has already made a decision regarding the issue being raised in the case can help or hurt a case.
Everyone in the United States of America has heard of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
Any decision rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States of America is binding on all federal courts, and on state courts regarding issues of the Constitution and federal law.
Each state also has their own supreme court, and the decisions made therein impact the issues for the state the court is applicable to.
There have been many important decisions made in the United States by the Supreme Court. Some notable Supreme Court decisions include:
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
The decision in Brown overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine. The argument was that segregated public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause. This case helped establish the basis for the civil rights movement and integration across the country.
Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)
The decision in Gideon held that the Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel applies to criminal state trials. It stated, “Lawyers in criminal court are necessities, not luxuries.” This decision expanded the public defender systems across the United States.
Miranda v. Arizona (1966)
In Miranda, the Court found that the Fifth and Sixth Amendments require police to inform individuals in custody that they have the right to remain silent and to be assisted by an attorney. The term “Miranda Rights” is now common knowledge across the United States, and it keeps people informed of their rights when they are in custody.
Dobbs v. Jackson (2021)
In Dobbs, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In Dobbs, the Court determined that the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion. This decision has led to much debate across the United States.
As exhibited by the above-referenced cases, caselaw is an important part of the legal system that can make or break a case.
WHERE TO FIND STATUTES AND CASELAW
Attorneys and paralegals use different websites and legal platforms that help them research statutes and caselaw easily.
Westlaw, Fastcase, Casetext, and LexisNexis are some of the more popular legal research websites.
It is important to note that these websites cost money to use. They are membership based.
By using the websites stated above, an attorney and paralegals can research and find virtually all statutes and caselaw related to the case they are working on.
An attorney or paralegal can also specify which jurisdiction, such as state or federal, they are looking for caselaw or statutes in. This helps narrow down the search.
If one does not have a membership to a legal research website, one can use a search engine to find cases and statutes that are relevant to one’s case.
An example of this would be if one received a speeding citation in Utah and wanted to see what the law in Utah was regarding speeding; in such a circumstance one could search “speeding laws in Utah.” This search would likely give one a good start in finding out the law in Utah regarding speeding.
Another example would be if a grandparent wanted to find information regarding grandparent rights in Utah, they could search “grandparent rights in Utah.”
Not every case that one finds will be relevant to one’s case.
It is important to read the case information thoroughly and to understand what the decision was in the case.
For instance, did the court agree with the original decision, or did they reverse it to be retried?
When reading about a case, another case may be cited that could be relevant and could be used in the case at hand.
When performing legal research, it is always important for one to research all aspects that might be relevant to one’s case.
Since attorneys and paralegals have been trained in legal research, they tend to have an easier time finding caselaw and statutes that are relevant to cases.
Needing to conduct legal research is a great reason to hire a paralegal.
CONTACT US TODAY!
Are you in need of affordable, top-quality legal services from a paralegal? Specifically, do you need help with legal research? Let Altiorem help you today!
We are knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced in conducting legal research and in drafting all manner of legal documents, such as briefs, pleadings, motions, memoranda, letters, etc.
If you need a top-quality, professional, well-written, well researched, and compelling legal document drafted, then look no further! We produce top-quality, properly written legal documents with impeccable grammar, punctuation, spelling, structure, flow, information, compelling legal arguments, and persuasive legal conclusions.
Our team of paralegals are highly experienced in working with attorneys, other paralegals, and court personnel.
We are happy to receive documents via email from you, speak with you on the phone, look through court files, or even translate documents (English / Spanish)!
The Utah legal system can be dauting and confusing. Let Altiorem relieve your stress and be your guide.
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 See Legal Information Institute, Legal Research, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/legal_research (last visited Feb. 5, 2023).
 See Wex Definitions Team, Statute, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/statute (last updated May 2020).
 See U.S. Government Publishing Office, Statutes at Large, 1951 (Vol. 65, 82nd Congress) to 2013, https://www.govinfo.gov/help/statute (last updated June 14, 2022).
 See Wex Definitions Team, Caselaw, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/case_law (last updated May 2020).
 See Wex Definitions Team, Stare Decisis, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/stare_decisis (last updated Dec. 2021).
 See id.
 See Wex Definitions Team, Precedent, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/precedent (last updated May 2020).
 See id.
 See American Bar Association, Landmark United States Supreme Court Cases, https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/programs/constitution_day/landmark-cases/ (last visited Feb. 5, 2023).
 See Supreme Court of the United States, Syllabus – Dobbs v. Jackson (Oct. 2021), https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf.
 410 U.S. 113 (1973).