Fundamentals of Legal Research
Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
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Practice Forms, Models, and Guidelines
An important category of tools used by practicing lawyers is form books. As one would expect, the primary purpose of these books is to provide sample forms for lawyers to follow. In addition, these books serve as a useful secondary source of law. This is because many such books provide an overview of the area of law related to the use of the forms. These often include references to the primary sources of law to which the forms pertain. Most commonly, these are multivolume sets designed for either court practice or practice in a particular state.
There are several different categories of these books. One of the most common is called forms of pleading and practice. These documents pertain primarily to lawsuits. Transaction forms contain legal documents of a transactional nature, such as wills and incorporation documents.
Model Jury Instructions
It would be a terrible burden on judges if they were required to construct new jury instructions every time they presided over a trial. Pattern jury instructions provide judges with a template of tried and tested statements to give the jury. Judges are not bound by these model instructions, and may well deliver an instruction specifically tailored to the details of a particular case. While limited in scope, these instructors are written in plain language and are easily understood because they are written with lay jurors in mind rather than lawyers. In addition, they tend to point back to the primary sources of law on which they are based.
As has been pointed out many times in this book, laws can vary widely from state to state. Many of the finest legal minds in American legal history have regarded this as a problem, and the practice of developing model codes and uniform codes has been a result. These types of codes are not the laws of any particular jurisdiction (unless adopted by a legislature). Their purpose is to serve as a model for legislatures that at once has the potential to improve the quality of the law and the uniformity of the law. Even when states have adopted model codes, they rarely do so without change. Even if you know your state has adopted the Model Penal Code, for example, you will still need to verify the precise law of your state through the state’s code.
Many model codes are published similarly to state codes, complete with annotations. This is an excellent tool for learning about an area of law from a general perspective.
Free Internet Resources
Most of the material discussed so far in this section began as print material, and made the transition over to electronic resources as the internet and digital media became more and more prominent. Still, legal publishers (like all publishers) are in the business of making money. Most of these resources, then, are available online, but on a subscription basis. If you are a college student, your university library has invested a staggering sum of money in providing student legal researchers access to high-quality legal materials. Be sure to take full advantage of those resources when conducting legal research.
There are times when a researcher may not have access to subscription services, however. When there is no alternative to high-quality research databases, there is a wealth of free information online. The problem is sifting through all of inaccurate and poor quality garbage to find the valuable material. One potential solution is to consider the entity responsible for maintaining the resource. Law libraries and law school websites are often sources of high-quality information that is free of charge. Government agencies such as the Government Printing Office (GPO) often provide free legal materials, albeit without the very useful annotations provided by commercial versions. Also, when looking at secondary sources (descriptive and analytical content), be very selective about the authors that you trust. Especially when it comes to topical areas of law, there are many would be experts out there with websites of questionable scholarship. See if you can identify the credentials of the author. A selection of reputable and free resources is listed in an Appendix to this book.
Modification History File Created: 08/08/2018 Last Modified: 06/13/2019
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