Skip to Main Content

Researching the Law in the United States for LLM Students

Resources for LLM students for research, the U.S. legal system, and studying at law school

Ask us anything!

Law librarians and library staff are available to help you find your way around the library and its legal materials, provide research support, and assist you in locating materials that are not in our library. You can find the latest information about our hours and services on the library homepage. There are several ways to contact us:

Email us

In Person: The Borrowing Services Desk and Reference Office are on the main floor of the law library. Online and in-person appointments with the reference staff can be made from the library homepage

Call us:

Borrowing Services Desk: (650) 723-2477
Reference Desk: (650) 725-0800

Introduction

This page provides an introduction to and suggestions for locating U.S. legal primary source materials: legislative materials (constitutions, statutes, and international treaties); judicial materials (cases and court rules) and administrative materials (rules and regulations).

Primary Legal Sources

Legislative materials include sources created by the legislature--either by Congress or by any of the state legislative bodies. They include constitutions, statutes, and international treaties. This section provides an overview of each type of source; and suggestions for locating and expanding (e.g. finding sources that discuss, cite back to, or are similar to) those sources.

For additional information about locating legislative history, see our Federal Legislative History research guide; and for detailed information on locating state legislation, see our State Legislative Information research guide.

Source Name Information about Source Locating and Expanding the Source
U.S. Constitution The U.S. Constitution sets out the structure of the federal government, provides fundamental laws, and guarantees basic rights for citizens in the United States. 
State constitutions Each state has its own state constitution that governs the individual state.
Federal statutes Federal statutes are enacted by the U.S. Congress. Statutes are first published as slip laws, then compiled chronologically into the U.S. Statutes at Large. They are then organized by subject (codified) into the United States Code (U.S.C.). The U.S.C. is published every 6 years, with supplements published annually.
State statutes Like the federal government, each state legislature passes its own statutes; the process and publication cycle varies by state.
  • Guide to Law Online: States and Territories will link you to individual guides for each state, including their statutes.
  • Find annotated versions of each state's statutes, session laws, and some bills by clicking on the individual state through Lexis and Westlaw's collection of state material.
  • For more information about locating state bills, session laws, and state legislative history, see our guide on State Legislative Information
Treaties International agreements that the United States is a party to are also a source of federal law. Treaties become federal law after two-thirds of the U.S. Senate gives their advice and consent.

 

Judicial sources are published by the judiciary and include cases and court rules. This section includes information about each type of source, as well as information about how to locate them, expand them (e.g. find other sources that cite to or are related to a specific case), and use case citators (e.g. confirm the cases are still good law). For more detailed information on how to locate cases, see our Case Finding and Advanced Searching Strategies research guide.

Judicial Source Information about Source Where to Find Source
U.S. Supreme Court cases U.S. Supreme Court cases are first published as slip opinions before being published in a bound case reporter (such as the United States Reports, the official reporter of the U.S. Supreme Court). When reading a case, note that annotated information that often appears at the top of the case (such as the syllabus or headnotes). While useful, they are not part of the case and should not be cited.
  • United States Reports (official reporter)
  • Supreme Court Reporter (unofficial reporter, published by West)
    • Because it often takes 5-6 years before a case is published in the United States Reports, other, unofficial reporters can be cited in the interim.
  • Annotated cases can also be found on Lexis and Westlaw. The annotations provides citators to determine if a case is still good law, as well as allow you to locate secondary sources and other cases that cite back to your case.
  • For more information about finding cases, see our Case Finding and Advanced Searching Strategies research guide
Federal and state cases The federal courts and the state courts also publish opinions in bound case reporters. These reporters are typically divided geographically, allowing you to find cases in a specific region. When reading a case, note that annotated information that often appears at the top of the case (such as the syllabus or headnotes). While useful, they are not part of the case and should not be cited.
Federal court rules Court rules dictate how a court operates, including rules for individuals appearing before a court. Each court will have its own rules (sometimes individual judges have their own rules), so it's crucial to read those rules before appearing before or submitting any documentation to that court.
State court rules Court rules dictate how a court operates, including rules for individuals appearing before a court. Each court will have its own rules (sometimes individual judges have their own rules), so it's crucial to read those rules before appearing before or submitting any documentation to that court.
  • To find rules that apply to individual district, circuits, or judges, check the individual court's website. Lexis and Westlaw may also have individual court rules

 

Administrative sources are published by the executive branch; most of these sources are referred to as administrative sources, since they are issued by agencies. Administrative sources includes regulations/rules, proposed rules, and administrative decisions and guidance. Additionally, the President (or the Governor, at the state level) often issues statements, orders, and other papers. This section includes information about each type of source, as well as information about how to locate them and expand them (e.g. find other sources that cite to or are related to the source).

Type of Source Information about Source Where to find the Source
Federal regulations/rules and proposed regulations/rules Congress, via statutes, will give executive agencies the power to issue rules (or regulations). The rules are first issued as proposed and are published in chronological order in the Federal Register; and the public is allowed to comment on the proposed rule. Once the rule has been finalized, it is organized by subject (codified) and published in the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.). For more information about the rulemaking process, see either Learn about the Regulatory Process or A Guide to the Rulemaking Process.
State regulations and proposed regulations Like the federal government, states also give state executive agencies the power to issue rules or regulations. Each state has a different process, different agencies, and different sources of power for their executive agencies.