Legal information includes language and search techniques that may be unfamiliar. Knowing some basic legal terms and concepts will help you navigate resources in the library and on the internet.
Research 101 - Getting Started in Library Research
Try the steps outlined in this guide for a simple and effective search strategy to find information for your research paper, project or presentation.
In general, all laws are part of a hierarchy in which federal laws are at the top, local laws at the bottom, and state laws somewhere in between.
United States Constitution
When a local or state law seems to conflict with a higher law, a judge will be asked to make a ruling. This ruling may set a precedent that other judges follow.
For more information about the courts, visit the U.S. Courts.gov website.
Statute: any law enacted by legislative body, either state or federal.
Regulatory: various practices and policies that carry out the law. Regulations are carried out by executive agencies.
Amicus Brief: Legal documents filed in court cases by non-litigants (people not directly involved in the case) with a strong interest in the subject matter.
Common Law: rules of law that come from judge’s decisions—not from lawmakers. When a judge decides a case and publishes the decision, that sets a precedent (a principle or a rule) for future judges’ decisions.
Landmark case: A major case that has wide-ranging effects in the legal system.
For more terms, visit the U.S. Courts glossary online.