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Legal Research For Non-Law Courses: Intro

Subject Guide

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Brian Kooy
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U.S. Government

Library Databases that explore the U.S. Government & Politics


What is legal research? It is the search for statements of the law, using primary resources such as statutes and cases.

Legal research within the context of a Criminal Justice requires the researcher to use legal resources as well as non-law resources to research the significance of a legal decision, usually to explore the impact a legal decision will have on the discipline.

For Criminal Justice information and resources see: Criminal Justice - General Introduction


Relevant Resources

Before you use a resource in your paper, you need to determine if it is credible.  There are many approaches but this is one I find easy to remember:


C -  Currency: When was the page created? Or when was the article or book published ? If it is a website, are the links still active? Given your topic, how recent do your resouces have to be?

A – Authority: Who is the author? What are the author's credentials? If it is a website, what is the domain name for the site? (e.g. .edu; .org) If it is in print, is it from a reputable publisher?

B – Bias: What is the purpose of the resource? Is there a position/opinion presented? If it is a website, what types of sites are being linked to? Are they random or well-known sites? If it is a print resource, who are the advertisers?

L – Level: Do you feel comfortable using this site for a college-level assignment? Is the site popular or intended for specialists?

E – Exploration: Verify the information in other sources. You are reading a lot on your topic, and soon you will be able to identify certain universal ideas and trends in your area. Match what you have learned against the resources you are considering - does it jive?

! - Is the resouce available in time for it to be properly read and incorporated into your paper?


Overall C.A.B.L.E! works for all resources however there are some slight variations when considering legal websites, See: Evaluating Legal Websites (courtesy of The People's Law Library of Maryland)

By Branch Of Gov't

Each branch of government, whether U.S. federal or state, is connected to a type of law. The links below take you to research guides which will list primary and secondary resources as well as provide information for researching that branch.

Int'l Law

Globalization has increased the impact of International Law. There are actually three types of International Law: 

  • Foreign law is the domestic law of foreign countries.
  • Private international law applies when private citizens of different countries interact or transact business.
  • Public international law regulates the legal relations between countries

Law Reviews are a good start for researching International Law.