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Legal Research Resources for USD Students (Non-Law): Introduction to Legal Resources and Legal Research

This guide is intended for academic research in legal resources by University of South Dakota graduate and undergraduate students from colleges and schools other than the School of Law. The information in this guide is not intended as legal advice.

Introduction to Legal Resources and Legal Research

This guide focuses on the subscription resources available to the USD community and Internet resources. Sources available through WestlawNext, LexisAdvance and BloombergLaw are not included.

Legal publications are divided into two categories: primary sources and secondary sources. "Primary" sources are the law itself, including constitutions, statutes (law created by legislatures), court opinions (cases), administrative rules and regulations (created by executive agencies), administrative decisions (executive agencies acting as adjudicators) and municipal ordinances. Primary sources are further divided into federal, state, municipal and tribal law. "Secondary" sources are explanations of the law, including dictionaries, legal encyclopedias, articles in law reviews and journals, legal news websites and law blogs. 

Researchers begin their legal research with secondary sources. These sources are organized by topic and contain citations in footnotes to relevant primary sources. In this guide, links to secondary sources are found on the page entitled "Current Legal Issues/Dictionaries and Encyclopedias" and "Articles - Law Reviews and Journals." For information on how to read legal citations, please refer to "Reading Legal Citation," a guide from the Boston College Law Library.

Evaluating Legal Information Found on the Internet

The Internet offers many free sources of legal information. Before using this information, ask these questions to evaluate the website for accuracy, reliability and currency.

• Who is the author? Can you determine his or her expertise? Is contact information provided - phone number, address, e-mail? With what organization is he or she associated?

• Does the language, tone, or treatment of its subject give the website a particular slant or bias? Is the site objective? Organizational affiliation can often indicate bias.

• What is the domain? Web addresses ending in .gov, .edu, .mil, and .org are generally more reliable for legal research than those ending in .com. In particular, government websites and documents, with web addresses ending in .gov,  are excellent sources of information.

• When was the website last updated? Legal information changes frequently so updates are critical.

Thank you to Kathleen McElhinney, Assistant Librarian, I.D. Weeks Library, for permission to use the above text.

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