Cheat Sheet

Paralegal Career For Dummies

From Paralegal Career For Dummies by Scott Hatch, Lisa Zimmer Hatch

If you’re starting a career as a paralegal, the first thing you need to know is how to conduct legal research, the next thing you need to know is about the research materials and Web sites that can help you do your job.

How to Conduct Legal Research

As a paralegal visiting a law library or conducting computerized legal research, the following steps offer a practical approach to working through a legal research assignment:

  1. Consult legal dictionaries to compile a comprehensive list of terms relevant to your research project.

    Websters New World Law Dictionary (Wiley), Ballentines Legal Dictionary and Thesaurus, Blacks Law Dictionary, Words and Phrases, and William Statsky’s Legal Thesaurus/Dictionary are just some of the dictionaries you can use to develop a list of synonyms, antonyms, and other relevant expressions to get you started on your research project.

  2. Find the proper jurisdiction for the case you’re researching.

    After you establish whether your project comes under the federal or state court system, you can determine the specific level of court for your case and research the law that’s appropriate for that level.

  3. Dig up relevant cases and statutes by accessing the following resources in roughly this order:

    1. Major legal encyclopedias, Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS), and American Jurisprudence (Am. Jur.)

    2. American Law Reports (ALR)

    3. Appropriate digest topics (based on your initial dictionary research) from West’s “Outline of the Law” that lead you to the proper digests

    4. Primary sources of authority, like federal and regional reporters (for case law) and federal and state constitutions and codes (for rules and statutes)

  4. Shepardize the primary authority you’ve found to make sure they’re still good law.

Legal Research Materials and Web Sites

Access to law library resources is largely dictated by the area where you live or work. If you live in a rural area, you may not have the same access to the massive collections of law books that city slickers have. Even so, you can still find most of these pertinent legal resources in your public library’s law section or on the Internet:

  • U.S. Code: If you’re researching federal matters, the U.S. Code is where you’ll find the statutes controlling matters of national concern, like the rules regarding how we elect senators and how we show respect for the U.S. flag.

  • U.S. Constitution: For research on constitutional cases, you need to access the seven articles of the U.S. Constitution and the amendments. You can do so in almost any library or online.

  • Your state’s code: You can find the rules governing your state in its volumes of statutes, which are usually part of your local library’s collection, and most states make their codes available online. Access state statutes at Cornell University Law School.

  • Your state’s constitution: Sometimes a case involves constitutional issues on the state level. You can access your state’s articles and amendments in virtually any public library in your state, or you can go online to the Cornell University Law School Web site.

  • Your municipality’s code: If you work on matters of purely local significance, you can usually find a set of local rules in a city’s or county’s public library. Many cities and counties provide links to their codes on their official Web sites. To find an official Web site, type the name of your city or county and government into your favorite search engine.

  • Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory: Martindale-Hubbell volumes provide a directory of attorneys and law firms in the United States and throughout the world. They list attorneys’ contact information, educational backgrounds, and areas of specialty. So, if you need to find an attorney who practices intellectual property law in Kennebunk, Maine, you just need to pull this weighty text off the shelf of your public library or go to the Martindale Web site.

Useful Web Sites for Paralegals

As you embark on a career as a paralegal, certain Web sites can be invaluable in helping you do your job. The following list contains links to some of the most helpful Web sites:

  • The Center for Legal Studies: Here’s where you’ll find everything you need to know about furthering your paralegal education.

  • The U.S. Government’s Official Web Portal: You’ll find links to everything governmental on this official Web site, including forms, laws, federal agencies, the three branches of the federal government, state governments, data and statistics, and libraries.

  • Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute: Research Web sites maintained by law schools often come and go, but Cornell’s comprehensive site has been around forever and just gets more useful over time. Use it to find federal and state constitutions, codes (which are lists of regulations and statutes), and court opinions. Plus, you can get citation tips and ways to contact attorneys, judges, law firms, and law organizations.

  • State government Web sites: Every state has its own Web site, with access to state laws, legal forms, and other resources. Put your state’s name and “law” into a Web browser.

  • FindLaw for Legal Professionals: This site provides sample legal forms, articles, cases and statutes, job leads, and a bunch of other stuff helpful to the legal professional.

  • The ’Lectric Law Library: This irreverent site provides you with free legal forms and links to articles relevant to paralegals and other legal professionals.

  • The Legal Assistant Today: The official Web site of the magazine especially designed for paralegals has links to past articles with information helpful for paralegals.

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