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Legal Research
University of Illinois School of Law
Healey, Paul D.


Legal Research Outline

I. Structure of United States Law

A. Three Branches of Government

-each branch has separate and independent powers and responsibility

-no branch is more powerful than the other

-checks and balances: each branch can control other branch

a. Executive

-carries out the laws

-president (federal)

-governor (state)

-there are also agencies

-agencies promulgate rules based on enabling legislation

-example: Environmental Protection Agency

b. Judicial (Courts)

-three levels of courts


-hears the original case


-there is not a new case

-trial judge given deference

-more deference if reviewing case on facts rather than law

-prepare written briefs & oral arguments

-brief: document written by party and submitted to court to advocate its position in the case

-oral argument: oral presentation to court in which parties advocate position in case

-appellant and appellee

-appellant: party who lost and is bringing appeal

-appellee: party who won (not bringing appeal)


-court of last resort

-courts operate within a specific jurisdiction


-level of court

-subject matter

-determine criminal and civil matters

-CRIMINAL: government charges defendant

-CIVIL (two parties)

-plaintiff (brings the lawsuit)

-defendant (party being sued)

-adjudicates disputes and interprets laws

-Supreme Court can determine whether a statute is constitutional

-courts can help resolve a discrepancy/ambiguity in the meaning of a statute

-common law

-must be a ca

hat jurisdiction

III. Sources of Law

A. Constitution

a. Each State has one

-can grant broader rights than the federal government

-remember: can go above the baseline but not below

b. There is the U.S. Constitution that governs all states

-defines areas of federal interests

c. In general, constitutions set up form of government; enumerates powers of the government; enumerates rights and liberties of citizens

B. Legislation (Statutes)

a. Proactive

b. Time Sensitive

c. Bills Become a Law

d. Laws Are Put Into Codes

-United States Code

-Annotated Codes (Westlaw; Lexis)