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How to find cases, statutes, regulations, and other law-related material

What's in This Guide

This guide to legal research emphasizes publicly accessible resources for locating cases, statutes, and rulings and regulations. You will find: 

  • Explanations of the three kinds of law (case law, statutes, rules & regulations)
  • Links to sites where you can find cases, laws, rulings, and other legal documents
  • Directions for searching for books and journal articles on cases and legal issues


Valuable Information Before Searching

Know before you go:

1. There are three kinds of law and they all exist at both state and federal levels:

  • Case or judicial law which consists of court cases/decisions/opinions
  • Statutory or legislative law which consists of statutes/public laws/acts
  • Administrative law which consists of regulations and rulings.

2. Federal resources are much easier to find than state ones.

3. Know as much as you can before searching:

  • Are you looking for a case, a statute, or a regulation?
  • Is it federal or state? If state, which one?
  • If it's a case, what are the names of the parties? What was the date? What was the legal issue?
  • If it's a statute, does it have a popular name like the ADA or NET Act?
  • What is the citation? A citation is the most useful information you can have because it's unique. To find citations of cases (e.g. 5 US 137), statutes (e.g. PL 101-336), or regulations (e.g. 26 CFR 1.10), try searching an encyclopedia, book, or journal article.

Legal System Chart

The chart illustrates the three branches of government (legislative, judicial, and executive) and the documents they produce. The federal government and state governments run on parallel paths. Although the chart features Connecticut for obvious reasons, most states function similarly.

The arrows are meant to convey that all three branches interact with each other. For example, the Connecticut Assembly might pass a law requiring school buses to stop at railroad crossings. The relevant state agency will be empowered to pass regulations that enforce the law, such as fines or jail terms. If someone challenges the law or a regulation, the courts are called upon to rule on its validity: does it violate the state or United States Constitution or other laws already in existence at the time the bill passed into law.


Rudimentary chart showing the 3 branches of government and the documents they produce