Sources of American Law: An Introduction to Legal Research
Beau Steenken, University of Kentucky
Tina Brooks, University of Northern Iowa
Pub Date: 2016
Publisher: CALI's eLangdell® Press
Conditions of Use
This text is very basic. As a primary source of information it may be adequate if heavily supplemented with information from other sources and used a read more
This text is very basic. As a primary source of information it may be adequate if heavily supplemented with information from other sources and used a reference more than a teaching tool. It is the type of text I might use to reduce costs for students if I was going to produces a lot of my own lectures/exercises and handouts because it gives no actual sample on how to conduct a research project from beginning to end. It also lacks an index or glossary. The table of contents gives you a basic idea of the content, but the chapters are fairly spartan. It would be a good text for a general overview of the research process, but has no examples of research problems nor does it provide answers for the few exercises that it suggests. There are links to online exercises, but those require membership and may incur fees for the student.
I think the book is written in a fairly unbiased tone and did not notice overt errors. I do think that the text should include information about local jurisdictions and the local rules, UTCR, ORCP, OEC as types of law that need to be considered during research. I have had many cases that turned on technical/procedural issues, and I saw nothing about researching those primary sources or that they even exist.
I think the introductory chapters on the structure of the legal system will be relevant and not require updating. But the links in the electronic research will need to be updated likely if an interface like lexis changes its system.
The prose is lucid and well written. I found the tone and style inviting without being overly jargon/technical. If anything, I would have liked to see more technical terms in bold and/or put into a glossary/index to be able to be referenced.
I did not find any problems with inconsistencies. The framework was logical.
Given the type of book it is I don't think it would be a problem to assign chapters separately or pull out certain sections. However, the very nature of legal research requires a logical progression in understanding. So, I don't know that it would make sense to take things out of order that much. The book has a reasonable amount of subheadings within the chapters. However, I did not see a way to easily cut/paste the book and/or manipulate it outside of simply assigning individual chapters/readings. What I mean is that it was written in a fairly traditional way that I would expect a print text to be laid out. It did not have a presentation as if it was aiding easy modularity like I have seen in other OER or newer texts.
The organization and structure was logical. I would have liked to see a LOT more charts and/or figures to break up the text. Also, it would give a better visual understanding of the flow of research and how primary/secondary sources interrelate etc. Legal research is very complex and takes a long time to master. This book is primarily text with very few things separated out visually as charts/tables or even in bold--e.g. glossary terms.
It was free of navigation problems. When I read the book on iBooks it often cut text or charts and did not present well. In PDF form it was awkward.
There were no grammar problems that I noticed.
There were not a lot of examples that required cultural relevancy because it was mostly about the structure of the legal system, legal authorities and the process of research. I did note that the usage of he/her was interchanged when there was a universal pronoun used and I appreciated that.
I think this book represents a gift as it is OER and want to acknowledge the effort and time it took to create it. I don't want my comments to seem overwhelmingly negative because it is a good text. I don't think it is comprehensive or as useful as a teaching text.
Table of Contents
- The United States Legal System
1.1 Learning Objectives for Chapter 1
1.2 Introduction to Researching the Law
1.4 Separation of Powers and Sources of Law
1.5 Hierarchy of Authority
1.6 Concluding Exercises for Chapter 1
- Constitutions & Statutes
2.1 Learning Objectives for Chapter 2
2.2 Constitutions & Statutes
2.3 Life Cycle of a Statute
2.4 Using Codes
2.5 Local Legislation
2.6 Interpreting Constitutions and Statutes
2.7 Concluding Exercises for Chapter 2
- Judicial Opinions & Common Law.
3.1 Learning Objectives for Chapter 3
3.2 Judicial Opinions and the Common Law
3.3 Case Reporters
3.5 Subsequent Treatment of Judicial Opinions
3.6 Concluding Exercises for Chapter 3
3.7 Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice
- Administrative Regulations
4.1 Learning Objectives for Chapter 4
4.2 Delegated Rule-Making Authority
4.3 Researching Federal Regulations
4.4 State Regulations
4.5 Concluding Exercises for Chapter 4
4.6 Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice
5.1 Learning Objectives for Chapter 5
5.2 Introduction to Electronic Research
5.3 Basic Processes of Electronic Research
5.4 Combining the Basic Processes for Efficient Research
5.5 Using Finding Aids in an Online Environment
5.6 Electronic Citators
5.7 Concluding Exercises for Chapter 5
5.8 Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice
- Secondary Sources
6.1 Learning Objectives for This Chapter
6.2 Overview of Legal Secondary Sources
6.3 Researching Secondary Sources
6.4 Concluding Exercises for Chapter 6
6.5 Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice
- The Research Process
7.1 Learning Objectives
7.2 Essential Steps of the Research Process
7.3 Common Research Concerns
7.4 Concluding Remarks
7.5 Recommended CALI Lessons for Further Practice
About the Book
At its most basic definition the practice of law comprises conducting research to find relevant rules of law and then applying those rules to the specific set of circumstances faced by a client. However, in American law, the legal rules to be applied derive from myriad sources, complicating the process and making legal research different from other sorts of research. This text introduces first-year law students to the new kind of research required to study and to practice law. It seeks to demystify the art of legal research by following a “Source and Process” approach. First, the text introduces students to the major sources of American law and describes the forms the various authorities traditionally took in print. After establishing this base, the text proceeds to instruct students on the methods they will most likely use in practice, namely electronic research techniques and the consultation of secondary sources. Sources of Law incorporates screencasts currently hosted on YouTube that actively demonstrate the processes described in the static text. Finally, the text illustrates how the different pieces come together in the legal research process.
Sources of Law focuses on realistic goals for 1Ls to learn in a relatively small amount of instruction time, and so focuses mainly on the basics. It does introduce some advanced material so that 1Ls can recognize pieces of information they may encounter in research, but it does not fully cover researching materials outside the scope of the traditional 1L course. As such, it is best-suited for introductory legal research courses for 1Ls.
About the Contributors
Beau Steenken joined the Law Library Faculty at the University of Kentucky in September 2010. As Instructional Services Librarian, he engaged in a revamp of the Legal Research curriculum as the UK College of Law shifted from an adjunct-model to a full-time faculty model of LRW instruction. He teaches two to four sections of 1L Legal Research a year and also coordinates informal research instruction of various sorts. Before coming to the University of Kentucky, he managed to collect a B.A., a J.D., and an M.S.I.S. from the University of Texas, as well as an M.A. in history from Texas State University and an LL.M. in Public International law from the University of Nottingham, where he also took up archery.
Tina M. Brooks received a B.A. in History and Spanish from the University of Northern Iowa in 2005, a J.D. from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2009, and an M.S. in Information Studies from the University of Texas School of Information in 2011. She joined the University of Kentucky Law Library Faculty in July 2011 as the Electronic Services Librarian. In addition to her library duties, which include managing the law library website and the library’s electronic resources, she teaches two sections of 1L Legal Research.