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Eckstein Law Library Guide for Marquette Law Students: Basic Law School & Legal Research Terms

Legal Research Terms, and Tools to Help Your Research -- Not Exhaustive, Just a Start.

ALR: American Law Reports. Large, secondary research resource consisting of multi-jurisdictional, in-depth articles (called “annotations”) on specific legal topics. Available online and in print. Currently publishing ALR 7th and ALR Fed 3d; earlier articles contained (and updated with pocket parts) in ALR, ALR 2d, ALR 3d, ALR 4th, ALR 5th, ALR 6th, and ALR Fed, ALR Fed 2d.  ALR International was published from 2010-2017 and has ceased publication or updating in print and online.  Subject indexes are available in print and online for all ALR series. 

ALR: Alternative meaning: At many law schools, Advanced Legal Research, or ALR, is an upper level research course. Successful completion of one ALR course is a requirement in the J.D. program at Marquette.

Annotated Code: A set of state or federal statutes that contains not only the wording of the statutes, but also research references, such as cases that have interpreted the statute or articles that have examined the ramifications of a statute.

Authority: The foundation or law upon which a legal argument is based. 

BCite: A citator produced by Bloomberg Law that provides the prior and subsequent history of a case, statute, or regulation, as well as a list of authority (e.g., other cases) that have mentioned the case or statute, called citing references.  Citators are used to check the continued validity of caselaw and statutes, and to locate additional law.  Also, see KeyCite and Shepard's.

Bluebook: Officially titled,The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, also known as the Harvard Bluebook. Currently in its 21st Edition, The Bluebook gives examples and states the citation rules used by lawyers and judges when writing briefs or opinions.   

Brief: A written, legal argument that conforms to specific court rules, in which a lawyer advances the merits of his or her client's case.  A brief usually includes a statement of the questions the lawyer wants the court to consider, the law the court should apply to answer those questions, and an argument that applies the law to the factual circumstances the lawyer wants the court to adopt. 

Case: A decision by a court.  Also referred to as "case law" or an "opinion."  Cases from a particular court or a group of courts are printed in books called reporters. Cases are also available in electronic databases.  

Circuit - or Judicial Circuit: A Federal appellate court division.  There are 13 United States Courts of Appeal, including the First through the Eleventh Circuits (based on groups of states), and the District of Columbia Circuit. The Seventh Circuit includes Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.  —  Alternate definition: a state court judicial division.  In Wisconsin, circuit courts are state trial courts, as opposed to appellate courts.  For example, the state trial court in Milwaukee is the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. 

Citation: Information needed to find a case, statute, regulation, article, book or other resource.  For example, a citation for State ex rel. Ozanne v. Fitzgerald is: 334 Wis. 2d 70 (2011).  This case can be found in volume 334 of the Wisconsin Reports 2d series at page 70.  Citations are also used to find a resource in an electronic database. Consult The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 21st ed. for correct citation formats. 

Citator: A tool, usually online, that provides a list of cases, statutes, and secondary publications mentioning a particular known case, statute, or regulation. Citators also allow you to check the continued validity of a statute, regulation, or case. See, for example, BCite, KeyCite, and Shepard’s. 

Code: A set of state or federal statutes arranged by subject matter rather than in the order the laws were passed.  Also shorthand for an administrative code, which is not a statute, but a regulation, so one must be careful to understand the difference.  

Digest: Digests are indexed, secondary sources that provide a means of finding cases by searching with subject terms, keywords and phrases, and party names, leading to case citations. Digests exist in print and online. 

District: A court division.  At the federal level, trial courts are called District Courts.  Wisconsin is divided into two districts, Eastern and Western.  The federal trial court in Milwaukee is the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. 

Headnote: A summary of a specific point of law taken from a published case opinion and arranged with other headnotes by subject in a digest.  The headnotes derived from a particular case opinion are set out at the beginning of the written case opinion in a reporter.  Headnotes are written by editors and are not part of the court’s decision. 

KeyCite: The Westlaw citator providing the prior and subsequent history of cases, statutes, and regulations, as well as a list of other cases and publications mentioning the case or statute (citing references). Used to check the continued validity of a point of statutory or case law and to locate other similar cases. Often used as a verb.  "Did you KeyCite that?"  Also, see BCite and Shepard's.

Key Number System: A unique and consistent topic and number approach to locating points of law throughout any jurisdiction within the West digest and reporting system. Each point of law within a case opinion is assigned a topic and “key number” that represents a specific sub-topic.  The points of law are then arranged by topic and key number within a digest, and can be researched accordingly.

Law Review: A student-edited, scholarly, periodical publication that contains contributions from legal scholars, practitioners, judges, and law students. May provide critical analysis of cutting-edge legal issues. The Marquette Law School publishes four law reviews: the Marquette Law Review, the Marquette Intellectual Property Law Review, the Marquette Sports Law Review, and the Marquette Benefits and Social Welfare Law Review.

Loose-Leaf: A set of explanatory materials that is updated regularly by inserting new pages within the existing pages.  Some loose-leafs are updated by adding new material at the end of the set. When using this type of loose-leaf, the added material needs to be consulted as well as the text. A large percentage of Marquette’s loose-leaf material is located on the second floor of the collection. 

Opinion: A judicial decision. 

Periodical: A serial (journal, magazine) which is published at regular intervals, is numbered, contains separate articles, and has no pre-determined end date.  Does not include newspapers or conference proceedings.  

Periodical Index: Publication or database that facilitates locating law review articles by indexing articles according to subject, author, keyword, and cases and statutes mentioned within the articles. Subject indexes help the researcher generate and refine search terms. Online index sources (for researching and finding periodical articles) include LegalTrac, Legal Resource Index (“LRI,” which is searchable through Lexis and Westlaw), and ILP (which is also searchable through Lexis). Law journal databases can also be term-searched. HeinOnline is a full-text, searchable database that includes legal periodicals. The Law Library has older, print issues of the Current Law Index (“CLI”) and to the Index to Legal Periodicals and Books (“ILP”). 

Pocket Part: Supplementary material inserted into the back of a volume of code, treatise or other legal research material.  The pocket part updates the contents of the volume from the date of publication to the date of the supplement.  When using a print resource, make sure to check the pocket part and/or supplements for updated information, and note the currency of the update. 

Primary Source: Constitutions, statutes, administrative regulations, case law, and treaties are primary law.  Primary sources ARE law.  Compare to Secondary Source, below. 

Regional: As in “regional reporters.”  Regional reporters publish court opinions from courts within a group of states.  For example, West’s North Western Reporter contains cases of the courts of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.  Other regions include: Atlantic, North Eastern, Pacific, South Eastern, South Western and Southern. 

Regulation: A rule of law issued by the executive branch of a government through an administrative agency.  Regulations may be codified into an administrative code such as the Wisconsin Administrative Code or the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. 

Reporter: Generic name given to volumes containing court opinions from a particular jurisdiction or opinions from one subject area. The reporters may be official or unofficial as stated by governmental authority. Reporter citations are used to identity cases in a brief or other court pleading. 

Restatements: The Restatements of Law have been published by the American Law Institute ("ALI") since the 1930s.  The Restatements are summaries of law written with the goal of distilling a legal subject into precise and succinct statements. 

Secondary Source: Any source that is not the actual law, but rather is an explanation or analysis of the law.  Legal encyclopedias, treatise, articles, restatements, and books are secondary sources, as are attorney general opinions. See, Primary Source, above. 

Shepardize: Verb originally meaning to check the validity of a case using Shepard’s or another citator.  Occasionally used as a generic term for checking the validity of a case or statute using a method incorporating a history check and a citing references check. "Don't forget to Shepardize!"  Shepard's was the first broadly used legal citator, named after Frank Shepard, who invented the original, print citator system. 

Shepard’s: The Lexis citator that provides the prior and subsequent history of a case, statute, or regulation, and lists cases and other sources that have cited it (citing references).  Used to check the continued validity of a statute or point of case law, and to locate other similar law.  Shepard's Citations are still published in print, but are infrequently used because of superior functionality online. Marquette's law library does not keep Shepard's current in print. Also see KeyCite and BCite, above.

Slip Opinion: Print form of a court opinion issued soon after the announcement of the decision of the court.  Slip opinions provide access to case decisions before cases are published in bound reporters. 

Statute: Generally refers to a law enacted by either by a state legislature or by Congress.  A statute is sometimes referred to as a law or code section.

Supplement: A tool used to update a legal resource.  Some supplements are stand-alone volumes containing new material.  Other resources are supplemented by pocket parts or by newly added pages (as in a loose-leaf publication).  In addition to the resource itself, its supplement(s) must be checked in order to obtain the most current information. 

Table of Cases: In a digest, a table of cases is a list of cases and their citations that are contained in the digest.  The table of cases can help to identify a case’s citation when only one or both of the parties' names are known.  In a periodical index, a list of cases appears at the beginning of the index and provides the name and citation of articles written about a particular case. 

Title: Can be a subject area in a state statutory or administrative code or in the United States Code, such as Criminal Law or Copyright Law, or in the Code of Federal Regulations. A part of an act as passed by Congress can also be called a title, such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. 

Treatise: Explanatory material on a subject area, such as bankruptcy or contract law.  Treatises may be single volume works or multi-volumes works. 

Unannotated Code: Laws of a jurisdiction that contain only the words of the law, but no research references. 

VersusVersus is a preposition, and means “against,” or “in contrast to or as the alternative of.” In use in English since the 1400s, the word derives from the past participle of the Latin vertere, meaning “to turn.”  When stating the name of a case, for example, Brown v. Board of Education, the correct full pronunciation for the abbreviated "v." is versus, not verse or verses.*

The two appropriate pronunciation choices are "Brown versus Board of Education" or "Brown vee Board of Education" if you wish to say the acceptable abbreviation "v." for versus.  

*Verses is either the plural form of a noun (“a line of metrical writing”) or the third-person singular form of a not-terribly-common verb (“to make verse”). The meanings of these two words are quite distinct, yet due to a resemblance in appearance and sound people will occasionally use verses where versus is called for (Merriam-Webster online dictionary). Take a look at the dictionary entry for versus and a good explanation in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary Usage Notes that includes examples of inappropriate uses of the word "verses."