There are many resources available for legal research. Consider starting your search with secondary sources: materials that explain and discuss primary law like cases, statutes, and regulations.The library's guide to Secondary Sources can give you more information on finding and using these kinds of resources.
A legal dictionary can help you interpret and understand legal terms. See the library's guide to Dictionaries.
General Case Law Resources
There are many good sources for case law online. Some options include:
Supreme Court Resources
The following are free resources that focus on the United States Supreme Court, the highest federal court in the United States:
There are several Washington-specific resources. Washington Practice, the state's legal encyclopedia, offers a straightforward, big picture view of Washington law that can help you figure out what law applies and which primary sources (cases, statutes, etc.) you need to examine further. Washington Practice is published by the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA), the organization that governs lawyers in the state of Washington. You can visit the library to use our copy of the index to this multi-volume set here. More information about Washington Practice can be found in this research guide.
The Washington State Constitution defines how the Washington government functions. For a more detailed analysis of the Washington State Constitution, see our Washington State Constitution Research Guide. For information about the Constitution's history, you can visit our Washington State Constitution: History Research Guide.
The Washington State Legislature creates the laws that govern the state of Washington. To learn more about the Washington Legislature, you may want to visit our Laws, Legislation, and the Legislature Research Guide. The library's guide to Washington State Legislative History might be helpful could be helpful for those interested in the legislative process or tracking a current piece of legislation.
The executive branch enforces the laws that the legislature creates. Below are some research guides to help you navigate the executive branch in Washington. If you want to learn more about the administrative process and different types of administrative action, you may want to explore the library's Washington State Administrative Law Research Guide. You may also be interested in the library's guide to the Governor's Executive Orders & Related Documents if you are interested in direct statements or action from the governor.
The judicial branch interprets the law through "cases" or "opinions" and determines how the law applies in specific situations. See our Washington State Court Opinions & Related Sources Research Guide for more information on how to find court opinions.
Many of the laws the govern day-to-day life come from the local level. Here are a few helpful sources for city law in Washington, with an emphasis on Seattle.
For help understanding federal law and refining your search, a secondary source might be helpful. For instance, you can use a paper copy of American Law Reports (ALRs) in the Gallagher Law Library Reference Area. These short articles on developing areas of the law can help you find cases and statutes on a variety of topics across the country.
The library's research guide to the U.S. Constitution & Related Sources can help you learn more about finding the constitution and its history.
You should explore the library's U.S. (Federal) Law research guide to learn more about federal law. The library's Bill Tracking Guide might be helpful for those interested in new legislation working its way through congress.
The executive branch enforces the laws passed by Congress through administrative agencies. The head of the U.S. Executive branch is the president. The library's guide to administrative law can help introduce you to the regulatory process and finding different regulations. You can learn more about finding publications and proclamations from the president in the library's guide to presidential documents. The library's guide to presidential power can teach you more about the President's expansive powers and how they interact with the rest of government.
The Judicial Branch interprets the law and decides how it applies in specific instances. The library's guide to Judicial Branch Publications might help you find any particular case or other court document that you are looking for. The library's guide to Court Briefs & Oral Arguments can help you learn about the briefs and proceedings that led to a case. If you want to know more about the various reporters that publish cases, the library's guide to Court Reporters may be helpful.