This guide was prepared for students working in the Suffolk University Law School Pro Bono Program although some of the resources may be useful to others doing legal research.
This guide introduces some general materials helpful when starting legal research. As this guide was prepared for the Pro Bono Program at Suffolk University Law School many of the resources reviewed are particular to Massachusetts law. Where appropriate this guide links to other guides prepared for the Suffolk University Law School Pro Bono Program or by the Moakley Law Library.
Moakley Law Library Catalog
Fundamentals of Legal Research / Barkan, Mersky & Dunn
(Law Reserve KF240 .B32 2009)
Legal Research in a Nutshell / Cohen & Olson
Massachusetts Practice Series
(Law Reserve and Reading Room Floor 5 KFM 2480.M3 1993; updated with pocket parts; and available on Westlaw - database identifier: MAPRAC)
Massachusetts Practice provides thorough coverage of many areas of law with citations to prevailing cases, statutes and forms. This is an indispensable resource to attorneys practicing in Massachusetts.
Handbook of Legal Research in Massachusetts / Editor, Mary Ann Neary
Examples of some helpful MCLE titles: Massachusetts Basic Practice Manual (Reserve KFM2480.M265 2009); Massachusetts Probate Manual (Reserve KFM2544.M37); Massachusetts Superior Court Civil Practice Manual (Reserve KFM2930.M47); and Massachusetts Superior Court Criminal Practice Manual (Reserve KFM2975.M386).
Swartz's Massachusetts Pleading and Practice
Massachusetts Trial Court Libraries
The Massachusetts Trial Court Libraries have guides in many areas of law that include online resources, links to forms, and other helpful sources.
Massachusetts Government Web Pages
Mass Legal Help
This web site includes self-help forms, sample letters, booklets, handbooks, and a FAQ section in many areas of law including housing, domestic violence, children & Families, unemployment, mental health & health, immigration and disability.
Library Guides for Massachusetts Law
Federal Practice Manual for Legal Aid Attorneys
Federal Civil Litigation in the First Circuit
Treatises in the Law Library
United States Courts
Library Guides for Federal Practice
Links to Massachusetts and Federal statutes and regulations are to free sources of law. These sources may not be updated frequently and are unannotated.
Massachusetts official codified statutes are called the General Laws of Massachusetts (Law Reading Room KFM2429 .M37). There are two unofficial editions of the General Laws: Massachusetts General Laws Annotated published by Thomson West and available on Westlaw (Law Reading Room KFM2430 1958 .A42) and Annotated Laws of Massachusetts published by Lexis Publishing and available on Lexis (LAw Reading Room KFM2430 1932 .A2).
The best place to start research is in an annotated version of the General Laws. Annotated versions have case notes (references to cases that have interpreted the statutes) and research references (list law reviews, treatises, and practice materials that have interpreted the statute). Additionally annotated versions have more current updating and more robust indices.
he official source for codified Massachusetts administrative regulations is the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, KFM2435 1978 .A213 (5th floor reading room). This 25-volume, 37-binder set is published by the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. For more information about using the Massachusetts Regulations in print and online, see the Moakley Law Library Guide to Massachusetts Administrative Law.
There are four basic levels of courts in Massachusetts. First are the trial courts of limited jurisdiction. These include: Juvenile court, Housing court, Land court, Probate & Family court, District court, and Boston Municipal Court. Cases from these courts can be appealed to Superior Court, a trial court of general jurisdiction. Superior court cases can be appealed to the Appeals Court, the "intermediate appellate court" in Massachusetts. Finally Appeals Court cases can be appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Not all of these courts publish official decisions.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Massachusetts Appeals Court
Massachusetts Trial Courts
For more information on the Massachusetts Courts see the Massachusetts Case Finding Guide.
United States official codified statutes are published in the United States Code, often called the U.S.C. (Main Reading Room KF62 2006.A2). The Law Library has two unofficial versions of the U.S.C., the United States Code Annotated (Main Reading Room KF62.A4), also found on Westlaw, and the United States Code Service (Main Reading Room KF62 .L38), also available on Lexis. The indexes of the annotated codes are published more frequently than the indexes for the U.S.C. Also the annotated versions provide legislative histories, relevant citations and other helpful information.
A free version of the U.S.C. is also available on FDsys.
Federal Regulations are are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations, often called the CFR (Main Reading Room KF 70.A3). The CFR is divided into 50 titles and published annually. The CFR is also available on Lexis, Westlaw, and freely available on FDsys.
For more information on searching for Federal Regulations see the Moakley Law Library Code of Federal Regulations Research Guide.
In addition to promulgating regulations, a quasi-legislative function, federal administrative agencies sometimes also issue administrative decisions, a quasi-judicial function. A number of administrative decisions can be found in print sources (for a complete list of official agency reports and commercial services, take a look at Appendix D in How to Find the Law or Finding the Law), on Lexis, Westlaw, and increasingly freely available online on agency web sites. For a list of agency decisions by subject see this University of Virginia Library web page.
*Note: Westlaw and Lexis are subscription databases with limited availability. Other databases or resources may only be available to members of the Suffolk community or from computers at the Law Library.
If you have questions or comments, please email: Rick Buckingham, Reference Librarian.
Created: October 10, 2010.
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