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Levin College of Law

Conducting Legal Research

Resources and tips for conducting legal research .

Sources of Primary Law

Primary law is one of the most important aspects of legal research. Locating mandatory and persuasive authority guides the legal research process. The boxes below explain sources for federal and Florida, as well as citation information for cases.

You'll also find sources for administrative regulations in Florida and at the federal level. As always, if you have any questions about these or any other sources, contact a member of the legal research faculty.

Statutes

Most research into statutory law should be conducted in an annotated version of the code. Annotations provide citations to cases, other statutory sections, and secondary sources that cite to the specific code section. Westlaw and Lexis are the best online sources for both federal and Florida statutes because of their currency and annotations, but an official source should also be checked to ensure currency of any statute section cited. 

The official publication for federal statutes is the United States Code. You can access the U.S. Code online, but the printed version is the official one.

The official publication for Florida statutes is Florida Statutes. You can access Florida’s official statutes through Online Sunshine, or in print.

Federal Statutory Sources

  • Westlaw (requires login)
    • Home → Statutes & Court Rules → United States Code Annotated (USCA)
  •  Lexis (requires login)
    • Type “USCS” in the search box OR navigate: Home  → Browse → Sources → By  Category → Statutes and Legislation →  Click “U” → Scroll to USCS - United States Code Service - Titles 1 through 54 
  • Print Statutes
    • United States Code (official, not annotated)
    • West’s United States Code Annotated (unofficial, annotated)
    • Lexis United States Code Service (unofficial, annotated)

Free Online Sources

  • Office of the Law Revision Council, U.S. House of Representatives
    • Click Advanced Search (to the far right of the search box).
    • Type your keywords into  the “Search For” search box (about halfway down the screen)
    • In the drop-down menu next to “Within,” select Statutory Text. This will search only the actual text of the statute for your keywords
  • GovInfo (Government Publishing Office)
  • Legal Information Institute (LII)

Florida Statutory Sources

  • Westlaw (requires login)
    • Home → Statutes & Court Rules → State: Florida
  •  Lexis (requires login)
    • Type “Florida Annotated Statutes” in the search box OR navigate: Home → Browse → Sources → By Category → Statutes and            Legislation → Click “F” → Scroll to FL - LexisNexis Florida Annotated Statutes 
  • Print Statutes
    •  Florida Statutes (official, not annotated)
    • West’s Florida Statutes Annotated (unofficial, annotated)
    • LexisNexis Florida Statutes Annotated (unofficial, annotated)

Free Online Sources

  • Online Sunshine or Florida Senate 
    • Click Advanced legislative search and browse (to the right of the search box at the top of the page)
    • Fill in the search boxes as appropriate; click the “Find Alternate Words (stemming)” box.
    • The search engine defaults to just the titles of the statutes; to see the excerpts containing your search words, change the Document Excerpts (top right after you’ve run your search) to Short/Medium/Long (depending on your preference).

 

Case Law

Much of the available case law can be found online. Be wary, however, of citing to cases that you have retrieved from a source other than Lexis, Westlaw, Fastcase, or a court’s official website. Using Lexis or Westlaw may be preferable because they contain a great deal of added material, such as headnotes, citators, and linked materials.

Be sure to also check out the Case Law Citations box, which provides citation formats for the different courts. 

Federal Case Law Sources

  • Westlaw (requires login)
    • Home → Cases → Click the appropriate jurisdictions
  • Lexis (requires login)
    • Filters → Jurisdiction (click the appropriate jurisdictions) → Category (click Cases) 
  • Print Cases
    • Name of reporter will vary by jurisdiction; see the Case Law Citations

Free Online Sources

  • Google Scholar
    • Click Case Law → Select courts . . . → Click the appropriate jurisdiction(s) → Click Done.
  • Legal Information Institute (LII)
    • Click the jurisdiction OR click Search All Circuit Court Opinions
    • Links you to the court’s website; case coverage varies
  • Fastcase

Florida Case Law Sources

  • Westlaw (requires login)
    • Home → Cases → Cases by State: Florida
  • Lexis (requires login)
    • Filters → Jurisdiction (click Florida) → Category (click Cases)  
  • Print Cases
    • Southern Reporter (official reporter)
    • Florida Law Weekly (unofficial reporter; official reporter until the case is published in the Southern Reporter).

Free Online Sources

Case Law Citations

Case citations begin with the volume number, then the abbreviation for the reporter, then page number and date. The deciding court is sometimes indicated in parentheses.

Federal Reporter Citations

Court Reporter Abbreviation Example
Supreme Court (official) United States Reports U.S. 382 U.S. 436 (1966)
Supreme Court (West, unofficial) Supreme Court Reporter S. Ct. 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966)
Supreme Court (Lexis, unofficial) Lawyers' Edition 1st and 2d series L. Ed.; L. Ed. 2d 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966)
F: federal district and appellate courts to 1924
F.2d: federal district to 1932 and appellate courts 1924-1993
F.3d: federal appellate courts 1993 to present
Federal Reporter 1st, 2d, & 3d series F.; F.2d; F.3d 489 F.3d 528 (2d Cir. 2007)
F. Supp: federal district courts 1933-1998
F. Supp. 2d: federal district courts 1998 to present
Federal Supplement 1st & 2d series F. Supp.; F. Supp. 2d 763 F. Supp. 1110 (M.D. Fla. 1989)
Unreported federal appellate court opinions 2001 to present Federal Appendix F. App'x

176 Fed. App'x 143 (2d Cir. 2006)

 

Regional Reporter Citations

Court(s) Reporter Abbreviation Example
Connecticut; D.C.; Delaware; Maine; Maryland;
New Hampshire; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; Vermont
Atlantic Reporter 1st & 2d series A.; A.2d 406 A.2d 624 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1979)
Illinois; Indiana; Massachusetts; New York; Ohio North Eastern Reporter 1st & 2d series N.E.; N.E.2d 391 N.E.2d 729 (Ohio 1979)
Iowa; Michigan; Minnesota; Nebraska; North Dakota; South Dakota; Wisconsin North Western Reporter 1st & 2d series N.W.; N.W.2d 590 N.W.2d 61 (Mich. 1999)
Georgia; North Carolina; South Carolina; Virginia; West Virginia South Eastern Reporter 1st & 2d series S.E.; S.E.2d 583 S.E.2d 780 (Va. Ct. App. 2003)
Arkansas; Kentucky; Missouri; Tennesee; Texas South Western Reporter 1st & 2d series S.W.; S.W.2d 763 S.W.2d 413 (Tex. Crim. App. 1988)
Alaska; Arizona; California; Colorado; Hawaii; Idaho; Kansas;
Montana; Nevada; New Mexico; Oklahoma; Oregon; Utah; Washington; Wyoming
Pacific Reporter 1st, 2d, & 3d series P.; P.2d; P.3d 649 P.2d 224 (Cal. 1982)
Alabama; Florida; Louisiana; Mississippi Southern Reporter 1st, 2d, & 3d series So.; So. 2d; So. 3d 137 So. 161 (Fla. 1931)

 

Florida Reporter Citations

Court(s) Reporter Abbreviation Example
Florida Supreme Court (official) Southern Reporter 1st, 2d, & 3d series So.; So. 2d; So. 3d 137 So. 161 (Fla. 1931)
Florida District Courts of Appeal (official) Southern Reporter So.; So. 2d; So. 3d 468 So. 2d 360 (Fla. 3d DCA 1985) (Florida courts)
468 So. 2d 360 (Fla. 3d. Dist. Ct. App. 1985) (Bluebook)
Florida Circuit Courts (Fla. Cir. Ct.), County Courts, & Public Service
Commission, 1950-1991 (official)
Florida Supplement 1st & 2d series Fla. Supp.; Fla. Supp. 2d 27 Fla. Supp. 80 (Fla. 11th Cir. Ct. 1966)
Florida Circuit Courts, County Courts, and Public Service
Commission, 1992 to present (official)
Florida Law Weekly Supplement Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 42 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 83 (Fla. Dade Cty. Ct. 1975)
Florida Supreme Court 1978 to present & District
Courts of Appeal 1978 to present (unofficial except
for recent opinions not yet published in the Southern Reporter)
Florida Law Weekly Fla. L. Weekly 17 Fla. L. Weekly S42 (Fla. Jan. 16, 1992)

 

Federal Administrative Regulations

The three main sources of federal administrative regulations are the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR); the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR); and the Federal Register:

  • The CFR is the codification of all regulations; it is the official source of all currently in-force regulations. The CFR is updated on a rotating quarterly basis.
  • The e-CFR is the unofficial source for currently in-force regulations and is updated daily.
  • The Federal Register is “the daily journal of the United States government” and includes all new and proposed regulations.

Tip: Run your searches in all databases, not just Westlaw or Lexis. Search algorithms vary widely and regulations are tricky, so an initial broad net is a useful starting point.

 

Sources for the Code of Federal Regulations

Sources for the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR & e-CFR)

  • CFR -- Official Online Version through the Government Publishing Office (GPO)
    • Coverage: same as current print version
    • Search Tip: Click Search
      • click Advanced Search
      • in the box, click Code of Federal Regulations
      • under the “Search In” drop-down menu, select “Title,” then type keywords into the search box
      • once your search results appear, use the “Date Published” filter on the left side to limit to the year you need (likely the most recent)
      • This will just search the title of the individual regulations and is a good starting point if you’re unfamiliar with the CFR database

Remember to update any regulations that you find by locating the regulation in the e-CFR database and comparing the text.

  • e-CFR -- Unofficial Online Version through the Government Publishing Office
    • Coverage: all currently in-force regulations; essentially the updated current print version (includes any regulations passed since the last print version was updated)
    • Search Tip: Click “Boolean” (under Advanced Search, left column).
      • enter keywords into the search box (next to Retrieve).
      • select “Section Heading” from the drop-down menu just to the right of the search box.
      • click Submit.
      • This will just search the title of the headings and is a good starting point if you’re unfamiliar with the e-CFR database.
  • Westlaw (requires login)
    • Home → Regulations → Code of Federal Regulations OR Type “Code of Federal Regulations” in the search box
    • Coverage: Current version – updated within two weeks
    • Includes index and table of contents
  • Lexis (requires login)
    • Type “CFR” in the search box OR navigate: Home → Browse → Sources → By Category → Administrative Codes and Regulations → Click U.S. Federal (under Jurisdiction) → Click “C” → Scroll to CFR - Code of Federal Regulations
    • Coverage: Current version – updated within two weeks
    • Table of contents only, no index 
  • HeinOnline (access off-campus through the VPN
    • Scroll to Code of Federal Regulations (under Browse Collections) → enter citation or click on the search tab
    • Coverage: same as current print version (see the GPO’s explanation of when the print version is updated)
  • Official Print Version
    • Code of Federal Regulations

Sources for the Federal Register

The Federal Register is the source of proposed regulations and proposed amendments to current regulations; the website defines it as the “official daily publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents.”

  • Official Online Version through the Government Publishing Office
    • Search tip: Click “Search Government Publications” (left column)
      • click Advanced Search (right of the main search box that will appear)
      •  in the left box, click Federal Register, then click Add
      •  in the “Search In” drop-down menu, select “Title,” then type keywords into the search box
      •  when your search results appear, use the “Date Published” filter on the left side to limit to the year you need (likely the most recent).
      •  If you’re looking for specific types of documents (e.g. Notices, Proposed Rules, executive documents), follow the same procedure as the list above, then scroll down to the “Section” filter on the left side, and limit to the specific type of source you need.
      • This will just search the title of the individual regulations and is a good starting point if you’re unfamiliar with the CFR database.
  • Unofficial Online Version, also published through the Government Publishing Office
    • Citizen-friendly, designated location for public comment on proposed regulations
    • Only includes proposed rules and regulations open for public comment
  • Westlaw (requires login)
    • Home → Proposed & Adopted Regulations → Federal Register OR Type “Federal Register” in the search box
    • Coverage: full text 1981-present; limited search functionality for 1936 to 1981; updated daily
    • No Table of Contents; no index
  • Lexis (requires login)
    • Type “Federal Register” in the search box OR navigate: Home → Browse → Sources → By Category → Administrative Codes and Regulations → Click U.S. Federal (under Jurisdiction) →Click “F” → Scroll to Federal Register
    • Coverage: 1936-present; updated daily
    • Table of contents only, no index 
  • HeinOnline (access off-campus through the VPN
    • Scroll to Federal Register Library (under Browse Collections) → enter citation or click on Search tab
    • Coverage: full coverage 1936-present; updated daily
  • Official Print Version
    • Federal Register

Florida Administrative Regulations

Florida administrative regulations are published in a manner similar to federal regulations.

The two main sources are the Florida Administrative Code, which is the compilation of Florida’s administrative rules; and the Florida Administrative Register, which provides notices and the status of proposed rules to the Florida Administrative Code

Using Westlaw or Lexis is useful because of the annotations, but always confirm the code section’s currentness through the official version on the Florida Department of State’s website.

Sources for Florida Administrative Code

  • Official Online Version through the Florida Department of State
    • Updated weekly
    • Search tip: click “Go” underneath Advanced Search (bottom right of the page)
      • Check the box next to “Search in Florida Administrative Code,” 
      • Enter keywords; scroll through the Department Names and click any that might be relevant
      • Search All Published Issues
      • If you are looking for a specific document (Proposed Rule, Variance, etc.), select that document under the “Section" box
  • Westlaw (requires login)
    • Home → Regulations → Florida OR type “Florida Regulations” in the search box
    • Coverage: current data; scroll to the bottom of the page to confirm currentness
    • Table of contents only, no index
  • Lexis (requires login)
    • Home → Filters (next to the search box) → Jurisdiction (click Florida) → Category (click Administrative Codes and Regulations) OR type “Florida Administrative Code” in the search box, then click Table of Contents next to FL - Florida Administrative
      Code Annotated.
      • Coverage: updated frequently; look at the recent changes date at the top of the page
      • Table of contents only, no index
  • Official Print Version
    • Florida Administrative Code

Sources for the Florida Administrative Register

The Florida Administrative Register was formerly known as Florida Administrative Weekly.

  • Official Online Version through the Florida Department of State
    • Updated daily
    • Search tip: click “Go” underneath Advanced Search (bottom right of page)
      • Check the box next to “Search in Florida Administrative Register” 
      • Enter keywords; scroll through the Department Names and click any that might be relevant
      • Search All Published Issues
      • If you are looking for a specific document (Proposed Rule, Variance, etc.), select that document under the “Section” box
  • Westlaw (requires login)
    • Home → Proposed & Adopted Regulations → Florida
    • Coverage: current data; confirm regulation status with official online version 
  • Lexis (requires login)
    • Home → Browse → Sources → By Jurisdiction → Florida → Administrative Codes & Regulations (on left, under Category) → Florida Administrative Weekly → click Get Documents or Table of Contents
    • OR Type “Florida Administrative Weekly” in the search box, then click Table of Contents next to FL - Florida Administrative Code Annotated.  
    • Coverage: 1996-present
    • Table of contents only, no index
  • Official Print Version
    • Florida Administrative Register