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Introduction to Legal Research: Home

About This Guide

This guide provides an introduction to legal research.  It will acquaint new law students, undergraduates, and members of the public with the basic principles of legal research. 

Sources of Authority

In legal research, there are two types of authority: mandatory authority and persuasive authority.  The two types are described below.

  • Mandatory Authority- This type of authority is legally binding within a certain jurisdiction, and the court is bound by this type of authority.  For example, in North Carolina, North Carolina Supreme Court decisions and North Carolina statutes are mandatory authority.  Georgia statutes are not mandatory authority in NC; therefore, North Carolina Courts are not bound to follow Georgia statutes.
  • Persuasive Authority- Courts are not required to follow this type of authority.  This can be used to hopefully persuade a court, but a court is not bound by it. Secondary sources are persuasive as are court decisions and statutes outside of your jurisdiction.  For example, a Georgia statute would be persuasive authority in NC.

CALI Lessons

The Center for Computer Assisted Legal Research (CALI) website contains several interactive lessons on legal research.  Use the links below to access these lessons.  A username and password are required to access the lessons.  Students and faculty should contact the Library for the registration code.

What is Legal Research?

The ultimate goal of legal research is to find the law in order to discover how the law relates to your client or professor's set of facts.  Legal issues are often complex, and you may need an auxiliary text to help you understand the area of law you are researching.

There are two types of legal sources: primary law and secondary sources.

Primary law is the law. Primary law is created by one of the three branches of government. 

  • The legislative branch writes statutes.  Examples of the legislative branch include the North Carolina General Assembly and the United States Congress.
  • The judicial branch interprets constitutions and statutes and writes opinions.  Courts can also use prior court holdings to analyze fact patterns when no applicable statute exists.  This is called common law.
  • Administrative agencies are part of the executive branch.  They write regulations enforcing the law.

Secondary Sources analyze, discuss, and summarize the law.  Secondary sources can also be used to find primary law.  Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and treatises are all types of secondary sources.

Law Library Online Catalog Tutorial

Use the NCCU Law Library's Online Catalog to find more information on a variety of legal topics and issues. The online tutorial below will show how to use the online catalog. Click on the play button to access the video. Click here to go directly to the online catalog.

Books on Legal Research

Below are books on legal research. They contain research tips and explanations of legal resources.  Other legal research books are available in the Law Library.  To find available books, search the catalog using the subject, Legal research -- United States.

Other Legal Research Guides

Below are links to other guides on the basics of legal research.

Contact Information

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Lance Burke
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