One of the most important skills a successful paralegal can develop is legal research. Clients expect their legal counsel to use the latest law in advising them. The paralegal is expected to be able to understand the relevant facts and find the current statutory law and case law. The frequent changes in court decisions and statutory enactments present a challenge to the legal profession. Traditional law libraries consisting of printed texts may not provide the latest case, statute, or regulation for some period of time. Computer technology allows for more rapid distribution of legal information. Many courts now issue the electronic version of court opinions at the same time as the printed version. While the ability to obtain the most recent case law is important, in many cases an older common law case may still be precedent. This can present a problem inasmuch as some computerized legal research services may not have included the older cases in their database of available cases. As such, being able to find the case the old-fashioned way by checking through the books is a valuable skill.
Online law libraries are subscription-based. Each service charges fees to users. For this reason, smaller law offices might not have access to an online subscription service. The most common online law libraries are Westlaw, LexisNexis, Loislaw, and VersusLaw.
Traditional print law libraries are becoming more rare. It is expensive to keep hard copies of all of the law. It is important to understand research using print sources, though, because the Internet is not always available, and sometimes the case you need is an old one that may not be included in an online law library.
Cite checking is the process of determinig whether the law you have found is the most current. There are several ways to cite check, but you may hear the process called "Shepardizing" because that was the first way to cite check. A parallel citation is a citation to the same material, usually a case, in another source. In other words, one case may appear in two places. You would list both citations.
Shepard's is a multivolume set of books listing cases and statutes by their respective citations and giving the citation of every other case in which the listed case was mentioned; checking citations is often called “Shepardizing,” but actually, you are only Shepardizing if you use Shepard's. Shepard's also provides updated information on amendments and repeals of statutes. Citations to any cases in which the statute has been cited are also listed, with information on how the case law considered the statute.
KeyCite is the Westlaw online citation update service.
GlobalCite, available in Loislaw, provides a reverse chronological list of the case law, a list of statutes in the order of the highest number of citation occurrences, regulations in relevancy order, and reference to other databases in Loislaw library.
Findlaw is the free site by Westlaw. It is not as user-friendly as Westlaw, but it is free.
All Law is a legal portal that takes the researcher to other sites.
Hieros Gamos is a world-wide legal directory.
Perform legal and web database searches on LawCrawler.
The Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School is a not-for-profit group that publishes free legal resources.
There are hundreds of government sites that can help you not only find the law, but also find and verify facts.
The circle with lines represents Notes. The circle with an arrow represents a Web link. Check DocSharing for a printable copy of the Mindmap and Notes.