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A legal research guide is a “how-to” for finding the law. Guides vary widely in their scope, depth, area of the law covered, and may be in print or online. Guides can be generally divided into one of three kinds--those on:
Despite these differences, the goal remains the same of helping the user locate relevant secondary and primary authorities and assist in designing a research plan. (Related tools that may also be helpful are a pathfinder or bibliography, a list of writings and/or resources relating to a given subject.)
A researcher should look for a legal research guide toward the beginning of the legal research process. A relevant guide may not necessarily exist, but if one does, it will help keep you from reinventing the wheel.
Legal research guides in print vary in length, with some being articles published within journals while others are full-length books. Recommended ways to find them include:
Because legal research guides vary in their comprehensiveness and focus, your research needs at any given time dictate which guide is of most use to you.
As a general rule, printed guides are often more detailed than their online counterparts. Online legal research guides, by contrast, can be more cursory but can still be extremely helpful during the initial organizational phase of any research project. Online guides also have the advantage of linking to the resources discussed.
Bear in mind that currency is a concern here, as it is for any other legal research resource. Print research guides are typically not updated except by a new edition, so pay attention to the year that a print guide was published and double check to see if a newer one is available. In this regard, online legal research guides have the advantage of being easier to update and as a result are typically more current.