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Legal Research


Jurisdiction determines which court system should adjudicate a case. Questions of jurisdiction also arise regarding administrative agencies in their decision-making capacities.  Jurisdiction is important when researching a legal matter because you need to know the jurisdiction in order to know where to look.  (For example, you wouldn't look at federal level documents for information on the City of Claremont noise ordinance.) 

Jurisdiction is broken into federal, state, or local sources (but can also apply to geographic area).  The list below gives some examples of the types of information you would find at each level.

Federal Law

Admiralty, agriculture, bankruptcy, cases that interpret the U.S. Constitution and civil rights laws, copyright, crimes involving movement of people and substances across state lines for illegal purposes, customs, federal tax, food and drug regulation, immigration, interstate commerce, maritime, Native Americans, patent, postal, social security, and trademark.

State Law

Child custody, conservatorships, contracts, corporations, crimes (in most cases), divorce, durable powers of attorney for health care and financial management, guardianships, inheritance, landlord-tenant relationships, licensing (businesses and professions), living wills, marriage, motor vehicles, partnerships, paternity, personal injuries, probate, property taxation, real estate, trusts, wills, worker’s compensation.

Both State and Federal

Consumer protection, employment, environmental protection, health law, labor law, occupational safety, subsidized housing, transportation, unemployment insurance, veterans’ benefits, welfare law.

Local Law (e.g., county or municipal law)

Animal control, building regulations, city land use, emergency services, housing, parking, streets and sidewalks, traffic, zoning.

Derived from Kent C. Olson’s Legal Information: How to Find It, How to Use It (Phoenix, AZ: Oryx, 1999) and Stephen Elias & Susan Levinkind’s Legal Research: How to Find and Understand the Law (Berkeley, CA: Nolo, 2007).

Legal Databases

Most legal research for coursework at the Claremont Colleges is on the federal and state statutory (legislative) and judicial level (court). Most legal databases only have cases that have reached the appellate level or higher that can be used for legal precendent.There is some research into laws of foreign government, but only of a summary nature, which can be accomplished using scholarly and legal databases.

Web Sites for Law

Links to Foreign Governments and International Law Sites

Social Sciences Librarian

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Dieter Mackenbach
Research, Teaching, & User Services
The Claremont Colleges Library
909 607-5341