What You Always Wanted to Know about Legal Research but Were Afraid to Ask

Updated Aug. 14, 2015.
Prepared by Peggy Roebuck Jarrett & Jonathan Franklin for 2002 Bridge the Legal Research Gap.
Updated & revised by Cheryl Nyberg for 2006 Bridge the Legal Research Gap.

Links to LexisNexis and Westlaw require user passwords or IDs. Links to HeinOnline are UW Restricted.

Overarching Themes


Every primary source; every time

Many secondary sources: look for pocket parts, supplements, later editions, etc.

Take advantage of the work of others

Seattle U Law Library & UW Gallagher Law Library websites

The Washington Legal Researcher's Deskbook 3d

Use help services Including librarians & vendor toll-free numbers

Starting Points

Abbreviations & acronyms

Prince's Bieber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (6th ed. 2009).
KF246 .B46 2009 at Reference Area

Prince's Dictionary of Legal Citations (8th ed. 2011).
KF246.B45 2011 at Reference Area

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (20th ed. 2015). Blue pages
KF245.B58 2015 at Reference Area

Gallagher legal research guides

What does that word mean?

Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).
KF156.B53 2014 at Reference Area
Westlaw: BLACKS

General dictionaries (American Heritage, Webster's)

Words and Phrases: cites cases that define words & phrases.
KF156.W6712 at Reference Area
On Westlaw, search case and statute databases with WP field.

Gallagher legal research guide: Legal Dictionaries

Starting a research project? Consult a research guide
Need an exhaustive treatment? Try a a major, multi-volume treatise

Nimmer on Copyright
KF2991.5.N5 1978 at Reference Area & Lexis Advance

Corbin on Contracts (rev. ed. 1993)
KF801 .C653 1952 & Lexis Advance

Chisum on Patents. 
Lexis Advance

LaFave on Search and Seizure (5th ed. 2012)
KF9630 .L26 2012 at Reference Area

Pierce's Administrative Law Treatise (5th ed. 2010)
KF5402 .D32 2010 at Reference Area

Collier on Bankruptcy (16th ed. 2009)
KF1524 .C6 at Reference Area & Lexis Advance

Wright & Miller's Federal Practice and Procedure (4th ed. 2008)
KF8840.W68 2008 & WestlawNext

Use the Georgetown Law Library's Treatise Finder to find treatises on other topics

Starting a Washington-specific research project?

Washington Practice.
KFW80.W3 at Reference Area & WestlawNext

Washington Lawyers Practice Manual 

Washington State Bar Association deskbooks

Chapter 4, Washington Practice Materials, in the Washington Legal Researcher's Deskbook 3d

Gallagher legal research guide: Washington Practice Materials

Got a specific fact pattern?

American Law Reports (ALR) annotations can be gold mines of information. Especially useful for a review of caselaw across jurisdictions relative to a specific fact situation.
KF132.A52 & Lexis Advance

Causes of Action 2d is a great source for tort-based actions, with sample pleadings, leading cases & practice tips.
KF8863.S53 1993 at Reference Area & WestlawNext

Recent law review articles summarize areas of the law & footnotes lead to sources for additional research

Looking for a law review article?

Use a periodical index such as LegalTrac instead of or in addition to searching full-text law review articles on LexisNexis & Westlaw

LegalTrac indexes by subject, so you will find articles that lack the keywords you used in a full-text search

LegalTrac coverage begins with 1980 (longer time span than most law reviews available in full text on LexisNexis & Westlaw)

LegalTrac searches will yield fewer but more relevant lists of articles

LegalTrac database available on Lexis Advance and WestlawNext as the Legal Resource Index (LRI)

Looking for older law review articles?

Use the Index to Legal Periodicals (indexes articles published before 1980).
K33.I5 at Reference Area

Check HeinOnline for PDF versions of older law reviews, including the Columbia Law Review (1901-present), Harvard Law Review (1887-present), Michigan Law Review (1902-present) & Washington Law Review (1925-present)

Sample forms save time


Washington State

Need factual information? Contact the public library!

Seattle Public Library, Reference 

Seattle Public Library Quick Information: 206-386-4636

Gallagher legal research guide: Nonlegal Research


Primary Sources: Statutes & Regulations

Constitutions annotated

Federal: first volumes of USCA & USCS

Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation.

Washington: first volumes of RCWA & ARCW

Both: LexisNexis & Westlaw

Start your research with statutes

Can yield a quicker answer

Cases are often based on statutory interpretation

Annotated codes are a great way to find relevant cases & law review articles quickly

Gallagher legal research guide: Statutory Research Checklist

Statutes are often easier to use in print than online

They have a hierarchical structure

It is easy to browse adjacent sections

The page layout provides context, emphasizing important sections


[note: guide update stops here]

Check cover or title page to determine how current the volume is

Consult the pocket part or other supplement

Look for the legislative service or the session laws (U.S. Statutes at Large or Laws of Washington)

Go to legislative websites for latest action.

Do not assume online sources (LexisNexis or Westlaw) are more current than print! Look for date of currency

Popular names of legislation

Washington: Tables in RCW & RCWA

Federal: Tables in USC, USCS & USCA. Plus Shepard's Acts and Cases by Popular Name

Popular Names of Acts in the US Code, from Cornell Law School

Run a search in an electronic database of law reviews (this can be expensive!)

Effective dates of legislation

Washington: 90 days after adjournment of the legislative session, unless the bill has a specified effective date or emergency clause. Refer to Laws of Washington, RCWA tables volume & RCWA pocket parts for dates of adjournment and 90 days after

Federal: the date the bill is signed into law by the President, unless the bill has a specified effective date

Need to convert a session law or public law reference to a current statutory citation? Use the tables volumes.

Codification tables

  • Session law to code section.
  • Previous code (Remington's Revised Statutes) to current code (RCW)

Disposition tables of former code sections

Commercial sets (USCA, RCWA) provide more extensive tables

Federal statutes

USC = United States Code (official, but not timely). Used primarily for citation purposes, not for research. GPO Access

USCA = United States Code Annotated (unofficial; includes references to cases). Westlaw: USCA

USCS = United States Code Service (unofficial; includes references to cases). LexisNexis: GENFED;USCS

Update USCA & USCS using pocket parts & supplements, or online

Washington statutes

RCW = Revised Code of Washington (official). LegalWA

RCWA = Revised Code of Washington Annotated (unofficial; includes references to cases). Westlaw: WA-ST-ANN

ARCW = Annotated Revised Code of Washington (unofficial; includes references to cases). LexisNexis: WASH;CODE

Federal regulations

CFR = Code of Federal Regulations

FR or Fed. Reg. = Federal Register. Published daily; updates the CFR

LSA = List of CFR Sections Affected. Use the LSA to find FR updates to specific CFR sections

Proposed & final regs in the Federal Register often include have preambles with useful background information

Gallagher legal research guide: U.S. Administrative Law Research

Washington regulations

WAC = Washington Administrative Code

WSR = Washington State Register. Biweekly; updates the WAC

Gallagher legal research guide: Washington Administrative Law Research

Comparing 50 states' laws? See if someone has done the work already!

Subject Compilations of State Laws. HeinOnline UW Restricted

Westlaw: SURVEYS, includes the National Survey of State Laws. [Gallagher catalog link]

Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest. LexisNexis: MARHUB;MHDIG. [Gallagher catalog link]

Uniform Laws Annotated. Westlaw: ULA. [Gallagher catalog link]

Internet sites for statutes & regulations Gallagher's Internet Legal Resources


Legislative History Materials

Federal legislative histories Look for shortcuts!

United States Code Congressional & Administrative News (USCCAN), 1948-date. Westlaw: USCCAN. [Gallagher catalog link]

ProQuest Congressional Legislative Histories, 1970-date.

Federal Legislative Histories: An Annotated Bibliography and Index to Officially Published Sources. [Gallagher catalog link]

Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories: A Bibliography of Government Documents, Periodical Articles, and Books, 1st Congress-94th Congress. Hein Online UW Restricted. [Gallagher catalog link]

Gallagher legal research guide: Federal Legislative History

Congressional Record Two editions

Daily edition (softbound, newsprint)

  • Page numbers are alphanumeric, starting with the letter S (Senate), H (House), or E (extension of remarks)
  • All online versions of the Congressional Record are the daily edition

Permanent edition (hardbound).

  • Page numbers are strictly numeric
  • Publication of the permanent edition is many years behind
  • Bluebook requires citation to the permanent edition


  • No correlation between the page numbers in daily & permanent editions
  • If you have a cite to the daily & need the page number in the permanent edition, use the indexes or the Daily Digest to find a date. Then browse
  • Members of Congress may alter text
Understand the abbreviations

H.R. = House of Representatives bill. For example, H.R. 1157.

H.R. Rep. = House of Representatives committee report. For example, H.R. Rep. No. 107-95.

Washington legislative histories

Read Chapter 6, Legislative History, Initiatives & Bill Tracking, in the Washington Legal Researcher’s Deskbook 3d

Gallagher legal research guide: Washington State Legislative History


Caselaw Research Tips

Starting with a single case

Use West key numbers

Use KeyCite or Shepard's to expand your research to other cases (in the same or other jurisdictions) & to find secondary sources

Check ALR's table of cases

Stuck on case research?

Look at the major cases cited in your best case

KeyCite or Shepardize those earlier cases to find cases that might be related

Go back to a secondary source

Resist the temptation to copy every case you find Save time & money by pulling those cases off the shelf, reading them & copying (or printing) only the most relevant

BR = Bankruptcy Reporter

FRD = Federal Rules Decisions

When in doubt, check Bieber’s or the Bluebook

Gallagher research guide: Reporters & Digests

Case updating best done online

To get more up-to-date results in less time, use KeyCite or Shepard’s online

Just before you hand in the project, update again to make sure nothing has changed


Miscellaneous Legal Documents

Administrative agency decisions

LexisNexis & Westlaw databases

Internet sources

Consult major looseleaf services & corresponding online databases: banking, environment, labor, securities, tax, etc.

Court rules, Washington State

RPC = Rules of Professional Conduct

ER = Rules of Evidence

RAP = Rules of Appellate Procedure

CR = Superior Court Civil Rules

CrR = Superior Court Criminal Rules

CRLJ = Civil Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction

CrRLJ = Criminal Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction

Find the text in Washington Court Rules – State

Court rules, Washington local

Rules of the District and Municipal Courts in Washington. [Gallagher catalog link]

Washington Court Rules – Local Rules. [Gallagher catalog link]

Washington Local Court Rules


Court rules, Washington annotated

Washington Court Rules Annotated. [Gallagher catalog link]

Washington Rules of Court Annotated. [Gallagher catalog link]

Appendix to Title 10 RCWA contains annotated criminal rules

Various volumes of Washington Practice

Child support schedule & worksheets, Washington

Washington State Court Forms

Appendix to RCWA 26.19. Not printed in the RCW!

Domestic Relations Forms. [Gallagher catalog link]  Not in the Washington Family Law Deskbook!

Make sure you use the current version

Ethics opinions Gallagher legal research guide: Washington State Ethics Opinions covers attorneys, judges, legislators & public employees
Jury instructions

Federal Jury Practice and Instructions. Westlaw: FED-JI.  [Gallagher catalog link]

Manual of Model Civil Jury Instructions for the Ninth Circuit

Manual of Model Criminal Jury Instructions for the Ninth Circuit

Washington Pattern Jury Instructions: Civil (in Washington Practice vols. 6 & 6A). Westlaw: WA-WPI

Washington Pattern Jury Instructions: Criminal (in Washington Practice vols. 11 & 11A). Westlaw: WA-WPIC

Jury verdicts Gallagher legal research guide: Jury Verdicts, Settlements, Judgments, and Liens
Judicial biographies

Washington Judges Book covers state appellate courts & some lower courts

Supreme Court & Court of Appeals judges

Washington State voters' pamphlets.  [Gallagher catalog link]

Almanac of the Federal Judiciary. Westlaw: AFJ.  [Gallagher catalog link]

Biographical Directory of Federal Judges

Interest rate, Washington maximum allowable Printed inside the cover of each Washington State Register issue


Final General Tips

First time using a new source?

Review "how to use" section

Browse table of contents & index

Check publication date & supplementation to determine how much updating you will need to do

Looseleaf services

Page numbers & paragraph numbers are different

Indexes & finding lists refer to paragraph numbers, not page numbers


Check section T (the blue pages) of The Bluebook for lists of reporters, statutory codes & administrative codes for all the states (with abbreviations) & many foreign jurisdictions

Reporter of Decisions Style Sheet covers additions & exceptions to The Bluebook required by the Washington Courts. 

Search full-text law review articles to find proper citation formats when The Bluebook fails you. Beware: This can be an expensive option!

Keep a paper trail

Keep print copies of searches run

If you find something on the Internet, always print or download a copy

Log sources you have already checked to avoid going back to them for the same thing

CALR tips

Smaller databases are cheaper

Smaller sets of search results save you time & minimize the number of irrelevant hits

Use Get or Find feature to efficiently retrieve known items

Use the system as a citator When you need to verify the status of an administrative decision or some other legal authority not included in Shepard's or Keycite.
When is it OK to stop? When the same cases & statutes repeatedly appear.


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