How to Conduct Legal Research
IN THIS ARTICLE
Where do I begin my legal research?
What if i’m new to the practice area or specific legal issue, how do i respond to the opposing side’s brief, how can legal research help with drafting or strategy, how do i validate case law citations, how should i use technology to improve my legal research.
[Learn more about Bloomberg Law’s complete legal research resource – enabling smarter, faster decisions and confident action for your clients, practice, and organization.]
Conducting legal research can challenge even the most skilled law practitioners.
As laws evolve across jurisdictions, it can be a difficult to keep pace with every legal development. Equally daunting is the ability to track and glean insights into stakeholder strategies and legal responses. Without quick and easy access to the right tools, the legal research upon which case strategy hinges may face cost, personnel, and litigation outcome challenges.
Bloomberg Law’s artificial intelligence-driven tools drastically reduce the time to perform legal research. Whether you seek quick answers to legal research definitions, or general guidance on the legal research process, Bloomberg Law’s Core Litigation Skills Toolkit has you covered.
What is legal research?
Legal research is the process of uncovering and understanding all of the legal precedents, laws, regulations, and other legal authorities that apply in a case and inform an attorney’s course of action.
Legal research often involves case law research, which is the practice of identifying and interpreting the most relevant cases concerning the topic at issue. Legal research can also involve a deep dive into a judge’s past rulings or opposing counsel’s record of success.
Research is not a process that has a finite start and end, but remains ongoing throughout every phase of a legal matter. It is a cornerstone of a litigator’s skills.
[Learn how our integrated, time-saving litigation research tools allow litigators to streamline their work and get answers quickly.]
Beginning your legal research will look different for each assignment. At the outset, ensure that you understand your goal by asking questions and taking careful notes. Ask about background case information, logistical issues such as filing deadlines, the client/matter number, and billing instructions.
It’s also important to consider how your legal research will be used. Is the research to be used for a pending motion? If you are helping with a motion for summary judgment, for example, your goal is to find cases that are in the same procedural posture as yours and come out favorably for your side (i.e., if your client is the one filing the motion, try to find cases where a motion for summary judgment was granted, not denied). Keep in mind the burden of proof for different kinds of motions.
Finally, but no less important, assess the key facts of the case. Who are the relevant parties? Where is the jurisdiction? Who is the judge? Note all case details that come to mind.
While conducting legal research, it is easy to go down rabbit holes. Resist the urge to start by reviewing individual cases, which may prove irrelevant. Start instead with secondary sources, which often provide a prevailing statement of the law for a specific topic. These sources will save time and orient you to the area of the law and key issues.
Litigation Practical Guidance provides the essentials including step-by-step guidance, expert legal analysis, and a preview of next steps. Source citations are included in all Practical Guidance, and you can filter Points of Law, Smart Code®, and court opinions searches to get the jurisdiction-specific cases or statutes you need.
Searching across Points of Law will help to get your bearings on an issue before diving into reading the cases in full. Points of Law uses machine learning to identify key legal principles expressed in court opinions, which are easily searchable by keyword and jurisdiction. This tool helps you quickly find other cases that have expressed the same Point of Law, and directs you to related Points of Law that might be relevant to your research. It is automatically updated with the most recent opinions, saving you time and helping you quickly drill down to the relevant cases.
- Address your litigation research needs – day or night
No matter when you’re working, we’ve got the smarter, faster resources you need, including faster case law research, complete dockets access, and 24/7 expert support.
Whether a brief is yours or that of the opposing party, Bloomberg Law’s Brief Analyzer is an essential component in the legal research process. It reduces the time spent analyzing a brief, identifying relevant authorities, and preparing a solid response.
To start, navigate to Brief Analyzer available from the Bloomberg Law homepage, within the Litigation Intelligence Center , or from Docket Key search results for briefs.
[ How to Write a Legal Brief – Learn how to shorten the legal research cycle and give your legal brief a competitive advantage.]
How to optimize your search.
Crafting searches is a critical skill when it comes to legal research. Although many legal research platforms, including Bloomberg Law, offer natural language searching, terms and connectors (also called Boolean) searching is still a vital legal research skill and should be used when searching across court opinions, dockets, Points of Law, and other primary and secondary sources.
When you conduct a natural language search, the search engine applies algorithms to rank your results. Why a certain case is ranked as it is may not be obvious. This makes it harder to interpret whether the search is giving you everything you need. It is also harder to efficiently and effectively manipulate your search terms to zero in on the results you want. Using Boolean searching gives you better control over your search and greater confidence in your results.
The good news? Bloomberg Law does not charge by the search for court opinion searches. If your initial search was much too broad or much too narrow, you do not have to worry about immediately running a new and improved search.
Follow these tips when beginning a search to ensure that you do not miss relevant materials:
- Make sure you do not have typos in your search string.
- Search the appropriate source or section of the research platform. It is possible to search only within a practice area, jurisdiction, secondary resource, or other grouping of materials.
- Make sure you know which terms and connectors are utilized by the platform you are working on and what they mean – there is no uniform standard set of terms of connectors utilized by all platforms.
- Include in your search all possible terms the court might use, or alternate ways the court may address an issue. It is best to group the alternatives together within a parenthetical, connected by OR between each term.
- Consider including single and multiple character wildcards when relevant. Using a single character wildcard (an asterisk) and/or a multiple character wildcard (an exclamation point) helps you capture all word variations – even those you might not have envisioned.
- Try using a tool that helps you find additional relevant case law. When you find relevant authority, use BCITE on Bloomberg Law to find all other cases and/or sources that cite back to that case. When in BCITE, click on the Citing Documents tab, and search by keyword to narrow the results. Alternatively, you can use the court’s language or ruling to search Points of Law and find other cases that addressed the same issue or reached the same ruling.
[Bloomberg Law subscribers can access a complete checklist of search term best practices . Not a subscriber? Request a Demo .]
Before drafting a motion or brief, search for examples of what firm lawyers filed with the court in similar cases. You can likely find recent examples in your firm’s internal document system or search Bloomberg Law’s dockets. If possible, look for things filed before the same judge so you can get a quick check on rules/procedures to be followed (and by the same partner when possible so you can get an idea of their style preferences).
Careful docket search provides a wealth of information about relevant cases, jurisdictions, judges, and opposing counsel. On Bloomberg Law, type “Dockets Search” in the Go bar or find the dockets search box in the Litigation Intelligence Center .
If you do not know the specific docket number and/or court, use the docket search functionality Docket Key . Select from any of 20 categories, including motions, briefs, and orders, across all 94 federal district courts, to pinpoint the exact filing of choice.
Dockets can also help you access lots of information to guide your case strategy. For example, if you are considering filing a particular type of motion, such as a sanctions motion, you can use dockets to help determine how frequently your judge grants sanctions motions. You can also use dockets to see how similar cases before your judge proceeded through discovery.
If you are researching expert witnesses, you can use dockets to help determine if the expert has been recently excluded from a case, or whether their opinion has been limited. If so, this will help you determine whether the expert is a good fit for your case.
Dockets are a powerful research tool that allow you to search across filings to support your argument. Stay apprised of docket updates with the “Create Alert” option on Bloomberg Law.
Writing a research memo? Here’s a how-to guide.
Bloomberg Law subscribers can access our expert-written guide on writing a research memo, authored by Aaron Goodman, Of Counsel at Baker McKenzie.
Not a subscriber? Request a demo
Dive deeper into competitive research.
For even more competitive research insights, dive into Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics – this is available in the Litigation tab on the homepage. Data here helps attorneys develop litigation strategy, predict possible outcomes, and better advise clients.
To start, under Litigation Analytics , leverage the Attorney tab to view case history and preview legal strategies the opposition may practice against you. Also, within Litigation Analytics, use the Court tab to get aggregate motion and appeal outcome rates across all federal courts, with the option to run comparisons across jurisdictions, and filter by company, law firm, and attorney.
Use the Judge tab to glean insights from cited opinions, and past and current decisions by motion and appeal outcomes. Also view litigation analytics in the right rail of court opinions.
Docket search can also offer intel on your opponent. Has your opponent filed similar lawsuits or made similar arguments before? How did those cases pan out? You can learn a lot about an opponent from past appearances in court.
Checking the status of case law is essential in legal research. Rely on Bloomberg Law’s proprietary citator, BCITE. This time-saving tool lets you know if a case is still good law.
Under each court opinion, simply look to the right rail. There, you will see a thumbnail icon for “BCITE Analysis.” Click on the icon, and you will be provided quick links to direct history (opinions that affect or are affected by the outcome of the case at issue); case analysis (citing cases, with filter and search options), table of authorities, and citing documents.
A significant benefit of digital research platforms and analytics is increased efficiency. Modern legal research technology helps attorneys sift through thousands of cases quickly and comprehensively. These products can also help aggregate or summarize data in a way that is more useful and make associations instantaneously.
For example, before litigation analytics were common, a partner may have asked a junior associate to find all summary judgment motions ruled on by a specific judge to determine how often that judge grants or denies them. The attorney could have done so by manually searching over PACER and/or by searching through court opinions, but that would take a long time. Now, Litigation Analytics can aggregate that data and provide an answer in seconds. Understanding that such products exist can be a game changer. Automating parts of the research process frees up time and effort for other activities that benefit the client and makes legal research and writing more efficient.
[Read our article: Six ways legal technology aids your litigation workflow .]
Tools like Points of Law , dockets and Brief Analyzer can also increase efficiency, especially when narrowing your research to confirm that you found everything on point. In the past, attorneys had to spend many hours (and lots of money) running multiple court opinion searches to ensure they did not miss a case on point. Now, there are tools that can dramatically speed up that process. For example, running a search over Points of Law can immediately direct you to other cases that discuss that same legal principle.
However, it’s important to remember that digital research and analytical tools should be seen as enhancing the legal research experience, not displacing the review, analysis, and judgment of an attorney. An attorney uses his or her knowledge of their client, the facts, the precedent, expert opinions, and his or her own experiences to predict the likely result in a given matter. Digital research products enhance this process by providing more data on a wider array of variables so that an attorney can take even more information into consideration.
[Get all your questions answered, request a Bloomberg Law demo , and more.]
- Litigation Essentials – Legal Tech Tools for the Modern Practitioner
- Six Steps to an Efficient Litigation Workflow
- Give Your Legal Brief a Competitive Advantage
- Artificial Intelligence for Lawyers Explained
- Litigators Sound Off on Their Most Time-Consuming Task
- The Art of the Brief: Critical Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
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What is a Law Report?
A law report is a record of a judicial decision on a point of law which sets a precedent. Not all decisions taken in a court of law set a precedent, however interesting they may be in terms of the facts of the case or its consequences. A decision is only reportable if lays down … Continue reading
A law report is a record of a judicial decision on a point of law which sets a precedent.
Not all decisions taken in a court of law set a precedent, however interesting they may be in terms of the facts of the case or its consequences. A decision is only reportable if lays down a new principle of law, or changes or clarifies the existing law.
It is therefore important to:
- distinguish between those cases which do indeed lay down, change or clarify the law, and which therefore need to be reported, and those which don’t; and
- ensure that any report of a reportable case clearly states all the relevant information so that it can be relied upon by students, teachers, practitioners and judges as an accurate and authoritative statement of the principle of law (the “ratio decidendi”) on which the case was decided.
Note: A judgment transcript is not a law report!
However important the case, the transcript of a judgment does not have the same value, as a record of the decision contained in it, as a full text law report. Where, therefore, a law report is available, particularly where the case has been reported in one of the official series, The Law Reports, published by ICLR, it must be cited and referred to in that version in preference for any other: see Practice Direction (Citation of Authorities)  1 WLR 780 .
Different types of law report
Law reports fall into two broad types.
- Full text law reports incorporate the full judgment(s) given by the court, together with a summary of the case known as the headnote and a number of other elements.
- Summary reports, also known as case summaries, digests, case notes etc, consist of summaries or abridgements of the judgment, and are presented in a less formal way than a full text law report.
For obvious reasons, full text reports enjoy higher status than summary reports and should be cited in preference for them. The function of summary reports is either to alert practitioners and students to cases which may not merit reporting in full, or to act as an early warning system in advance of the full report which for obvious reasons may take longer to write, edit and publish.
Where a case is not reported in a full text law report, but a transcript of the judgment is available, this may be cited in conjunction with a summary report. However, the combination of a summary report and a transcript does not enjoy the same status as a full text law report where one is available, for reasons which will become clear once one appreciates the amount of careful editorial work that goes into preparing the full report.
Anatomy of a law report
Any law reports, whether of the full text or summary type, needs to contain certain fundamental pieces of information in order to justify its being cited in support of a proposition of law.
First of all, it must have a title, usually based on the names of the parties. It must identify the court giving judgment, and the date on which it was given.
Most fundamentally, it needs to contain a statement of the principle of law decided in the case. The statement should ideally be expressed as a rule or proposition which can be applied in subsequent cases even if the facts are not the same. It will usually be taken from the words actually used by the judge(s) but it may be condensed in some way and put into reported rather than quoted speech. The most highly evolved form of such a statement is to be found in the modern headnote of a full text law report as published by ICLR.
Finally, to reassure the reader of the reliability of the report, the reporter must be a qualified lawyer, and this must be evident either from the report itself or the publication in which it appears.
The above five elements (title, court, date, principle of law, reporter) constitute the bare minimum for a summary report. But most reports contain a number of other elements, most notably the full text of the judgment(s) in the case and the names of the judge(s).
What follows is a more detailed explanation of all the various elements of a modern full text law report, such as is published in The Law Reports, listed in the order in which they appear. For the sake of illustration, it would useful at this point to have open a copy of a full text law report or to view the Learnmore talking essay on law report anatomy .
Usually the first thing an ICLR report will state is the court from which it is taken. This appears at the top of the first page, and is abbreviated in the running heads.
In some series, the name of the court can only be identified by reference to the volume or publication in which the case appears. For example, cases appearing in the Chancery series of the Law Reports are assumed to be in the Chancery Division of the High Court, unless they are identified as having been decided in the Court of Appeal or, on a reference from the High Court or the Court of Appeal, the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The basic rule
Most case titles are expressed in the form of one party’s (the claimant’s) surname versus (Latin for “against”) another’s (the defendant’s). In civil cases, this appears as Smith v Jones but is conventionally pronounced as “Smith and Jones”.
Criminal cases are almost always prosecuted by the Crown, using the Latin for “queen” (Regina) or “king” (Rex). Most criminal cases therefore take the form of Regina , Reg or R v Brown . It is conventionally pronounced “Queen (or King) against Brown”.
Some criminal cases or appeals are maintained the name of the Director of Public Prosecutions, or DPP, instead of the Crown: eg Brown v DPP .
However references by the Attorney General to the Court of Appeal following an acquittal do not use the defendant’s name, just a reference number: Attorney General’s Reference (No 1 of 2011) . Some civil case titles take other forms, eg In re Smith’s Estate (“in the matter of” Smith’s estate), In re A (A child) or In re Jones Co Ltd (in liquidation).
Judicial review claims (against public authorities alleging breaches of public law), though civil proceedings, are also brought in the name of the Crown, acting “on the application of” (or as it used to be, “ex parte”) the name of the applicant, thus taking the form of: R (Smith) v Secretary of State for Justice or, for older cases, R v Westminster City Council, Ex parte Jones .
Admiralty actions in rem (Latin for “thing” or “matter”) involving a ship are brought in the name of the ship: The Titanic. However, ordinary shipping claims involving litigating parties (claims “in personam”) should not use the name of the ship as a title, though they often do as a form of shorthand: Smith Shipping Coprn v Jones Insurers (The Mary Rose).
The full date of judgment is essential both as a matter of record and to avoid confusion between different cases with similar names or even different decisions in the course of the same litigation.
Hearing dates are an optional but obviously useful addition. (For example, they could help indicate that a case had been heard by the court before an important judgment given in another case, which if known about could have affected the course of argument, or the judgment.)
Where judgment has been reserved, rather than being given directly at the conclusion of the hearing, this should be indicated in the report. (For more on this, see Judgment, below.)
The identity of the judge, as well as that of the court where the hearing took place, is an essential element of any law report. Whilst it may be possible when discussing a case to identify it as “a decision of the Court of Appeal”, or to mention that such-and-such a case was “reversed by the House of Lords” in a subsequent appeal, no report of the relevant decision of the Court of Appeal or House of Lords could be relied upon which did not identify the “constitution” of the court, ie list the names of the judges sitting on the bench, even if they did not all give judgment.
Where more than one judge was sitting, it is also essential to identify which judge or judges gave judgment. Usually this is done by setting out the relevant judge’s name at the beginning of their judgment. Where one or more judges dissent from the decision of the others, this too must be clearly stated in the report.
In some older reports, the name of the judge can only be inferred from the series or volume in which the report appears. You may need to know, for example, who was Vice-Chancellor at the time, and this is sometimes only apparent from information printed at the front of the volume.
Catchwords serve two essential functions. First, they identify the position of the case in a taxonomy of legal subject matters. Secondly, they encapsulate in abbreviated form the issues in the case and any words, phrases or legislative provisions construed by the court.
The first three words or phrases identify the subject matter with increasing particularity according to a taxonomical structure. The first one (eg “Crime” or “Landlord and tenant”) gives a very broad indication of the type of case. The second (eg “Theft” or “Forfeiture of lease”) narrows it down a bit, and the third (eg “Dishonest appropriation” or “Relief from forfeiture”) identifies its subject matter with still more precision. These three levels of particularity are reflected in the hierarchical headings in the Subject Matter index section of the ICLR Consolidated Index, where cases are listed according to their subject matter, and where it is therefore possible to find similar cases listed in the same place (an invaluable research tool).
The remainder of the catchwords set out briefly what the issues in the case were. They identify in inverted commas any words or phrases which the court has defined, and list any statutory provisions or other national or international legislation, conventions etc which the court has considered and ruled upon.
Note: Though catchwords appear in the report, and can help one see at a glance what the case is about, they are not a telegraphic form of headnote, and they do not state the decision. They are essentially an indexing tool, a way of categorising rather than of summarising the case.
A headnote is a summary, appearing at the beginning of a full text law report, encapsulating as precisely as possible the principle of law which the case establishes.
In some cases, this may consist of little more than a bald proposition, which in older reports used to be contained in a sidenote. In most modern reports, however, the headnote will take a bipartite form in which the first part will outline the relevant facts and issues, and the second, in a separate paragraph or paragraphs, continuing after the word “ Held ,” will set out the proposition(s) of law. This structure enables readers quickly and easily to ascertain what the case was about and identify the point of law decided.
In a few cases, a propositional headnote is more appropriate, particularly where the facts are largely irrelevant to any understanding of the principle, and would, if included, simply distract readers from the point of the case. Sometimes this will be followed by a brief statement of the court’s application of the principle to the facts.
Although the headnote adds value to the report of a judgment, it is the judgment itself which sets the precedent and binds subsequent decision-makers.
Nevertheless, a good headnote is a work of meticulous legal draftsmanship and can withstand the closest of textual scrutiny. Accuracy is all. Make the proposition too general, and the principle appears either so watered down as to be meaningless or, more dangerously, misleadingly wide in its application. Draw it too narrowly, and it fails to express the principle on which the court based its decision. At its best, a headnote is a precious distillation – the single malt of legal learning.
7. The blocklists: cases referred to or cited
Where earlier cases have been judicially considered by the court in formulating a principle of law, this is noted in the headnote. Cases may have been followed or applied, or merely considered, or they may have been disapproved or overruled. In the case of a decision being appealed, they will have been affirmed or reversed by the higher court.
But not all cases mentioned in a judgment will have been subject to such particular treatment, and it is therefore useful to have a list of all the cases referred to, together with their main report references and, for judgments given in the 21 st century, their neutral citations.
What distinguishes ICLR reports from those of almost all other publishers is the fact that they also list, separately, the additional cases cited in argument and, where appropriate, cases not cited in oral argument but referred to in counsel’s skeleton arguments (written summaries of submissions exchanged in advance of the hearing).
These lists of cases are referred to generically as “blocklists”. The reporting references given for cases, where more than one such reference is available, are arranged in order of their citation status, with the Law Reports reference being given first (since this must be cited in preference to any other version), followed by the Weekly Law Reports, specialist series published by the ICLR, and then various series, such as the All England Law Reports and Lloyd’s Law Reports, from other publishers. This is also the order in which such references are given in the Consolidated Index, which indexes all the reports published in these and in certain other widely used series.
8. The facts and procedural history
What is sometimes referred to as the “facts paragraph” is a brief introduction to the case, giving the full names of the parties and outlining the nature and history of the proceedings (action, application, appeal etc) between them from their commencement to the current hearing.
Additional information provided here may include a summary of the claims, or the grounds of appeal taken from the appellant’s notice, or the case stated by a lower court on an appeal by case stated.
In some older reports, the facts of the case are also summarised here, rather than being set out in full in the judgment from which they are taken, so that only that part of the judgment dealing with the law and its application to the facts is reproduced.
The names of counsel (barristers) and/or solicitor advocates are given in order of seniority. In more recent reports, these are followed by the names of the solicitors who instructed them. (In older cases, the solicitors’ names are listed at the end of the report.)
The names are grouped according to the parties they represented, in the order in which they would have been heard in court, ie claimant first at first instance, appellant first on appeal.
Where a summary of counsel’s submissions is included in the report, this is set out after the name(s) of counsel who presented it. The summary is based on the oral submissions actually given in court during the hearing, which the reporter has attended in person, supplemented by the skeleton arguments.
The note of argument can demonstrate exactly what points were put to the court, and which cases and materials were cited in support of those points. It is a feature which adds enormously to the value of the report to future readers. It can also help establish whether a particular point was before the court, for example where it is suggested that a particular decision was arrived at “per incuriam” (ie without reference to a critical authority).
This summary of argument is a feature unique to the Law Reports published by the ICLR (no other English series regularly includes it) and is only possible by virtue of the fact that the ICLR’s reporters routinely attend court during the hearing and arguing of cases, and not merely when judgment is given. Once the reporter has prepared a note of argument, a copy is sent to the counsel concerned for them to check and approve its accuracy.
The largest and most important element of a full text law report is the judgment or judgments given in the case. The version used in the report is based on an authorized transcript, approved by the court as an accurate record. It is, however, then subject to a number of editing processes. First, the reporter checks all the references to, and quotations from, other cases, textbooks, statutes and other published materials in the judgment. The text of the judgment is brought into conformity with the ICLR’s “house style” with regard to dates, certain kinds of recognised abbreviations, modes of citation and so forth. Factual references such as dates, sums of money etc are checked for accuracy and consistency.
Once the reporter has handed in the report, it is subedited and edited in-house, and the references and quotations in the judgment are double-checked to ensure complete accuracy. When the report is complete, a proof copy, including the edited version of the judgment, is sent to the judge or judges for their approval. Although judges are welcome to comment on the headnote or other aspects of the report, the main purpose of sending them the proof is for them to approve the judgment. Any queries or anomalies can be brought to their attention at this stage and it is not uncommon for judges themselves to propose minor textual alterations at this stage.
As a result of these processes, the version of the judgment included in a full text law report published by ICLR is more authoritative and reliable than the transcript.
Where judgment has been reserved, rather than being given “ex tempore” at the conclusion of the oral hearing, it is preceded by the words “Cur adv vult” (curia advisari vult, Latin for “the court wishes to be advised”) or “The court took time for consideration”.
At the conclusion of the judgment, there is a brief statement of the orders afterwards given by the court. If there has been an application for leave to appeal, the decision whether or not to grant it will also be recorded.
To ensure their accuracy and reliability, law reports must be written and edited by qualified lawyers, ie barristers or solicitors.
Where the name of the reporter is given in full, it will be accompanied by the word “barrister” or “solicitor”; but for the reporters of the ICLR who have been officially appointed to cover particular courts, and whose names and qualifications are listed in the front of the published volume, only their initials are given on the actual report.
View the interactive guide to the different elements of a law report, with audio descriptions at Lawbore .
Paul is Head of Product Development and Online Content at ICLR - the leading supplier of law reports for England and Wales.
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Law reports and the doctrine of precedent
Legal reports, also known as legal memorandums, or simply “memos”, are some of the most difficult pieces of text to write.
This is because they often require immense legal expertise, as well as in-depth knowledge of the subject matter in a particular court case or civil dispute.
It is not enough to simply know how to write a legal brief – the writing needs to be case-specific and the facts presented have to be relevant to both parties.
Another factor that comes into play when preparing any document that pertains to legal issues is the difference between legal systems in various countries.
International disputes often require a lot of research and knowledge of the primary sources of law in your targeted countries.
The French legal system, for example, is based around legislation and statutes, which come together to form the basis and primary source of French law. This is fundamentally different from the common law system found in the UK, where collections of previous cases and court practices form the basis around which most legal proceedings revolve.
If you’re in need of translating and transcribing legal memos into different languages , it might be best to contact an established company that provides translation services, such as Architekst, to make sure that the legal differences are taken into account.
Every legal report includes a number of sections that provide a framework for the written arguments and details within it. That structure does not change according to the particular case.
In this article, you will find a detailed account of how to create an effective legal report, which outlines each step of the process.
Language and Structure of a Legal Report
A wise person once said: “Good taste consists of knowing how to conceal the fact that you have any”.
This quote may not seem relevant to creating a good piece of writing, but what it essentially means is that when it comes to any form of art or craftsmanship, simplicity is superior to complexity. The same principle applies when writing legal reports – simplicity is key.
Legal reports are intended to examine a particular legal issue, accompanied by supporting evidence from relevant cases to provide answers to this question.
The first step is to make an outline of all of the points that you are going to cover in your report. It’s worth taking a look at some past reports to get a sense of what’s already been written about and what hasn’t.
Body of the Report
The body of the report will basically comprise a summary of facts, evidence, and arguments. The main aim of this section is to present a fair and unbiased account of all sides involved in any dispute.
There should be no bias or opinionated language in this section – it should just be cold hard facts about what happened.
After you’ve outlined all the points that you’re going to talk about, it’s time to write them up. Make sure you leave sufficient white space on the page so that you can write cleanly and clearly. The reader of your report needs to be able to read what you have written without getting too distracted by unnecessary features and page design.
So long as you have a clear layout and appropriate spacing, there are no strict rules about how your report should be formatted. The point here is not about aesthetics or design choices – it’s about clarity and readability.
When it comes to how best to document your sources – don’t. The truth is that nobody actually cares who wrote what in a legal report. As long as it has relevant information about the case, that’s all that matters.
Legalese is not a writing style that will win you any fans – so make sure your language is clear and accessible to anybody who reads your report.
Any basic legal memorandum’s “skeleton” is composed of five parts: question presented, short answer, statement of the facts, discussion, and conclusion.
The following parts of this article will take you through these sections, outlining what exactly you need to include in them.
This section forms the basis of your entire report. It needs to contain factual, detailed information regarding the legal issues that your particular case faces.
Don’t confuse this with the specific conflict that the two parties are involved in. The question presented needs to pertain to specific paragraphs, articles and sections within the law that will be used in the court’s final decision.
In other words, the “question presented” section of your memo is nothing but the identification of relevant law that your case is subject to.
Remember: a legal report has to reflect the law, not an argument for or against any side involved in the conflict.
Once your legal issues have been identified and laid out in the first section, you can move on to answering the question presented in a clear and concise manner.
You should not go off on tangents about the details of your case or present facts that are not related to legal documents. Just as in presenting the legal issues, your answer to them must be grounded in the law. Otherwise, your legal report will turn into nothing more than a glorified opinion piece.
To continue with the example from the introduction, if you come from the UK and aren’t really familiar with the intricacies of French law, you may enlist the help of certified legal translation services in order not only to help you translate the report but also embed it in the correct French legal provisions.
Statement of the Facts
This section is where you can start getting into the actual, real-life conflict to which your memorandum refers.
The statement of the facts is the part of the report that explains why exactly your case needs to be brought before a court. If you’re planning to submit the text to a judge, you might want to present the issues from your client’s point of view (while maintaining neutral language, of course).
If the material is intended to be read by another attorney, it will be enough to present the situation as briefly and concisely as possible, with the inclusion of the relevant legal provisions.
Discussion and Conclusion
The discussion part of your report is where the facts and relevant law come together to formulate a feasible way towards resolution of the case. Be sure to include legal arguments that support your case.
It might be a good time to add a bit more flair to your text, presenting the argument in a way that makes it sound like the best outcome for the case, one that follows the letter of the law in the minutest of detail.
Finally, the conclusion should be a brief paragraph stating the outcome of the case. It’s important to demonstrate your ability to identify which party will win the case, based on the legal and factual evidence that you provided in the earlier parts of your legal report.
Bear in mind that you shouldn’t try to find a way to sneak in a new argument that favours your client in this section, but rather declare the possible outcome dictated by the law.
The Bottom Line
Now that you know how to write a legal report, you’re ready to create the first draft of your very own legal document. Remember to go through examples of legal reports that are available online to see what these kinds of texts look like in practice. It can also help you avoid some common mistakes and write an effective legal report.
Hopefully, this article will have proved useful to you in terms of guiding you through the structure of such documents, the methods of describing legal issues and your report’s subject matter in a way that will include all the important information as clearly and concisely as possible.
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How to write a case brief for law school: Excerpt reproduced from Introduction to the Study of Law: Cases and Materials ,
Third edition (lexisnexis 2009) by michael makdisi & john makdisi.
C. HOW TO BRIEF
The previous section described the parts of a case in order to make it easier to read and identify the pertinent information that you will use to create your briefs. This section will describe the parts of a brief in order to give you an idea about what a brief is, what is helpful to include in a brief, and what purpose it serves. Case briefs are a necessary study aid in law school that helps to encapsulate and analyze the mountainous mass of material that law students must digest. The case brief represents a final product after reading a case, rereading it, taking it apart, and putting it back together again. In addition to its function as a tool for self-instruction and referencing, the case brief also provides a valuable “cheat sheet” for class participation.
Who will read your brief? Most professors will espouse the value of briefing but will never ask to see that you have, in fact, briefed. As a practicing lawyer, your client doesn’t care if you brief, so long as you win the case. The judges certainly don’t care if you brief, so long as you competently practice the law. You are the person that the brief will serve! Keep this in mind when deciding what elements to include as part of your brief and when deciding what information to include under those elements.
What are the elements of a brief? Different people will tell you to include different things in your brief. Most likely, upon entering law school, this will happen with one or more of your instructors. While opinions may vary, four elements that are essential to any useful brief are the following:
(a) Facts (name of the case and its parties, what happened factually and procedurally, and the judgment)
(b) Issues (what is in dispute)
(c) Holding (the applied rule of law)
(d) Rationale (reasons for the holding)
If you include nothing but these four elements, you should have everything you need in order to recall effectively the information from the case during class or several months later when studying for exams.
Because briefs are made for yourself, you may want to include other elements that expand the four elements listed above. Depending on the case, the inclusion of additional elements may be useful. For example, a case that has a long and important section expounding dicta might call for a separate section in your brief labeled: Dicta. Whatever elements you decide to include, however, remember that the brief is a tool intended for personal use. To the extent that more elements will help with organization and use of the brief, include them. On the other hand, if you find that having more elements makes your brief cumbersome and hard to use, cut back on the number of elements. At a minimum, however, make sure you include the four elements listed above.
Elements that you may want to consider including in addition to the four basic elements are:
(e) Dicta (commentary about the decision that was not the basis for the decision)
(f) Dissent (if a valuable dissenting opinion exits, the dissent’s opinion)
(g) Party’s Arguments (each party’s opposing argument concerning the ultimate issue)
(h) Comments (personal commentary)
Personal comments can be useful if you have a thought that does not fit elsewhere. In the personal experience of one of the authors, this element was used to label cases as specific kinds (e.g., as a case of vicarious liability) or make mental notes about what he found peculiar or puzzling about cases. This element allowed him to release his thoughts (without losing them) so that he could move on to other cases.
In addition to these elements, it may help you to organize your thoughts, as some people do, by dividing Facts into separate elements:
(1) Facts of the case (what actually happened, the controversy)
(2) Procedural History (what events within the court system led to the present case)
(3) Judgment (what the court actually decided)
Procedural History is usually minimal and most of the time irrelevant to the ultimate importance of a case; however, this is not always true. One subject in which Procedure History is virtually always relevant is Civil Procedure.
When describing the Judgment of the case, distinguish it from the Holding. The Judgment is the factual determination by the court, in favor of one party, such as “affirmed,” “reversed,” or “remanded.” In contrast, the Holding is the applied rule of law that serves as the basis for the ultimate judgment.
Remember that the purpose of a brief is to remind you of the important details that make the case significant in terms of the law. It will be a reference tool when you are drilled by a professor and will be a study aid when you prepare for exams. A brief is also like a puzzle piece.
The elements of the brief create the unique shape and colors of the piece, and, when combined with other pieces, the picture of the common law takes form. A well-constructed brief will save you lots of time by removing the need to return to the case to remember the important details and also by making it easier to put together the pieces of the common law puzzle.
D. EXTRACTING THE RELEVANT INFORMATION: ANNOTATING AND HIGHLIGHTING
So now that you know the basic elements of a brief, what information is important to include under each element? The simple answer is: whatever is relevant. But what parts of a case are relevant? When you read your first few cases, you may think that everything that the judge said was relevant to his ultimate conclusion. Even if this were true, what is relevant for the judge to make his decision is not always relevant for you to include in your brief. Remember, the reason to make a brief is not to persuade the world that the ultimate decision in the case is a sound one, but rather to aid in refreshing your memory concerning the most important parts of the case.
What facts are relevant to include in a brief? You should include the facts that are necessary to remind you of the story. If you forget the story, you will not remember how the law in the case was applied. You should also include the facts that are dispositive to the decision in the case. For instance, if the fact that a car is white is a determining factor in the case, the brief should note that the case involves a white car and not simply a car. To the extent that the procedural history either helps you to remember the case or plays an important role in the ultimate outcome, you should include these facts as well.
What issues and conclusions are relevant to include in a brief? There is usually one main issue on which the court rests its decision. This may seem simple, but the court may talk about multiple issues, and may discuss multiple arguments from both sides of the case. Be sure to distinguish the issues from the arguments made by the parties. The relevant issue or issues, and corresponding conclusions, are the ones for which the court made a final decision and which are binding. The court may discuss intermediate conclusions or issues, but stay focused on the main issue and conclusion which binds future courts.
What rationale is important to include in a brief? This is probably the most difficult aspect of the case to determine. Remember that everything that is discussed may have been relevant to the judge, but it is not necessarily relevant to the rationale of the decision. The goal is to remind yourself of the basic reasoning that the court used to come to its decision and the key factors that made the decision favor one side or the other.
A brief should be brief! Overly long or cumbersome briefs are not very helpful because you will not be able to skim them easily when you review your notes or when the professor drills you. On the other hand, a brief that is too short will be equally unhelpful because it lacks sufficient information to refresh your memory. Try to keep your briefs to one page in length. This will make it easy for you to organize and reference them.
Do not get discouraged. Learning to brief and figuring out exactly what to include will take time and practice. The more you brief, the easier it will become to extract the relevant information.
While a brief is an extremely helpful and important study aid, annotating and highlighting are other tools for breaking down the mass of material in your casebook. The remainder of this section will discuss these different techniques and show how they complement and enhance the briefing process.
Many of you probably already read with a pencil or pen, but if you do not, now is the time to get in the habit. Cases are so dense and full of information that you will find yourself spending considerable amounts of time rereading cases to find what you need. An effective way to reduce this time is to annotate the margins of the casebook. Your pencil (or pen) will be one of your best friends while reading a case. It will allow you to mark off the different sections (such as facts, procedural history, or conclusions), thus allowing you to clear your mind of thoughts and providing an invaluable resource when briefing and reviewing.
You might be wondering why annotating is important if you make an adequate, well-constructed brief. By their very nature briefs cannot cover everything in a case. Even with a thorough, well-constructed brief you may want to reference the original case in order to reread dicta that might not have seemed important at the time, to review the complete procedural history or set of facts, or to scour the rationale for a better understanding of the case; annotating makes these tasks easier. Whether you return to a case after a few hours or a few months, annotations will swiftly guide you to the pertinent parts of the case by providing a roadmap of the important sections. Your textual markings and margin notes will refresh your memory and restore specific thoughts you might have had about either the case in general or an individual passage.
Annotations will also remind you of forgotten thoughts and random ideas by providing a medium for personal comments.
In addition to making it easier to review an original case, annotating cases during the first review of a case makes the briefing process easier. With adequate annotations, the important details needed for your brief will be much easier to retrieve. Without annotations, you will likely have difficulty locating the information you seek even in the short cases. It might seem strange that it would be hard to reference a short case, but even a short case will likely take you at least fifteen to twenty-five minutes to read, while longer cases may take as much as thirty minutes to an hour to complete. No matter how long it takes, the dense material of all cases makes it difficult to remember all your thoughts, and trying to locate specific sections of the analysis may feel like you are trying to locate a needle in a haystack. An annotation in the margin, however, will not only swiftly guide you to a pertinent section, but will also refresh the thoughts that you had while reading that section.
When you read a case for the first time, read for the story and for a basic understanding of the dispute, the issues, the rationale, and the decision. As you hit these elements (or what you think are these elements) make a mark in the margins. Your markings can be as simple as “facts” (with a bracket that indicates the relevant part of the paragraph). When you spot an issue, you may simply mark “issue” or instead provide a synopsis in your own words. When a case sparks an idea — write that idea in the margin as well — you never know when a seemingly irrelevant idea might turn into something more.
Finally, when you spot a particularly important part of the text, underline it (or highlight it as described below).
With a basic understanding of the case, and with annotations in the margin, the second read-through of the case should be much easier. You can direct your reading to the most important sections and will have an easier time identifying what is and is not important. Continue rereading the case until you have identified all the relevant information that you need to make your brief, including the issue(s), the facts, the holding, and the relevant parts of the analysis.
Pencil or pen — which is better to use when annotating? Our recommendation is a mechanical pencil. Mechanical pencils make finer markings than regular pencils, and also than ballpoint pens. Although you might think a pencil might smear more than a pen, with its sharp point a mechanical pencil uses very little excess lead and will not smear as much as you might imagine. A mechanical pencil will also give you the freedom to make mistakes without consequences. When you first start annotating, you may think that some passages are more important than they really are, and therefore you may resist the urge to make a mark in order to preserve your book and prevent false guideposts. With a pencil, however, the ability to erase and rewrite removes this problem.
Why highlight? Like annotating, highlighting may seem unimportant if you create thorough, well-constructed briefs, but highlighting directly helps you to brief. It makes cases, especially the more complicated ones, easy to digest, review and use to extract information.
Highlighting takes advantage of colors to provide a uniquely effective method for reviewing and referencing a case. If you prefer a visual approach to learning, you may find highlighting to be a very effective tool.
If annotating and highlighting are so effective, why brief? Because the process of summarizing a case and putting it into your own words within a brief provides an understanding of the law and of the case that you cannot gain through the process of highlighting or annotating.
The process of putting the case into your own words forces you to digest the material, while annotating and highlighting can be accomplished in a much more passive manner.
What should you highlight? Similar to annotating, the best parts of the case to highlight are those that represent the needed information for your brief such as the facts, the issue, the holding and the rationale.
Unlike annotating, highlighting provides an effective way to color code, which makes referring to the case even easier. In addition, Highlighters are particularly useful in marking off entire sections by using brackets. These brackets will allow you to color-code the case without highlighting all the text, leaving the most important phrases untouched for a more detailed highlight marking or underlining.
Highlighting is a personal tool, and therefore should be used to the extent that highlighting helps, but should be modified in a way that makes it personally time efficient and beneficial. For instance, you might combine the use of annotations in the margins with the visual benefit of highlighting the relevant text. You may prefer to underline the relevant text with a pencil, but to use a highlighter to bracket off the different sections of a case. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that it works for you, regardless of what others recommend. The techniques in the remainder of this section will describe ways to make full use of your highlighters.
First, buy yourself a set of multi-colored highlighters, with at least four, or perhaps five or six different colors. Yellow, pink, and orange are usually the brightest. Depending on the brand, purple and green can be dark, but still work well. Although blue is a beautiful color, it tends to darken and hide the text.
Therefore we recommend that you save blue for the elements that you rarely highlight.
For each different section of the case, choose a color, and use that color only when highlighting the section of the case designated for that color. Consider using yellow for the text that you tend to highlight most frequently. Because yellow is the brightest, you may be inclined to use yellow for the Conclusions in order to make them stand out the most. If you do this, however, you will exhaust your other colors much faster than yellow and this will require that you purchase an entire set of new highlighters when a single color runs out because colors such as green are not sold separately. If instead you choose to use yellow on a more frequently highlighted section such as the Analysis, when it comes time to replace your yellow marker, you will need only to replace your yellow highlighter individually. In the personal experience on one of the authors, the sections of cases that seemed to demand the most highlighter attention were the
Facts and the Analysis, while the Issues and Holdings demanded the least. Other Considerations and
Procedural History required lots of highlighting in particular cases although not in every case.
Experiment if you must, but try to choose a color scheme early on in the semester and stick with it. That way, when you come back to the first cases of the semester, you will not be confused with multiple color schemes. The basic sections of a case for which you should consider giving a different color are:
Issue (and questions presented)
Holding (and conclusions)
Other Considerations (such as dicta)
Not all of these sections demand a separate color. You may find that combining Facts and Procedural History or Issues and Holdings works best. Furthermore, as mentioned above, some sections may not warrant highlighting in every case (e.g., dicta probably do not need to be highlighted unless they are particularly important). If you decide that a single color is all that you need, then stick to one, but if you find yourself highlighting lots of text from many different sections, reconsider the use of at least a few different colors. Highlighters make text stand out, but only when used appropriately. The use of many colors enables you to highlight more text without reducing the highlighter’s effectiveness. Three to four colors provides decent color variation without the cumbersomeness of handling too many markers.
Once you are comfortable with your color scheme, determining exactly what to highlight still may be difficult. Similar to knowing what to annotate, experience will perfect your highlighting skills. Be careful not to highlight everything, thus ruining your highlighters’ effectiveness; at the same time, do not be afraid to make mistakes.
Now that we have covered the basics of reading, annotating, highlighting, and briefing a case, you are ready to start practicing. Keep the tips and techniques mentioned in this chapter in mind when you tackle the four topics in the remainder of this book. If you have difficultly, refer back to this chapter to help guide you as you master the case method of study and the art of using the common law.
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Understanding Case Citations
Contemporary cases have three main elements in the citation: party names (in italics), the neutral citation, and the report of the judgment. For judgments prior to the introduction of neutral citations, cite party names (in italics), the report of the judgment and the abbreviated name of the court, in brackets. If you quote or paraphrase from a judgment you also need to provide a pinpoint.
Party (or case) names
The names of the parties in a judgment should be in italic or underlined. If there are multiple parties in a case, name only the first claimant and the first defendant, and use only surnames. Abbreviate terms such as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Company (Co).
A neutral citation identifies a judgment; it is perhaps mostly easily understood as a judgment number, even though it looks like a citation for a law report. The term 'neutral' is used to indicate that it is independent of any published report ('media neutral'). Neutral citations were first issued by the House of Lords, Privy Council, Court of Appeal and Administrative Court in 2001, and by all other divisions of the High Court in 2002. Tribunals and commissions also issue neutral citations.
Neutral citations give the year of judgment in square brackets, the court abbreviation and the judgment number. Neutral citations from the High Court include the division in brackets after the judgment number. Examples of neutral citations follow.
When citing a report of a judgment, cite the 'best report' (as indicated in the hierarchy of law reports table above), giving the year of the volume, the volume number if there is one, the abbreviation of the law report series and the first page of the report. If there is no neutral citation (which will be the case before 2001), also indicate the court in brackets at the end.
Square Brackets  Vs Round Brackets ()
Square brackets [ ] are used where the series has no consecutive volume numbers and the year is essential for finding the correct volume. So, the report of Donoghue v Stevenson is in the 1932 volume of the Appeal Cases, beginning at page 562, which is written  AC 562. Neutral citations also use square brackets for the year.
Round brackets ( ) are used around the year in a legal citation when the series has consecutive volume numbers and the year is not essential for finding the case. For example, to find the report cited as (1983) 77 Cr App R 76 you don't need the date because the volume number - 77 - indicates where you will find the report.
The Official Law Reports , the All Englands and some other reports series that use the year as a volume number often have more than one volume each year. The volume number follows the year, after the square brackets. Annual volume numbers rarely go above 5.
Square brackets and round brackets are used in the same way in legal journal citations.
Understanding Law Report Citations
How to Look up Legal Citations
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With thousands of attorney-authored articles covering the entire breadth of U.S. law, American Law Reports saves you time by taking you deeper on a topic, faster. Westlaw makes it easy to find the exact ALR article you need – and then links you to every other on-point resource.
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Northern Illinois University College of Law David C. Shapiro Memorial Law Library
- University Libraries
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Basic Legal Research
- Case Law Reporters
- Welcome to Basic Legal Research!
- Commonly Used Legal Terminology
- Court Systems & Legal Authority
- Fact Pattern Analysis
- Secondary Legal Sources
- Understanding Case Citations
What is a Reporter?
West's regional reporter system, federal reporters, illinois reporters, about headnotes, about west topics and key numbers.
- Using Digests to Find Case Law
- Statutes & Codes
- Illinois Administrative Materials
- Federal Administrative Materials
- Terms and Connectors Searching
- Creating/Determining the "Best" Online Search
- Integrating Print & Online Resources
- Updating Your Research Using Shepard's & KeyCite
- Illinois Legislative History
- Federal Legislative History
- Appendix: Illinois Materials
- Appendix: Sample Bluebook Citations
- Appendix: Study Aids
Court opinions are gathered together and published in chronological order in print in volumes called Case Reporters, or simply Reporters. Even though most cases are now available online, cases are still organized and cited to according to the print reporter system.
Case reporters can be official or unofficial. However, the text of the cases within the reporters are still considered primary sources (apart from any editorial additions in unofficial reporters such as headnotes), regardless of the cases' publication within an official or unofficial reporter.
- Official Reporters are governmentally approved publications which reproduce the reported cases within a given jurisdiction. Many states still publish their own reporters. The official reporter is the reporter that should be cited when submitting documents to the court in that jurisdiction.
- A headnote is a brief summary of a specific point of law decided in a case.
- Headnotes appear before the judicial opinion and are generally written by a publisher's editors.
- Headnotes are a great research tool but are not considered legal authority and should never be cited to.
Reporters frequently have multiple series , which simply means the publisher re-started the volume numbering over again.
- For example, the North Eastern Reporter Second Series (N.E.2d) contains volumes 1 through 999; the North Eastern Reporter Third Series (N.E.3d) starts over again with volume 1. Reporters with no series indicator are in their first series.
- Note that "2d" and "3d" are used in legal citations instead of "2nd" and "3rd." All other ordinal abbreviations follow the usual format (1st, 4th, etc.).
- Cases are not reprinted from one series to the next; each subsequent series contains all new cases.
What Cases are Published in Reporters?
At the State level: When you are reading state case law in a reporter, generally the decision will be from an appellate court (either at an intermediate or supreme court level).
Many, but certainly not all, appellate decisions are reported (published).
In some states, such as California or New York, some trial-level cases are published but those are exceptions.
At the Federal level: You may be reading either trial or appellate-level cases in reporters.
The trial level cases are binding on no one but the parties involved, are used only for persuasive purposes, and are not precedental.
The appellate level decisions are binding to some extent on all trial courts within its district and itself.
West Publishing began printing reporters in the late 1800s, and the collection became known as the West Reporter System. West has compiled the state appellate decisions (including intermediate appellate reports and state supreme courts) and printed them in various sets of Regional Reporters. The Regional Reporters are considered "unofficial."
Regional Reporter Names, Abbreviations & Coverage:
- Atlantic Reporter (A. | A.2d) - Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, & the D.C. Municipal Court of Appeals
- North Eastern Reporter (N.E. | N.E.2d | N.E.3d) - Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York & Ohio
- North Western Reporter (N.W. | N.W.2d) - Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota & Wisconsin
- Pacific Reporter (P. | P.2d | P.3d) - Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai'i, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington & Wyoming
- South Eastern Reporter (S.E. | S.E.2d) - Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia & West Virginia
- South Western Reporter (S.W. | S.W.2d | S.W.3d) - Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee & Texas
- Southern Reporter (So. | So. 2d | So. 3d) - Alabama, Florida, Louisiana & Mississippi
- State-specific Reporters Published by West:
- New York Supplement (N.Y.S. | N.Y.S.2d)
- California Reporter (Cal. Rptr. | Cal. Rptr. 2d | Cal. Rptr. 3d)
United States Supreme Court:
- United States Reports (U.S.) - Official
- Supreme Court Reporter (S. Ct.) - Unofficial (published by West)
- United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition (L. Ed. | L. Ed. 2d) - Unofficial (published by Lexis)
United States Court of Appeals:
- Though this reporter is published by a commercial publisher (West) it is considered an "official" reporter because there is no other comprehensive source that publishes these decisions.
United States District Courts:
- The Federal Appendix contains "unpublished" opinions. These are decisions that do not involve new legal principles or interpretations, and because of this, were previously excluded from the official reporters (thus the term "unpublished"). Unpublished decisions issued after January 1, 2007 may now be cited by attorneys if a court so permits. However, the persuasive value will vary according to the preference of the court before which the decision is presented.
- This reporter publishes cases dealing specifically with the Federal Rules of Evidence, Civil Procedure, and Criminal Procedure (three different sets of procedural rules).
- Cases decided prior to July 1, 2011: Illinois Reports (Ill. | Ill. 2d) - Official
- Cases decided on or after July 1, 2011: posted on the Illinois Courts website ( http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/ ) in public domain citation format - Official
- North Eastern Reporter (N.E. | N.E.2d) - Unofficial (published by West)
- Important: the "2d" and "3d" in the title do not indicate the appellate district from which the decision came. They merely indicate a re-start to the numbering of the volumes in each series.
- North Eastern Reporter (N.E. | N.E.2d | N.E.3d) - Unofficial (published by West)
Headnotes are short, one- to two-sentence summaries of different aspects or issues of a case. They are found before the actual text of the decision begins. They are not part of the decision; they are an editorial enhancement provided by the legal research service.
Headnotes serve three main purposes:
- They identify the rules of law in the decision.
- They act as a "Table of Contents" to the case. Online, the hyperlinked number found in each headnote will bring you to the point in the decision where the discussion of that issue appears.
- The West topic and key number system can be used both online and in print research using West products.
- Lexis topics/subjects can only be used in Lexis online.
- Note that Lexis and West topics are not interchangeable. Even if the topic name is the same between the two services, the topics used in Lexis will not locate the same cases in Westlaw and vice versa.
Source of the language found in headnotes:
- Headnotes in Lexis are always taken directly from the language of the case.
- West headnotes are created by editors and may not always use the language of the case.
- Important: Even though language from the case may be found in a headnote, never cite to a headnote. Only cite to the actual text of the decision.
The West Topic and Key Number System is a proprietary method of organizing the scope of United States law by subject. It is basically a very large, detailed outline.
- There are over 400 major Topics, which are the broad categories (subjects) under which West arranges the cases decided throughout the U.S.
- Within the main Topics, sub-topics are divided into Key Numbers which represent specific legal concepts. There are over 100,000 individual Key Numbers.
Example: You are looking for cases regarding who is responsible for injuries caused by a dog biting a person.
- Go to the Descriptive Word Index in the digest and look up DOGS.
- Scan down the entries under the main topic of DOGS until you see "Persons liable, Generally."
- Following this entry, in bold, you will see: Anim <= 66.5(7) . This means:
- Your Topic is Animals ("Anim" is the abbreviation West uses for the topic "animals").
- Your Key Number is 66.5(7) . This is the key number West has assigned to the subheading that refers to cases involving "persons liable for injuries in general."
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- Next: Using Digests to Find Case Law >>
- Last Updated: Jun 6, 2022 1:15 PM
- URL: https://libguides.niu.edu/basic-legal-research
© 2023 Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University. All rights reserved.
How to Write an Effective Legal Report the Best Way Possible
By: Shazia Butt Posted on Fri, 18-03-2016
Legal reports, also known as legal memos, are the legal documents informing the attorney or the judge about the legal issues in any case. There are two types of legal reports that can be written. The first category is known as the objective report, which explains all the legal issues, from a neutral point of view. The second category can be persuasive and mirror all the facts and the legal arguments, from another point of view.
The legal system of China is most of the times defined as a constitutional legal system. Despite the fact that the legal system here is governed according to the constitution, it is also based on the Civil Law. This is the reason why the constitution of China is known as the highest law. Here, the legal research reports provide the description and resources on the different issues and events. If you are in need of legal aid and want to know about how to get it, you can get in touch with the Chinese Simplified legal report translation services .
Since, the legal reports are usually in the form of a document, especially for those who are not aware of the language here, can make use of the document translation services . Mentioned below is the best way to prepare a legal report.
Being the foundation of your entire legal report, this first section emphasizes on the exact legal problem. Identifying the legal issue is not similar to identifying what the conflict is about. When you’re determining any legal issue, you always have to research the law relating to the subject matter. The legal report has to mirror the relevant law on the matter at hand.
The first step is to clearly identify what exactly is the issue. After you have identified the legal issue, you have to provide an appropriate answer to the question, of what the law states about the reason of the dispute. Here, it does not matter what you think, but the only thing that matters is what the law says, relating to the issue.
If you have come from another region and are not familiar with the Chinese language, you can take help from the best quality language translation services . Also, hiring the Chinese Simplified Legal Report translation services can be very helpful, if you want more details about the legal services available here.
Statement of the Fact
You have to present the statement of the facts in such a way, that the person who is reading this report can identify why this issue is before the court. If you want to write an effective report to the judge, then, it is very necessary to explain the issue from your client’s point of view. But if you’re recommending this to an attorney, who only wants your opinion on a case, then just simply be straight forward. Including only the relevant facts, narrow them down to those related to the legal issues, the judge will need to decide.
This discussion section of your report is the bottom line of the entire dispute. It not only provides the information of all the legal issues, but also decides on how the issue has to be solved. The primary goal here is to apply the relevant law to the facts. You will have to identify which legal argument is best supportive to your case, and also what outcome will you achieve. Here, it is best to organize your report according to the relevant dispute.
The conclusive part of your report has to be relevantly short and simple, stating the outcome of the case. After going through an appropriate research, you can clearly identify which party will win the case. Now is not the time to add on new arguments in the case, but just declare what has to be the outcome according to the law.
Do you think you are qualified to get legal services? If your answer is yes, then, take advantage of the Chinese Simplified Legal Report Translation Services.
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CIVIL AND MISDEMEANORS
What is a police incident report.
By Dan Ketchum
December 27, 2019
Reviewed by Michelle Seidel, B.Sc., LL.B., MBA
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We write helpful content to answer your questions from our expert network. We perform original research, solicit expert feedback, and review new content to ensure it meets our quality pledge: helpful content – Trusted, Vetted, Expert-Reviewed and Edited. Our content experts ensure our topics are complete and clearly demonstrate a depth of knowledge beyond the rote. We are incredibly worried about the state of general information available on the internet and strongly believe our mission is to give voice to unsung experts leading their respective fields. Our commitment is to provide clear, original, and accurate information in accessible formats. We have reviewed our content for bias and company-wide, we routinely meet with national experts to educate ourselves on better ways to deliver accessible content. For 15 years our company has published content with clear steps to accomplish the how, with high quality sourcing to answer the why, and with original formats to make the internet a helpful place. Read more about our editorial standards .
- How to Look up Free Police Records
While the term police incident report sounds so straightforward you might think it's self-explanatory, it's actually just the entrance into a deep rabbit hole of law enforcement reporting jargon. It's absolutely necessary for police departments to maintain detailed logs of factual and eye-witness information pertaining to reported crimes, and alongside the police report, the incident report serves as one of the very first documents on that journey as told by the victim of the crime.
Police Incident Report: Definition
Right off the bat, the most defining characteristic of an incident report is that it is not written by the police. When a crime occurs and is reported to the police, the victim of the crime makes a statement regarding the incident. This is the incident report.
The incident report may include supporting documents that corroborate, or are related to, the victim's statement, such as letters or bank statements. Police departments often grant insurance companies and businesses that request a police report access to the incident report; these are not usually used as tools for further investigation for law enforcement agencies (leave that to the police report).
Before diving too deeply down the police jargon rabbit hole, it's crucial to bear in mind that nomenclature and naming habits often vary across police departments. And of course, the term incident report is also used for workplace reports, traffic incidents and medical incidents, which may further add to the confusion. For police use, incident reports are also sometimes called offense reports .
Police Incident Report: Contents
Even more so than naming conventions, the actual contents of an incident report vary widely with the nature of the incident. Most police departments offer incident report forms, which serve as templates for victims to fill in relevant information. These reports are packed full of info, often including:
- Type of crime.
- Date and time the crime began.
- Date and time the crime ended.
- Date and time the report was created.
- Location of the incident.
- Type of location, such as school or restaurant.
- Identifying information for the victim, including name, date of birth, driver's license number and Social Security number.
- Physical information for the victim, such as height, weight, age, hair color, race, sex and eye color.
- Contact information for the victim, such as residence address, business address, employer name, phone numbers and email address.
Because incident reports are commonly used in cases of theft , some templates may also include specific prompts for the type of theft, the method and points of entry and exit, and a space to list stolen property, including details such as the quantity, brand, model, serial number, color, estimated market value and monetary value of any damage that occurred. Similarly, other incident reports cater to injury-related crimes , such as domestic abuse, and may contain fields asking the victim to describe the type of injury and the victim's relationship to the abuser, if any.
Perhaps most importantly and characteristically, incident reports contain space for the victim's narrative (this can also be attached on additional sheets of paper). The narrative is a free-form section for the victim to write a detailed account of the incident as it occurred, as well as to provide any additional information the writer of the incident report deems relevant to the situation.
The victim signs the incident report, verifying a short, usually prewritten statement that the information contained in the document is, to the best of the writer's knowledge, true and correct.
Filing an Incident Report
Upon receiving the report from the victim, the police department adds information to the incident report, including:
- Report number used by police to easily look up and keep track of the report.
- Name of the officer who approved the report, if any, and the badge number.
- Exact classification and incident code for the type of crime.
- Name and badge number of the law enforcement official who reviewed the report.
- Case numbers for any associated cases.
- Case status, such as open, suspended or unfounded.
- Any known bias of the victim.
- Time and date the report was submitted to the police department's database.
Commonly, victims of a crime also have the option to file their incident reports online with the appropriate police department. Sometimes, though, this option does not allow for the attachment of supporting documents.
Once submitted, the incident report may or may not be reviewed by an officer, let alone investigated, as fraud investigator Mark Fullbright notes in his 2014 presentation, "Police Report vs. Incident Report: A Resource for Identity Theft Victims." Incident reports usually live in a records management system maintained by law enforcement agencies.
What Is a Police Report?
OK, if an incident report isn't even written by police, then what's a police report?
First, unlike an incident report, a police report is written by police . This document is a thorough description of the facts detailing a crime, written by the law enforcement officer or other police department representative who was assigned to the scene. It can't be stressed enough that police reports focus on logging the facts. These reports stay specific to the crime-related events that occurred.
Like incident reports, police departments often have different document report templates for different crimes, such as identity theft or traffic incidents. These often contain bespoke information, like details on the compromised information or auto damage, but some common items across police reports remain fairly consistent. This info is often similar to incident reports and includes:
- Basic identifying info of the victim, like name, birthdate, age, race and sex.
- Contact info for the victim, such as home and work addresses, phone numbers and email address.
- Date and time of first and last activity.
- Date and time reported.
- Type of offense.
- Basic identifying info of the suspect, such as name, birthdate, age, race, sex, hair color and eye color.
- Additional information for the suspect, including known aliases and relationship to the victim.
- Contact information for the suspect, if known.
- Synopsis of the incident in chronological order, similar to the incident report's narrative, with an emphasis on fact-based, objective reporting.
- A photocopy of the victim's identification, such as a driver's license, state ID or passport.
- Any relevant supporting documents.
Unlike incident reports, police reports serve as crucial tools for investigations following the initial incident. Often, detectives use these reports in their ongoing work.
Other Types of Records
Among police departments across the country, police incident reports and police reports are far from alone. Law enforcement agencies maintain a wide variety of records, some similar to incident reports and some vastly different. These documents include:
- Logs of arrests or arrest reports detailing arrests made by law enforcement.
- Logs of incident responses detailing police action taken in response to incidents.
- Search warrants allowing law enforcement officers with reason to suspect criminal activity to search a location.
- Arrest warrants listing the defendant's name, description of the crime and bail amount.
- Custody and bail records held at county and city jails.
- Coroner's office reports.
Availability of Reports
It's important to note that police do not charge people with crimes; that duty falls to prosecutors. Court cases open only when a defendant receives formal charges.
For this reason, incident reports and other records created and maintained by police departments are not part of the court system, which means that – unlike court records – they're not automatically open to the public. Search warrants are the exception to this rule, as they are filed with the court; conveniently for reporters and the public, they also commonly contain detailed info on the related criminal case.
Alongside incident reports, numerous types of police reports are typically open to public perusal by request , such as logs of arrest, logs of incident responses, coroner's office reports and, of course, search warrants. Some reports provided to the public may contain edited or censored sensitive information.
State Laws and Police Records
Some state laws, such as the California Public Records act, specifically include and exclude certain types of police records from public disclosure. Similarly, police can claim general exemptions to public disclosure, such as withholding information that may put someone in harm's way or potentially compromise an ongoing investigation.
On a similar note, specific legislation like California SB 1421, the Right to Know Act, grants the public the right to access some records relevant to cases of police misconduct and serious uses of force. According to the NorCal branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, this act grants access to any relevant documents still in the agency's possession. As is the case for obtaining most types of police records, interested parties will need to submit a request form, available in person or at the particular police department's website. Read More: How to Look up Free Police Records
Look Up Police Reports Online
As surprising as it may sound in the 21st century, even public accessibility doesn't always equal online accessibility. This is certainly true in the realm of police records.
The online availability of police records boils down to each individual police department. Some local departments freely offer documents like arrest logs, incident reports and incident response logs on their official websites. As an alternative, online arms of newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle regularly publish arrest records pertaining to their localities.
While a virtually countless array of commercial websites advertise the ability to look up police reports by case number (for a price, of course), their ability to deliver on those claims may vary. The time-tested, old-school method requires victims to mail a written request for a police report to the relevant police department's records division or document processing unit. It's often the case that police reports will only be provided to the victim or the victim's representative.
Police Report Case Numbers
At the scene of the crime, the reporting officer will often provide the victim with an identification number for the police report, which can be used to look up the report. Especially in terms of traffic incidents, this makes it easy for victims to look up accident reports by case number.
Traffic Collision Reports and Arrest Summaries
In a similar fashion, the department may provide copies of traffic collision reports or arrest summaries, but these docs don't always come free. The Los Angeles Police Department, for instance, charges anywhere from $17 to nearly $30 for certain reports.
While a police report is written by law enforcement, an incident report is an account of a crime written by the victim.
- Berkeley Advanced Media Institute: Tutorial: Police Records
- Mark Fullbright, CCFI, CITRMS, CCRR: Police Report vs. Incident Report: A Resource for Identity Theft Victims
- Bakersfield Police Department: Summary Incident Report
- Stillwater Police Department: Uniform Incident/Offense Report
- Police Data Initiative: Incidents
- Los Angeles Police Department: Obtaining Police Information
- Nolo: Car Accidents and Police Reports
- Oakland Police Department: Identity Theft Report
- Cambridge Police Department: Incident Report
- ACLU NorCal: Access to California Police Records
As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.
- Information on Police Reports
- What Is a Supplemental Police Report?
- What Is the Purpose of a Police Report?
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Mandatory reporting laws.
Richard Thomas ; Monique Reeves .
Last Update: July 10, 2023 .
In the United States, mandatory reporting laws establish a legally enforceable duty for those who have contact with vulnerable populations to report to state and local authorities when mistreatment or abuse of those populations is suspected or confirmed. While these laws, and the populations they cover, vary by state, they generally include children, the disabled, and the elderly. Some states also assign this reportable duty to abuse between intimate partners. These laws typically cover neglect, as well as physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse. While those individuals mandated to report also vary by state, they generally include childcare providers, clergy, coaches, counselors, healthcare providers, law enforcement, principals, and teachers.   In addition to their obligation to report mistreatment of vulnerable patients, healthcare professionals are also required to report certain infectious diseases deemed to be public health hazards to state and local authorities. 
- Issues of Concern
Abuse in the pediatric population is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. The mistreatment of children is a serious issue of public health concern, and it affects 1 in 8 children before the age of 18 years. Sadly, studies indicate that homicide is within the top five causes of death for children of every age group.  The effects of abuse and neglect do not stop at age 18; however, physical and mental health problems due to abuse as a child can extend far into adulthood.  Numerous studies have shown a correlation between adults who experienced abuse as children and the development of a host of adult morbidities, ranging from cardiovascular disease to depression. 
Intimate partner abuse represents an area of abuse sometimes overlooked when compared to other populations. This abuse, however, is experienced by nearly 1 in 3 women during their lifetime.  While women are the chief victims of intimate partner abuse, the issue also affects men, with one study showing men comprising 17% of the victims of intimate partner violence.  These populations tend to be seen more frequently outside regular business hours when compared to other abused patients. Like other groups, however, victims are often at significant risk for further, more severe injury if there is no intervention. 
Abuse and mistreatment are also common among the elderly, with a New England Journal of Medicine study asserting a likely prevalence of 10% of the entire population aged 60 years and above.  Elder abuse is made more likely by circumstances facing many elderly patients: poor physical health, functional impairment, and residence in nursing homes. Indeed, those elderly patients residing in nursing homes are at risk of abuse not only from staff but also from other residents.  Though frequent, elderly abuse is historically underreported, which has led to the creation of diagnostic tools to aid in its identification.  
Policymakers are also concerned with the incidence of certain infectious diseases deemed serious public health concerns. As with laws regarding the mandatory reporting of abuse and mistreatment of vulnerable populations, the number and types of mandatory reportable diseases are dependent on the laws of the governing state, though many states adopt the recommended list published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  The CDC regularly publishes updated lists of diseases it recommends for reporting, as this allows the organization to deal with new and novel illnesses as they appear. 
- Clinical Significance
Healthcare providers have an important ethical and legal role in identifying and reporting abuse in children and other vulnerable populations to their appropriate state agencies. These are issues profoundly affecting the health and well being of a significant portion of the population. In the clinical setting, the most common form of maltreatment reported by healthcare professionals is neglect, which can encompass medical, nutritional, physical, or emotional neglect.  These situations are not merely theoretical; for instance, with an estimated 37% of all American children involved with Child Protective Services by the age of 18, many healthcare professionals will deal with these issues frequently in their practice. 
In the assessment of suspected abuse, the healthcare provider should obtain a complete history, perform a full physical examination, obtain appropriate laboratory analyses, and contact the proper authorities.   Given the fact that each state has different laws, familiarity with the mandatory reporting laws of one’s state is critically important for any healthcare provider.  Failure to follow the reporting laws of the state may result in criminal sanctions for the provider, and may even impart civil negligence liability in some jurisdictions. In contrast, providers are not generally liable for reporting suspicious situations subsequently found to be benign. 
Regarding the reporting of infectious diseases, the obligation to report certain diseases may be viewed as an obligation of the healthcare provider to the broader community imposed by public policy. Unfortunately, there is significant evidence that many diseases go underreported. Underreporting is likely multifactorial, but may generally be attributable to lack of sufficient knowledge of reportable diseases and confusion with the reporting process in general.  Here again, a healthcare provider must know their relevant state laws.
- Nursing, Allied Health, and Interprofessional Team Interventions
Training on recognizing and reporting suspected child abuse and neglect is critical to health professional education and patient safety.  Such training should apply to all types of healthcare professionals, as each owes a legal duty to report these cases. Systemically, the chances of missing cases of abuse and neglect are minimized if all types of healthcare professionals have similar training regarding recognition of the issue.
The health care team should coordinate with other professionals and community agencies in providing proper treatment and resources to the victimized patient.  Similarly, an interprofessional approach is important for the identification of reportable diseases to lessen the risk of underreporting. Reporting these diseases is critical to public health efforts to stem their growth, and ultimately, to allow for their eradication. Such ambitious goals require the participation and coordination of knowledgeable professionals dedicated to their patients and their communities.
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Disclosure: Richard Thomas declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.
Disclosure: Monique Reeves declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.
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Supreme Court’s Devotion to Gun Rights Faces a Challenging Test
The justices will hear arguments on Tuesday on whether the government can disarm people subject to restraining orders for domestic abuse.
By Adam Liptak
Reporting from Washington
The big gun rights case the Supreme Court is set to hear on Tuesday presents the justices with a tricky problem.
They must start to clear up the confusion they created last year in a landmark decision that revolutionized Second Amendment law by saying that long-ago historical practices are all that matter in assessing challenges to gun laws. That standard has left lower courts in turmoil as they struggle to hunt down references to obscure or since-forgotten regulations.
Judging the constitutionality of gun laws has turned into a “game of historical ‘Where’s Waldo?’” Judge Holly A. Brady of the Federal District Court in Fort Wayne, Ind., wrote in December .
But this week’s case is an imperfect vehicle for achieving greater clarity about the reach of the Second Amendment.
It concerns a drug dealer from Texas with a history of armed violence who was convicted of violating a federal law aimed at preventing domestic abuse. A conservative appeals court with a reputation for extremism struck down that law, saying it had been unable to find a suitable historical analogue.
The case is, in other words, not an attractive one for groups seeking to expand Second Amendment rights. And the justices will consider it as the nation is still reeling from the deadliest mass shooting of the year, one that left 18 people dead in Lewiston, Maine.
Ever since last year’s gun rights decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen , judges have complained about the nature and volume of the work it entails, involving historical inquiries in which they have no expertise. Unable to settle on a consistent methodology, they have issued diverging decisions on not only the domestic violence law but also on ones disarming felons, 18- to 20-year-olds and users of illegal drugs.
By announcing “an inconsistent and amorphous standard, the Supreme Court has created mountains of work for district courts that must now deal with Bruen-related arguments in nearly every criminal case in which a firearm is found,” wrote Judge Brady, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump.
The Supreme Court must use the domestic violence case to explain, refine and perhaps retreat from the new standard, said Jacob D. Charles , a law professor at Pepperdine University.
“The court has to provide further details on how to do the historical inquiry,” he said. “And that will tell us about the scope of the government’s ability to respond to gun violence that the founding generation just didn’t have to deal with.”
Writing for the six-justice majority last year in Bruen, Justice Clarence Thomas said the usual ways of assessing whether a law violates the Constitution did not apply to the Second Amendment. Only history counts, he wrote.
“The government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation,” he wrote, meaning that the constitutionality of modern gun control measures depends on whether the government can show that there were analogous laws during the 18th and 19th centuries.
That test, Khiara M. Bridges , a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote last year in The Harvard Law Review , “has rendered the right to bear arms the most protected of rights in the Constitution.”
In a new study in The Duke Law Journal, Professor Charles examined more than 300 decisions applying the new standard in the 12 months after last year’s decision. More than two dozen rejected state or federal laws, including ones setting age limits, imposing strict licensing requirements, limiting so-called assault weapons and excluding guns from sensitive places.
Other studies have found that judges’ partisan affiliations are correlated to their likelihood of overturning gun regulations after Bruen.
“On average, judges appointed by Republican presidents are 1.8 times as likely to grant relief as judges appointed by Democratic presidents,” a new study to be published in the Virginia Law Review Online found. The study was conducted by Eric Ruben of Southern Methodist University, Rosanna Smart of the RAND Corporation and Ali Rowhani-Rahbar of the University of Washington.
That represents a shift, according to a preliminary analysis by Lee Epstein and Rebecca Brown of the University of Southern California and Mitu Gulati of the University of Virginia.
They found that in the 14 months before Bruen, Democratic and Republican appointees rejected Second Amendment claims at statistically the same rate. After Bruen, they found, Democratic appointees voted against the Second Amendment challenges 94 percent of the time as compared to 66 percent of the time for the Republicans ones.
“If the court in Bruen was seeking to limit judicial discretion,” Professor Epstein said, “it may have missed the mark.”
The Supreme Court’s new case started in 2019, when Zackey Rahimi assaulted his girlfriend and threatened to shoot her if she told anyone, leading her to obtain a restraining order. A judge found that Mr. Rahimi has “committed family violence” and that such violence “was likely to occur again.”
The order suspended Mr. Rahimi’s handgun license and prohibited him from possessing firearms. But Mr. Rahimi defied the order in flagrant fashion, according to court records.
He threatened a different woman with a gun, leading to charges of assault with a deadly weapon. Then, in the space of two months, he opened fire in public five times.
Upset about a social media post from someone to whom he had sold drugs, for instance, he shot an AR-15 rifle into his former client’s home. When a fast-food restaurant declined a friend’s credit card, he fired several bullets into the air.
The shootings led to a search warrant of Mr. Rahimi’s home, which uncovered weapons, and he was charged with violating a federal law that makes it a crime for people subject to domestic violence orders to possess guns.
After a judge rejected his Second Amendment challenge to the law, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to more than six years in prison. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit at first affirmed his conviction in a short decision , rejecting the argument that the law violated the Second Amendment in a footnote.
But the appeals court reversed course after the Supreme Court decided Bruen, rejecting a variety of old laws identified by the government as possible analogues, saying they did not sufficiently resemble the one concerning domestic violence orders.
The Fifth Circuit is dominated by Republican appointees and has issued a series of aggressively conservative rulings that have met a frosty reception at the Supreme Court, itself quite conservative, on issues like immigration , abortion pills , contacts with social media companies and so-called ghost guns . Some of those Supreme Court rulings were tentative, but the overall picture is one of an appeals court out of step with the justices.
In other gun rights cases, judges have questioned the wisdom of looking to the distant past to address contemporary problems.
“An honest search for an ‘American’ tradition on gun regulation is especially challenging, given that well over half of the American population — including women, Blacks and others — were generally excluded by law from political participation at the time of the Second Amendment’s passage and for decades thereafter,” Judge Mark A. Goldsmith of the Federal District Court in Detroit, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, wrote in February .
About 30 states have laws similar to the one challenged by Mr. Rahimi.
A recent report from the RAND Corporation surveyed the available studies and found “moderate evidence” that those laws “reduce total and firearm-related intimate partner homicides.”
The federal law at issue in the case, United States v. Rahimi , No. 22-915, is not used very often, and it is seldom the sole charge when it is.
The New York Times found only 63 federal cases nationwide over the past five years of people being indicted on a charge of having a weapon while being under a domestic violence protection order, including Mr. Rahimi. Prosecutors charged a person with only the crime of possessing a gun while having a protection order in just 20 of those cases.
But the law also has a deterrent effect, both by discouraging domestic abusers subject to restraining orders from having guns and by playing a part in background checks. Since 1998, when the federal background check program started, more than 77,000 attempts by people subject to domestic violence restraining orders to buy firearms were rejected.
In defending the law, the Biden administration relied on general language in earlier decisions saying that the Second Amendment protects only “law-abiding, responsible citizens,” adding that there was nothing unusual about disarming dangerous people in the founding era.
Mr. Rahimi’s lawyers countered that the administration’s historical analogies were too expansive.
“Despite casting an incredibly broad net, the government has yet to find even a single American jurisdiction that adopted a similar ban while the founding generation walked the earth,” the brief said.
Kim Barker contributed reporting.
Adam Liptak covers the Supreme Court and writes Sidebar, a column on legal developments. A graduate of Yale Law School, he practiced law for 14 years before joining The Times in 2002. More about Adam Liptak
Supreme Court leans toward upholding law that bars those accused of domestic violence from having firearms
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court indicated Tuesday it would uphold a federal law that prohibits people under domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms , potentially limiting the scope of its own major gun rights ruling last year.
The case gives the court's 6-3 conservative majority a chance to consider the broad ramifications of the 2022 decision, which for the first time found that there is a right to bear arms outside the home under the Constitution's Second Amendment.
The ruling, in a case called New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen , made it clear that gun restrictions had to be analyzed based on a historical understanding of the right to bear arms. As such, the decision raised questions about many existing gun restrictions that gun rights activists say are not anchored in historical tradition.
But during oral arguments, the justices appeared receptive to Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar's argument that the prohibition fits within a long tradition of disarming people who are considered dangers to society.
"That principle is firmly grounded in the Second Amendment's history and tradition," Prelogar said. "Throughout our nation's history legislatures have disarmed those who have committed serious criminal conduct or whose access to guns poses a danger."
Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was in the majority in the 2022 case, indicated she agreed with Prelogar, saying that "the legislature can make judgments to disarm people consistently with the Second Amendment based on dangerousness."
Although some conservative justices seemed concerned that it is too easy for state courts to disarm people accused of domestic violence, that is not the legal question before the court, which concerns only the federal prohibition.
No justices indicated they were inclined to strike the law down because there was no history of domestic violence gun possession bans dating to the nation's founding.
Zackey Rahimi, a Texas man whose partner obtained a restraining order against him in February 2020, argues that he cannot be prosecuted under the federal gun possession restriction in light of what the Supreme Court concluded.
But his lawyer, J. Matthew Wright, faced hostile questions from the justices.
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan said he seemed to be hesitant to acknowledge the broad ramifications of striking down the federal law.
"I feel like you are running away from your argument, you know, because the implications of your argument are just so untenable," she said.
The federal provision is just one of many federal and state laws, some of which are long-standing, to have been challenged in light of the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling.
In several cases, federal judges have ruled that other federal gun restrictions also violate gun rights, including one that prohibits felons from possessing guns and another that bars people under 21 from buying firearms.
A separate provision that bars users of illegal drugs from possessing firearms has drawn scrutiny, too, in part because Hunter Biden, the president’s son, has been charged with violating it and has indicated he will mount a constitutional challenge.
Whatever the Supreme Court rules in the Rahimi case will affect how courts handle challenges to those other federal restrictions, as well as similar state laws — an issue that was clearly on the justices’ minds.
Rahimi's ex-partner, with whom he shares a child, obtained a restraining order after an incident in an Arlington, Texas, parking lot in 2019. Rahimi allegedly knocked the woman to the ground, dragged her to his car and pushed her inside, causing her to knock her head on the dashboard, prosecutors said in court papers. He also allegedly fired a shot from his gun in the direction of a witness.
Even while the protective order was in place, Rahimi was implicated in a series of shootings, including one in which he allegedly fired bullets into a house using an AR-15 rifle, prosecutors say.
Chief Justice John Roberts probed Wright about whether Rahimi himself should be considered dangerous.
“You don’t have any doubt that your client’s a dangerous person, do you?” he asked Wright.
When Wright said it would depend on what the definition of dangerous conduct was, Roberts responded: “Someone who’s, you know, shooting at people. That’s a good start.”
Rahimi faces state charges in the domestic assault and a separate assault against a different woman. But the case before the justices concerns his separate prosecution by the Justice Department for violating the federal gun possession law.
Rahimi ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison.
The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals applied the Supreme Court's 2022 ruling in Rahimi’s case and concluded in a March ruling that the law “fails to pass constitutional muster.”
Lawrence Hurley covers the Supreme Court for NBC News.
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