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Basic Guide to Legal Research  

This guide is geared to basic legal research assistance at Wheat Law Library. It does not explain the law to you nor advise you on what laws apply to your situation. You will need to contact an attorney for legal advice.
Last Updated: Apr 4, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Getting Started Print Page


Legal research is the process of identifying and locating materials that outline and explain the laws that govern our actions. Before beginning the process:

  • State the question clearly that you need to answer. Decide what's important, which terms to research.
  • Determine the jurisdiction, meaning the particular subject and locality. You must first determine which court or government agency might resolve the conflict before beginning legal research.  Deciding if it's a city, county, state, or federal matter will help you get started in the right direction.
  • Understand citations and abbreviations. Many law books are cited in the order of volume number, book, and page.  For example, 410 U.S. 113 would signify volume 410 of United States Reports, page, 113.  Statutes are cited by statute title and section number, such as 42 U.S.C. 1983 for title 42 United States Code, section 1983.  A handy list of abbreviations is found in either of the law dictionaries, Black's (on the dictionary stand in the Reference Area and on each floor) or Ballentine's (in the Reference Area at KF156 .L95 1995), or in Bieber’s Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (KF 246 .B46 1993 in the Reference Area). For more detail on finding court cases please see "Finding Cases When You Have the Citation" in the box to the right.
  • Many print legal resources are kept current by supplements. Remember to check them for any changes, updates, or deletions. These supplements sometimes appear as "pocket parts" inserted into the back covers of volumes to provide updates and new material. They may also be separate paperback volumes shelved next to the set on the shelf. Case opinions can be updated by checking citators, special tools used to verify if cases and statutes are still "good law." Before relying on any case or statute, its current status must be determined. The citators are also used to determine if one case has been cited by another. Instructions for use, illustrations, and abbreviation tables are contained in the preface to each volume.

How to Access Materials

The KU Libraries Catalog is one way to find materials in Wheat Law Library as well as all the other KU Libraries.  It can be searched by one of these methods:

  1. Keyword
  2. AND, OR, NOT (Boolean)
  3. Author
  4. Title
  5. Journal Title
  6. Subject Headings
  7. Call Number
  8. Series Titles

To see titles located in the law library you can use the "Limit To" box just to the right of the search box; select "Law Library" from the drop down menu.

If you want to find online articles or texts on a legal subject or by a particular author you can use the Databases button at the top of the catalog page. Here you can select a database that specializes in legal materials.  Using 'Databases by Subject' select Social Sciences and then Law.  Scan the descriptions of each database and search the ones that look relevant to your topic. Several subscription databases that are frequently used are listed below.  These can be accessed anywhere by KU faculty, students and staff or by the general public if they come into the library:

  1. HeinOnline for law review articles, Congressional documents, treaties, international law, etc.
  2. Lexis Nexis Academic for state, US, and international legal materials and news
  3. United States Congressional Serial Set contains maps, reports, documents, and journals of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives 1817-1980
  4. Bloomberg BNA for information on health care, labor, business, public policy, etc.

Free-to-all legal databases online include:

  1. Google Scholar for searching articles (including patents) and case law
  2. FDsys provides access to official publications from all three branches of the Federal Government
  3. Legal Information Institute (LII) for primary legal materials, legal encyclopedia, and the Supreme Court Bulletin
  4. Public Library of Law includes case law, statutes, regulations, court rules, constitutions, and some legal forms
  5. is the official website for U.S. federal legislative information
  6. Findlaw resources pertaining to both state and federal constitutions, statutes and cases

Call Number Locations


Reference Collection
Reserve Collection (inc. Microforms)
Faculty Publications
Bar Review Materials


State & Federal materials
Legal Encyclopedias
Legal Research materials: KF 240-KF 255
Landmark Briefs
Federal Claims Reporter
Words & Phrases
Bankruptcy Reporter


A - KF 3390
Head Collection
Law Faculty Publications - International Display


KF 3400 - Z
Law Reviews & Journals


Finding Cases When You Have the Citation

Judicial opinions are published in sets called court reports or reporters. There are separate reports for the United States Supreme Court, the United States Circuit Courts of Appeal, and the Federal District Courts. There are also reports for specialty courts such as bankruptcy and military justice.

Many states have their own reports for appellate cases. These cases are also published in the regional reporters for various parts of the country.

A case citation contains the following information:

Griffith v. Teran 794 F. Supp 1054 D. Kan. 1996

Listed below are some of the most frequently used reporters and their location in Wheat Law Library:





Atlantic Reporter, Second Series

3rd Floor

Cal. Rptr.

California Reporter

3rd Floor


Federal Rules Decisions

3rd Floor





Federal Reporter

Federal Reporter, Second Series

Federal Reporter, Third Series

3rd Floor

3rd Floor


3rd Floor

F. Supp.

F. Supp. 2d

Federal Supplement

Federal Supplement, Second series

3rd Floor

3rd Floor


Kansas Reports

3rd Floor, several other locations on other floors

Kan. App.

Kansas Appellate Reports

3rd Floor, several other locations on other floors

L. Ed.

Lawyer’s Edition, Supreme Court Reports

3rd Floor

L. Ed.2d

Lawyer’s Edition, Supreme Court Reports, Second Series



North Eastern Reporter, Second Series

3rd Floor


North Western Reporter, Second Series

3rd Floor


New York Supplement, Second Series

3rd Floor





Pacific Reporter

Pacific Reporter, Second Series

Pacific Reporter, Third Series

3rd Floor

3rd Floor


3rd Floor

S. Ct.

Supreme Court Reporter

3rd Floor


Southern Reporter, Second Series

3rd Floor


South Eastern Reporter, Second Series

3rd Floor


South Western Reporter, Second Series

3rd Floor


United States Reports

3rd Floor


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