Bristol Community College

Bristol Community College

LGL180 – Introduction to the Law

LGL180: Professor Diana Yohe,
Email Address,
Campus Extension 2404 or 2123

This Course Guide is designed to assist you with assignments and research for Diana Yohe's Introduction to the Law, LGL 180. If you need assistance using any of the sources or need help finding additional information please contact a reference librarian either by stopping by the LRC, calling 508-678-2811 x2108, or using our Online Reference form.


Legal information is often categorized into four types of sources:

1.      Primary

2.      Secondary

3.      Finding tools

4.      Other 

The purpose of this course guide is to provide you with a selected list of materials within the above four source categories, some of which are available at the LRC and on the Internet. 

Primary Sources

The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land.  No other laws may conflict with it.  The U.S. Constitution created three branches of government (legislative, judicial, and executive).  Each branch “creates” laws. 

Primary sources consist of the laws that are binding on the court:

  1. Statutes enacted by the legislative branch create “statutory law.”
  2. Court decisions made by the judicial branch create “case law.”
  3. Regulations promulgated by the executive branch create “administrative law.” 

Official and unofficial editions of these laws are published. The official publications are issued by the U.S. or state government and the unofficial publications are issued from commercial sources, such as West Group.

Location of Primary Sources:
The LRC owns some primary source material, which is noted by the inclusion of the call number under the title of the source.  All primary source materials are shelved in the Reference area of the library.   If some or all of the source is also free on the web, this is noted by providing a link to the site.  Please click on the word enclosed in a red box to retrieve an annotated listing of relative primary source materials and web site links.  

 *Remember, all official, primary sources are in print form.* 

  1.     Constitutions:
    • United States Constitution (Federal)
    • Ratified in 1789, the U.S. Constitution contains the fundamental laws that govern our country.  It also defines political relationships and states the rights and liberties of our citizens.
    • Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (State)
    • Ratified in 1780 (9 years before the U.S. Constitution was adopted), it is the oldest written constitution now in use in the world. 
  1. Statutory law
    • The legislative branch enacts statutes – either federal (Congress) or a state legislature (Massachusetts General Court) in one of the fifty states. 
    • The legislative branch provides a chronological
      arrangement of statutes

      session books

A subject arrangement of statutes is published in sets of books called:

code books

  1. Case law:
    • Case law results from judicial decisions.
    • At the Federal level, decisions are reported for all three court levels:  U.S. District Courts, U.S. Courts of Appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court.  For state courts, usually just the middle level and highest level court decisions are reported.  These decisions are arranged chronologically in books called:

      case reporters

A subject arrangement of cases is published in sets of books called:


  1. Administrative law:   
    • The executive branch of the government issues proclamations, executive orders, and regulations and provides a chronological arrangement of these regulations in sets of books called:

      administrative registers

A subject arrangement of regulations is published in sets of books called:

          administrative codes

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources identify and explain the law.

Location of Secondary Sources:  The LRC has a number of secondary sources located both in the reference and stacks areas of the library.  See below for specific call numbers of selected items. 

  1. Legal encyclopedias are useful for providing background information and as providing leads to other sources of materials.  They usually provide extensive references to court decisions. Please click here to retrieve a listing of select legal encyclopedias. 
  2. Treatises are books that attempt to cover an entire area of the law.  Usually written by legal experts, they do not, however, have any legal authority in a court of law.  Please click here to retrieve a listing of select treatises and subject heading links that can be used to find more treatises in our on-line catalog.
Finding Tools

Finding tools consist of legal research aids that locate primary and secondary sources of law.
(The following materials in the first two categories of this kind of source have been mentioned above in the section “Primary Sources”) 

  1. Codes organize statutory law by subject/topic. 
  1. Digests provide an index to case law.  
  • American Digest System
  • United States Supreme Court Digest
  • Massachusetts Digest Annotated
  • Massachusetts Digest 2d
  1. Legal Dictionaries will define legal terms.
    • Black’s law dictionary, 9th ed.
      REF KF 156 B53 2009

    • Nolo’s dictionary of everyday law, 7th ed. 
      REF KF 387 N65 2008

    • Oran’s dictionary of the law, 4th ed.
      REF KF 156 069 2008

    • Prentice Hall’s dictionary of American criminal justice, criminology, and criminal law, 2ND ed.
      REF KF 9223 A68 F35 2010 

    • West’s tax law dictionary, 7th ed.
      REF KF 6287 S65 2007 

  • Legal Directories provide listings of lawyers and other legal services, usually by city and state. 
    • Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory   (Not held at LRC)
      This annual directory contains listings of lawyers and law firms, arranged by state and city.  Also included are biographies and a rating system that evaluates U.S. lawyers based on interviews with their peers.  The directory is available through the LRC database Lexis-Nexis and on the internet at under their “Lawyer locator” section.

    • The Legal list:  research on the Internet
      REF KF 242 A1 B68 2009-10
    1. Topical Guides provide subject or topic access to legal information.
    • Massachusetts criminal law sourcebook and citator
      KFM 2961 Z9 K368 2009

    • Massachusetts family law sourcebook and citator
      KFM 2404 Z9 M274 2010

    • Massachusetts personal injury law sourcebook and citator
      KFM 2597 P3 A176 2010

    • Massachusetts criminal law sourcebook and citator
      KFM 2961 Z9 K368 2009

    • Massachusetts family law sourcebook and citator
      KFM 2404 Z9 M274 2010

    • Massachusetts personal injury law sourcebook and citator
      KFM 2597 P3 A176 2010

    • National survey of state laws, 6th ed.
      REF KF 386 N38 2008

    • West’s Massachusetts Law Finder
      REF KFM 2461 M3 2010
      Coordinates legal research by providing a master reference guide to the content of West publications.  Texts, treatises, encyclopedias, state and federal statutes, court rules, form books and digests are indexed and references to their content supplied under more than 4,000 descriptive topic headings.  West key number references are also included.
    • West’s analysis of American law
      REF KF 240 W454 2009
    Other Source Material

    1.    Form books assist lawyers in drafting legal documents such as wills, trusts, and leases.  By providing examples of numerous kinds of legal forms, lawyers can model their document after them and tailor it to meet their specific needs.  (Numerous federal and Massachusetts state legal forms are available online at the web site of the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries.)

    • American Jurisprudence Legal Forms, 2d 
      (Not held at LRC)
      Published by West Group, this 20 volume set provides forms for all aspects of legal practice.  The forms are annotated and contain references to cases that have favorably interpreted provision within the form.

    • American Jurisprudence Pleading and Practice Forms   (Not held at LRC)
      Another West Group publication, this 25 volume set focuses on litigation and other practice before courts and administrative agencies.

    • Fundamentals of business organizations for paralegals
      KF 1355 B68 2010

    • Legal forms for starting and running a small business
      KF 1659 A65 S74 2010

    • Massachusetts corporate forms and practice manual, 1st ed.
      KFM 2613 A65 N53 2005

    • The Probate and administration of estates in Massachusetts
      KFM 2544 M36 2006

    2.      Court rules provide “procedural” guidelines for initiating and conducting litigation.

    • Annotated guide to Massachusetts evidence
      REF KFM 2940 M363 2009

    • Federal civil judicial procedure and rules
      REF KF 8816 A193 2010
      Contains the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, multidistrict litigation rules, habeas corpus rules, motions attacking sentence rules, Federal Rules of Evidence, Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, and Supreme Court Rules.  Also contains Title 28—Judiciary and Judicial Procedure.

    • Federal civil rules handbook
      REF KF 8816 A1936 2010

    • Handbook of Massachusetts evidence
      REF KFM 2940 M363 2009

    • Massachusetts Rules of Court: State & Federal (2 vols.)
      REF KFM 2929 A195 2010
      Provides the current text of court rules, forms and standing orders governing state and federal practice in Massachusetts, with amendments received through January 1, 2009.

    3.      Newspapers

    • Lawyer’s Weekly USA(Not held at LRC)
      A biweekly national newspaper that focuses on the need of the smaller law firm.  The current issue is available online.  A fee is required to access back issues, but their law library and general reference area is free and provides many useful links and information.
    • Massachusetts Lawyer’s Weekly (Not held at LRC)
      Primarily concentrating on legal matters in the state of Massachusetts, this weekly newspaper contains some articles of national interest as well, synopses of cases, and reports of disciplinary proceedings.   As with Lawyer’s Weekly USA, a fee is required to get full access to this site.

    4.      Legal Citations form book

    • The Blue Book: A Uniform System of Citations, 18th ed.  Ref. KF 245 B58 2005
      Compiled by the editors of the Columbia Law Review, the Harvard Law Review, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and The Yale Law Review, The Bluebook is the authoritative source for legal professionals and students of the law for citation rules involving legal documents and law journals.  It is also known as the Harvard Blue Book or A Uniform System of Citations.

    5.      Shepardizing

    • Shepard’s Citations    (Not held at LRC)
      This publication, which is available in print and electronic form, is used by researchers to verify the current validity of cases.  As decisions concerning court cases could have been overruled or changed in some manner over the years, it is necessary to check this information and update information to see if it is still good law.  Shepard’s provides parallel citations for decisions and references to other proceedings in the same case; they indicate if a subsequent case has been overruled or changed in such a way that it would lesson a case’s precedent.
    • Shepard’s Acts and Cases by Popular Names:  Federal and State  Ref. KF 80 S5 1999 (3 vols.) 
      This publication is used when you only know the popular name of a case or statute and do not have a citation.  Shepard’s Acts and Cases by Popular Names will give you the correct citation. 

    6.      Computerized Research

    • Westlaw   (Not held at LRC)
      One of the leading online legal research services, published by West Group. It provides access to a wealth of legal resources, news, business, and public records information.  The service has over 17,000 databases, including the citation tools KeyCite, WestCheck, and WestCiteLink, which can help manage and validate legal citations.
    • Westlaw Campus Research (Database at LRC/BCC Campus – no remote access available)
      This database provides access to many legal resources, including cases from the supreme courts of all 50 states and the federal courts, since 1944. Westlaw Campus also provides access to the United States Code Annotated (USCA), the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) (current only), the Federal Register (July, 1980-present), state statutes and administrative codes. Annotations from American Law Reports, a publication containing attorney written articles that summarize and analyze case law on a particular legal issue are also included. Articles from the comprehensive encyclopedia of state and federal laws, American Jurisprudence 2d, are in the database as well.
      Federal administrative materials, articles from law reviews and journals, and selected legal materials from the European Union, Europe, and the United Kingdom are also a part of the comprehensive legal database.
    • Lexis    (This Version Not held at LRC)
      Another leading online legal research service, published by LexisNexis, that provides an extensive collection of legal resources.  Federal and state codes, regulations, case law, Shepard’s Citations, law reviews and legal news, numerous secondary sources, such as treatises, and more.  Used mostly by legal professionals and graduate law students.
    • LexisNexis Academic Universe
      Similar in content to Lexis (no secondary sources included), this database is considered a subset of it and is used more by general legal researchers and undergraduate students.  It has a more user friendly interface than Lexis.  Under the “Legal Research” section you can search for full text legal information. Click here to get a listing of  some of the law sources and legal areas you can search on LexisNexis.

    7.      Web Sites 

    • FindLaw
      Good source for locating Supreme Court cases, state law resources, law reviews, and information on law schools.  Includes U.S. federal codes, statutes, regulations, and case law and U.S. state codes, statues, regulations and case law.  Other legal and law related information is also available such as law reviews and a directory to find information on specific areas of the law. 

      Some of the legal sources included:
      • U.S. Constitution Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)
      • Federal Register
      • U.S. Supreme Court Decisions
      • Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
      • Code of Massachusetts Regulations
      • General Laws of Massachusetts
      • Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Court Opinions
    • GPO Access
      This is the web site of the Government Printing Office and provides links to over 75 government databases.  Includes, among many others, bills, the CFR, Federal Regulations, U.S. Code, U.S. Constitution, and Supreme Court decisions.
    • Legal Information Institute (Cornell)
      This site by Cornell Law School provides access to much of the same federal and state codes, statutes, regulations, and case law/court opinions as other law sites, but their presentation of information is very clear and comprehensive.  As the pioneer in providing legal information on the internet, Cornell’s menus make addressing information on this site easy and enable the user to know specifically what section/area of the document is needed to be searched.
      This is the official web site of the state of Massachusetts.  In the “State Government” area you can find the Massachusetts General Laws and the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts where all aspects of state legislation can be found:  session laws, general laws, current legislation, legislators, current budget recommendations, legislative history, and more.
    • Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries
      This site provides state and federal laws and legal information from the seventeen public law libraries located across Massachusetts.  Links to laws, regulations, and cases are available for Mass., other states, and foreign and international law.  The site provides for online book searches, information on Massachusetts’ courts and government, finding a lawyer, online legal reference service, and information on law by subject.  Includes access to numerous federal and Massachusetts legal forms.
    • Nolo: Law for All    
      Intended for the non-professional, this site explains the law in layman’s terms.  Includes a legal encyclopedia, law dictionary, a Legal Research Center where you can find U.S. and state laws and regulations, Supreme Court cases, the U.S. Constitution and legal research tips.
    • Thomas      
      This is part of the Library of Congress web site and provides one of the best sources for U.S. legislative information on the internet.  Bills, legislative histories, committee information and reports, the Congressional Record, historic documents, and other legal information are available at this site.

      “As the U.S. government's official web portal, makes it easy for the public to get U.S. government information and services on the web. also serves as the catalyst for a growing electronic government.”
    • WashLaw Legal Research on the Web
      “WashLaw Web provides users with links to law-related materials on the Internet. Generally speaking, the information is arranged alphabetically, by subject, and by geographic location. All links on WashLaw Web are maintained by staff members of the Washburn University School of Law Library.”