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Introduction to Legal Research

By Mark Kloempken & Tove Klovning

What is the goal of your research guest?

  1.  What is the goal of your legal research quest?  Locating relevant legal authority!  Locating primary authority which either will be mandatory or persuasive in your jurisdiction.
    1. Does a court have to follow primary authority?  Mandatory authority is the rules/statutes/opinions that the court MUST follow.  A Missouri appellate court must follow the rulings of the Missouri Supreme Court.
    2. Does a court have to follow secondary authority or the ruling of a court outside of its jurisdiction?  Persuasive authority is just that, persuasive.  A Missouri court is not under any obligation to follow a ruling from an Illinois court—however it may choose to follow the rule.
  2. When legal researcher refers to a source being a secondary authority they are referring to sources that analyze the law.  (Books, law reviews, bar journals etc.)

Before undertaking any research projects you will need to formulate the legal issue, have a research plan, and know who to locate and access the sources you want to explore. Sometimes all you need to do is explore online sources available to you, other times your will need to explore print sources. Not everything is online, and a combination of consulting both print and online source is therefore often required in which you will discover that the online catalog is your friend! You will also need to know how to update your sources.