Common Legal Research Assignments
Latest revision as of 12:01, 30 January 2012
LexisNexis Academic is the premier database for legal research in the Academic market. Many professors and librarians send their students to LNA for all of their legal research assignments. Whether you're a pre-law student or just looking for basic legal material to round out your research, the following common assignments will surely help you with your research.
For this research scenario, the topic of "human trafficking" is used to explore legal developments over time. Below is an example of this type of assignment:
Find the federal statutes related to human trafficking. Determine when these federal statutes were enacted and what changes have been made to the statutes since their enactment. Looking at the time when the statutes were first enacted, was there one event or series of events that prompted Congress to take action? What were some of the arguments for and against passing these specific pieces of federal legislation? Have there been any significant convictions under these statutes? In terms of the state where you live, are there similar laws? Were they enacted before the federal laws or in response to them?
 Find Federal Statutes in the U.S. Code on Trafficking
 What are Federal Statutes?
Federal statutes are laws passed by Congress and signed by the President. Federal Statutes are collected in the United States Code.
 Search Strategy
- Click on the US Legal bar in the left navigation pane and click on “Federal Statutes, Codes & Regulations”.
- Select the check box next to “Annotated U.S. Code (USCS)” (the default option)
- Search for the word “trafficking.”
- Select "Headings” from the drop down next to the search box. This will limit your search to the statute section headings, which are the catch-lines of statutes.
After running the search, you will see, in your results set, that the primary provisions in the United States Code that relate to human trafficking are in Title 18 (Crimes and Criminal Procedure), starting primarily with Section 1590.
 Determine When Federal Statutes Were Enacted and See Changes Since Then
 History Line
Each statute has a history line immediately following the text of the section that lists the Public Law (the act passed by Congress) which have affected that section. Typically, the history line lists the changes in chronological order, with the first listed Public Law being the act that enacted that section. For example, in Section 1590, there is the following history:
(Added Oct. 28, 2000, P.L. 106-386, Div A, § 112(a)(2), 114 Stat. 1487.) (As amended Dec. 23, 2008, P.L. 110-457, Title II, Subtitle C, § 222(b)(4), 122 Stat. 5069.)
 Search Strategy
Using the information in this history line, you can determine when the statute was enacted. In this example, in October of 2000 by the Public Law 106-386 (the first number refers to the 106th Congress).
You can access this Public Law by using the hypertext link in the history line. For this example, the link takes you to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-386). In this Public Law, you can see the original language of the section when it was enacted. Note that the original language in the Public Law corresponds to subsection (a) in the current version of this section.
The second entry in the history line refers you to the different amendments made to the statute. The act was amended by Public Law 110-457 (the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008). By reviewing this public law, you see that, in 2008, Congress added subsection (b), concerning obstructing or interfering in the enforcement of Section 1590.
 Find the Event that Prompted Congress to Enact a Specific Statute
Search news items from a particular point in time to see if an event prompted Congress to take action.
 Search Strategy
- Use the “Search the News” widget on the Academic start page or the All News search under the News navigation bar. Type in the name of the original Public Law (in the above example, the “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act”) in quotes to search for that exact language. (The default source is "Major World Publications,” but you can also select another source, such as "All News.”)
- Click Go
- On the Results Page, you can sort your results from oldest to newest in order to begin with news stories that were written prior to or right after the Public Law was enacted.
Also, in the All News search, you can search for news stories about human trafficking in the year or two prior to the enactment of this legislation. Using the All News search, enter “human” in the top box and limit your search to the Headline and Lead. In the next row of boxes, change “And” to “Within 5 words of” and enter “trafficking” in the next box, again limiting your search to Headline and Lead. Specify your date range by limiting your search to a year or two before the passage of the Public Law. Finally, select your source as “US Newspapers & Wires” in order to see news stories from U.S. papers that may be related to Congress’s passage of the Public Law.
 Find Arguments For and Against Passing a Specific Piece of Federal Legislation
Search the news around the time the legislation was enacted to find opinion pieces or editorials about the law. In order to see opinion pieces or letters to the editors about the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, you can start with the search above, but, this time, use the All News search screen.
 Search Strategy
- Click on the News bar in the left navigation pane and click on “All News”.
- Check the boxes next to “Editorials & Opinions” and “Letters & Comments” under the Article Type to limit your search to opinion-oriented news reports.
- As in the example above, type in the name of the original Public Law (in the above example, the “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act”) in quotes to search for that exact language. (The default source is "Major World Publications," but you can also select another source, such as "All News.")
Another source of opinion or analysis is law reviews. Replicate this search, but use the US Law Reviews & Journals search page under the US Legal navigation bar.
 Find Any Significant Convictions Under a Specific Statute
To determine if there have been any significant convictions under this statute, you can start with a news search from the All News search page.
 Search Strategy
- Click on the News bar in the left navigation pane and click on “All News.”
- Type the name of the Public Law in quotes. In this example, again, we will use the "Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act"
- Add the term “convic!” using the exclamation mark as a wildcard that will bring back instances of “convict,” “convicted,” “conviction,” etc., using the “And” connector. (The default source is "Major World Publications," but you can also select another source, such as "All News.")
Another place to search for significant convictions is in the US Legal navigation bar on the Federal and State Cases page. Significant convictions, or appeals thereof, may appear as case opinions in the federal cases file. Input the name of the Public Act in the search box.
 Find State Laws Similar to Federal Laws
Using the State Statutes, Codes, & Regulations Search Form, you can find state laws similar to federal laws. You can also see if the state laws were enacted before the federal laws or in response to them. Again, we will use the topic of "human trafficking" to illustrate the scenario.
 Search Strategy
- Click on the US Legal bar in the left navigation pane and click on “State Statutes, Codes & Regulations”.
- Type “trafficking” and select "Headings from the drop-down box to limit your search to the "Headings" section.
- Select your home state from the drop down and select “Statutory Code” (the default option) as the source.
- If searching just in the Headings does not provide any relevant results, try expanding your search to “Everywhere," since terminology may vary from state to state and “trafficking” may only be noted in an editor’s note or case annotation, if the state uses slightly different terminology or subsumes trafficking within its kidnapping or abduction statutes.
- In order to determine whether the statutes in your preceded or proceeded from the federal statute, you can first start by looking at the history line of your state statute to see if the state statute was enacted (or amended to include trafficking language) before or after the 2000 enactment of the federal provisions. Follow the directions on how to find a Statute's History Line in the second common assignment above. As with the federal statutes, many of the state statutes’ history notes are hyperlinked to the state acts that enacted or amended that statute.
- To investigate the interplay between your state’s statutes and the federal statute, you can perform a search on the All News page. Search for “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act” and the name of your state and select “US Newspapers & Wires” as your source.