Most of the books mentioned below, including the case law books, are now online via the Westlaw database. Use this database to locate cases and encyclopedia articles from American Jurisprudence (a legal encyclopedia), as well as the United States Code (laws of the United States) and Mckinney’s (New York State laws).
Some tips to remember when using Westlaw:
After finding some terms and clues using reference books, look in the various law books for case law. You may wish to begin with one of the law encyclopedias such as American Jurisprudence (available via the Westlaw database under Secondary Sources). Remember, American Jurisprudence is a secondary source, not a primary source. Legal encyclopedias will provide some background information on legal topics, define terms, and point you in the direction of some case law (court cases) and statutory law (e.g.: the U.S. Code, state laws, etc.) Black’s Law Dictionary is also in Westlaw under Secondary Sources.
You may also wish to look at the specific laws, such as those for New York State, found in Mckinney’s (available online via Westlaw) or the laws of the United States found in the United States Code (available via the Westlaw database).
There are two other sets of books you may want to use, too: West’s New York Digest (for court cases in New York State) and West’s Federal Practice Digest (for federal court cases). These are available online via Westlaw. These sets explain points made in the case law using the West key numbering system. The “Key Numbers” denote points of law (with brief descriptions) within a case, and may be used to find more recent cases on the topic. Look for the “Key Numbers” within a case.
Finally, there are the case law books, both New York and Federal. Use one of the legal abbreviation books listed at the beginning of this guide (Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations, Current American Legal Citations) to help decipher these abbreviations, or go to the Cardiff University website at http://www.legalabbrevs.cardiff.ac.uk