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Researching Environmental Law: Introduction

Course Description

Many areas of legal practice require knowledge beyond cases and statutes. This course will focus on advanced research methods for administrative, policy, and legislative history research using environmental law as a framework. We will explore these topics by examining resources and publications specific to environmental law practice in order to expose students to the broad range of research involved in this area. The class is a one-session lecture (questions encouraged) and an assignment that must be completed to receive full Skills credit.

Library Services

Most of this information can be found from the main library website,

Civics Review

It sounds elementary, but it is important to keep these facts in mind. (And you may be surprised how many times firm librarians say new associates don't know the difference between regulations and statutes.)

Key Things You Must Absolutely Know for Legal Research

  1. There are three systems of government:
    1. Federal
    2. State
    3. Local (counties and municipalities)
  2. There are three branches of government (parallel in all systems):
    1. Legislative – makes the law
    2. Judicial – interprets the law
    3. Executive – enforces the law
  3. What sources come from what branches (parallel in all systems):
    1. Legislative Branch - Statutes
    2. Judicial Branch - Cases
    3. Executive Branch - Regulations
  4. There are four primary sources of law (parallel in all systems):
    1. Constitutions (or “Charters” for local government)
    2. Statutes
    3. Cases
    4. Regulations
  5. Mandatory Authority v. Persuasive Authority:
    1. Mandatory:  A binding law; it must be followed, it has to be followed, it’s mandatory that it be followed
    2. Persuasive:  A non-binding law; a court may be persuaded by it, it may (or may not) choose to follow the rule of law, but it does not have to follow it
    3. Related to jurisdiction – what laws are binding over you, according to where you are and what you’ve done (e.g., committed a crime in North Carolina)
  6. Primary Sources v. Secondary Sources
    1. Primary – The rules of law, the actual laws themselves (i.e.., a case, a statute, a regulation, a constitution section)
    2. Secondary - Everything else that talks about those laws, i.e., resources (legal encyclopedias, journal articles, books) that teach, explain, comment upon, analyze, discuss the law, etc. 

Courtesy of Stacy Etheredge, 

How Our Laws Are Made - Library of Congress. This goes into detailed review of each stage of the process and provides information on all of the different types of documents produced in the process.

Government Structure


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