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#160 Using a law library

mp3 #160 How To Use a Law Library in California (mp3 file)


Most California counties have a law library in the county seat which is open to the public by law. To find your county law library call your county clerks office or look for the law library under the county listings in the white pages of your telephone book. Most county law libraries have weekday hours, some are open at night and on weekends as well. Law schools also have law libraries which are open to the public if they are supported by tax dollars or if they have a United States governmental documents depository status. Private law schools may be open to the public on a limited basis. If you cannot locate a law library in your county call the local county bar association for help.

What kinds of books do California law libraries contain? You will normally find the city and county ordinances and California state statutes and a subject arrangement of them called the codes. These are the laws of California which have been passed by the counties and state legislature. California courts which have dealt with these laws on appeal from a trial or hearing are printed in a series of books called California appellate reports or California reports. These printed cases also deal with non-statutory law, or common law that has its roots in the English common law system. Legal encyclopedias and digests of cases are also found in most all law libraries which help you find the law. Larger law libraries have federal statutes, called the United States code. The United States Supreme Court and federal lower courts print their case decisions as well, and most law libraries contain them.

Legal literature or works written about the law are also found in larger law libraries. Legal scholars write books which are referred to as treatises on a subject of law. Law schools publish monthly, quarterly or annual periodicals called law reviews or law journals about contemporary legal issues. Private law book publishers also publish books which contain groups of cases about a subject with editorial comments on what the cases have been held to mean. Many law libraries also contain books of legal procedure and forms to follow when bringing or defending a law suit.

Law librarians are trained in methods of finding the law, and can usually help you to locate statutes or cases. Many law librarians are also lawyers, but are not allowed to give legal advice or practice law as librarians. So it is important to know that if you want to use a law library. You must not expect to receive legal advice from the law librarian. The law library is a place to study the law, and not a place to get legal advice.

There are 30 different subject headings for California codes. They are the California constitution, the agriculture code, the business and professions code, the civil code, the code of civil procedure, the civil and criminal court rules, the commercial code, the corporations code, the education code, the elections code, the evidence code, the financial code, the fish and game code, the government code, the harbors and navigation code, the health and safety code, the insurance code, the labor code, the military and veterans code, the penal code containing criminal statutes, the probate code, the public resources code, the public utilities code, the revenue and taxation code, the streets and highways code, the unemployment insurance code, the vehicle code, the water code, and the welfare and institution's code. These 30 different codes are contained in over 130 different volumes, plus five volumes of a general index to all codes.

Once you have located the California code, look in the last few volumes which contain a general index of normal English descriptive words. If you make a list of words you think will describe your situation accurately you will generally find one of these words in the index. Next to the word will be an abbreviated notation of the address or citation to the code by subject. From this citation you can easily locate the code section which applies by referring to the subject word on the spine of the code books and then looking for the proper code section number in the volume that you have identified. The code section found will contain a history of the statute enacted by the legislature, and often, appellate cases which interpret or apply the statute.

The California codes are published by two different publishers. One set is published by west publishing company. This set is blue in color and has a bi-monthly legislative service which publishes all the laws enacted during the current legislative session. West also publishes a semi-annual volume of annotations of cases which supplements its annual annotation service in pocket parts found in the back of each volume of the code.

Another set of codes is published by the Bancroft Whitney publishing company. This set is colored dark red and has a legislative service and pocket parts as well, but no semi-annual case annotation service. The "annotations" of cases found at the end of each code and in the pocket supplements refers to brief editorial descriptions of appellate court cases that have interpreted or applied that code section. It is important to refer to these cases in the bound volume and in the pocket part to make sure you have the latest application or ruling on the code section.

Another publisher prints the code, name and section number in a monthly cumulative publication which gives you the latest case or legislative action on each California code. This work is called the Shepards Citator.

To use the Shephards Citator simply look at the top of the pages for the proper code subject. Then look through the page for the bold faced section number of the code you are researching. Following this bold faced code section number will be the history and treatment of the code section in citation form. This is called shepardizing.

Various state agencies regulations are published in the California administration code. County and city ordinances are also published by local governments and are available in the law library. Each have a comprehensive index to help you locate the needed section.

How can you find the published case decisions of the California courts?

The California appellate courts publish their decisions in two separate sets of books; one for the California supreme court called the California reports and the others for the lower district court of appeal and the appellate departments of the local superior courts called the California appellate reports. These are the official California publications for cases which date back to 1850 for the Supreme Court and back to 1905 for the lower district court of appeal. Each of these sets are now in their fourth series and have paper advance sheets of cases which are found at the end of the latest bound volume. These advance sheets are published prior to the newest bound-volume to allow research in current cases without having to wait for enough cases to accumulate for a new bound volume to be printed. These published cases are written by the justices of the court who review the lower courts actions on particular issues and then reach a decision called the opinion of the court. The opinion of the Supreme Court controls the opinions of the district courts of appeal. The district courts of appeal control the appellate departments of the superior court and the local superior and municipal courts. These published decisions or opinions of the courts are the last word on any statutory law unless overruled by the United States Supreme Court. Therefore, it is important to read any decision you may find in annotated form following a statute found in the codes and then to shepardize it as well.

When reading a published decision of a case you will notice that each case has an address or name such as Jones vs. Smith. The first name is that of the party who is appealing the case and is called the appellant. The second party is the one defending and is called the respondent. It is important to remember these names because the case can easily be found in a table of cases by name once you have determined it is relevant. Another part of the address to the case is the volume number of the publication and the page number the case begins on. Together, the name of the case, the volume number, publication and page the case begins on and the year published, make up what is called the legal citation. So you may read "Jones vs. Smith 64 cal reports 483 (1936)" which will tell you that Jones vs. Smith can be found in volume 64 of the California reports at page 483. Shepards Citator will follow this address using the volume number and page number to give you the latest history and treatment of the case.

A subject access may also be used to find cases, by consulting a digest of cases. Case digests have annotations for each case in the California reports and California district courts of appeal arranged by subject. The official California case publications are digested in McKinneys California digest. West publishing company publishes the west digest to California cases. Each digest has unique features and finding helps which are explained in the front of the first volume. You should consult the law librarian for any further explanation you may need to use the case digest.

Other finding helps for codes and cases are usually arranged by subject and often by title in a law library. You must keep in mind that finding helps are not the law themselves, but only methods of getting to the proper code or case interpreting the code. So a treatise on family law will contain codes and cases on various aspects of domestic relations and child custody and even wills. These may cover codes from the civil code to the probate code and cases from 1850 to date. The codes and cases can be cited for authority, but rarely is the treatise on family law cited for authority.

Other helpful books on specialized subjects in law are published by the Continuing Education of the California Bar called C.E.B. These books and other treatise material show step by step procedures to take in bringing a case to court. More general works are legal encyclopedias. California Jurisprudence is the encyclopedia most widely used in California. National legal encyclopedias are found in most law libraries. These works are also arranged by subject and have detailed indexes to help you find the-right area of law.

California law libraries are reference law libraries, and many do not let the books circulate to the general public, because they are required to have them available for public inspection. You should contact your local law librarian for circulation rules. Most law libraries have photocopy machines available to copy the materials you may need.

In order to do reliable, thorough, and accurate legal research, the services of an attorney may be required, as attorneys are trained and experienced in the many aspects and complications of legal research. The purpose of this message is only to introduce you to the use of a law library, and to guide you to some of the basic books that are available there about California law.

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