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Primary Authority

Authority that is composed of the law (e.g., constitutions, statutes, and court opinions).

Secondary Authority

Any source of law a court may rely on that is not the law (e.g., legal treatises, restatements of the law, and legal encyclopedias).

Common law

The body of law created by courts. It is composed of the general legal rules, doctrines, and principles adopted by courts when interpreting existing law or when creating law in the absence of controlling enacted law.

Case citation (include all components of it)

The citation includes the name of the parties, where the case can be found, the court that issued the opinion, and the year of the opinion.

Parallel citations

When a court opinion is printed in more than one reporter, each citation is a parallel citation to the other citation or citations. (e.g., "Britton v. Britton, 100 N.M. 424, 671 P.2d 1135 (1983). The parallel citations are in bold.)

Federal Reporter

A series of books that include federal decisions (trial and appellate) from 1880 to present day.

Supreme Court Reporter

An unofficial publication of the decisions of the United States Supreme Court published by West Group.

United States Supreme Court Reports

An unofficial publication of the decisions of the United States Supreme Court published by LexisNexis.

Shepard's Citations

Published by LexisNexis to determine if any case law has been updated or changed.


The act of declaring or announcing to the public

Citation (and what is included in a citation)

Information that allows the reader to locate where a reference can be found.

United States Code

The laws contained in the united State Statutes at Large are organized (codified) by subject into 50 categories called "Titles". Each title covers a different area of law. A citation to a United States Code states refers to the title number, t he name of the code, the section, and the year.

Statutes, ordinances, codes

Statues - Are laws passed by legislative bodies that declare rights and duties, or command or prohibit certain conduct. Ordinances - Usually refers to a law passed by a local government. Codes - a term used to describe a law.

What are headnotes, a syllabus, and keynotes? Can you cite them?

Headnotes - summaries of the points of law discussed in the case. They are not the opinion of the court and have no authority of law. Syllabus - a brief summary of the opinion. No authority as well. Keynotes - important facts about the case. No you cannot cite them.

Statutory elements

The specific conditions or components of a statute that must be met for the statute to apply.

Plain Meaning Rule

A statute will be interpreted according to its plain meaning. Words will be interpreted according to their common meaning. The court will render an interpretation that reflects the plain meaning of the language and is consistent with the meaning of all other sections of the act.

Purpose Clause

Includes the purpose the legislative body intended to accomplish when drafting the statute. It is helpful in determining the legislative intent.

Narrative Summary

illustrates the elements and the application of the statue to the facts.

Administrative Law

Rules, regulations, orders, and decisions adopted by administrative agencies that have the authority of law.

Canons of Construction

The rules and guidelines courts use when interpreting statutes.

Court Rules

Procedural rules adopted by a court that govern the litigation process. Court rules often govern the format and style of documents submitted to the court

Shall/May/ And/ Or

Shall - is used to impose a duty that is mandatory. The performance of the duty is not optional. May - indicates that the performance of an act is not mandatory. The performance of the act is optional. And - is used in regard to a list of words, all the items listed are included and required. Or - all the items listed are not required to be included. Any one or all of the items are included.


The relief granted is usually a one-sentence statement by the court that includes the order of the court as a result of the holding.


The holding is the court's application of the rule of law to the facts of the case. It is the court's answer to the issue(s) in the case. The holding is usually presented immediately after the rule of law in the opinion or after the reasoning at the end of the opinion.


The issue is the legal question addressed by the court in the opinion. The court may present the issue narrowly in the context of the facts.

Key Numbers

In bold print next to the headnote number are a few words indicating the area of law addressed in the headnote. Next to this bold print description of the area of law is a small key symbol and a number.


The plaintiff and everyone with, and the defendant and everyone with

Prior Proceedings

Any prior courts and decisions that the case has been in before the current one (e.g., trial court)

Slip Opinion

usually in the form of a pamphlet that contains the full text of the court's opinion in a single case.

National Reporter System

Most court decisions, both federal and state, are published by West Group in multivolume sets called reporters. These sets are available from the publisher in hardbound volumes or on CD-ROM.

Advance Sheets

Temporary pamphlets (often softcover books) that contain the full text of a number of recent court decisions.

American Digest System

This digest presents summaries of all the reported state and federal court decisions. Due to the large number of cases covered, the digest consists of several multivolume sets with each set covering a specific time period.

American Law Reports

The ALR is a series of books that contain the complete text of selected court opinions, along with scholarly commentaries explaining and discussing issues raised in the case.

Code of Federal Regulations Citations

The regulations of administrative agencies are codified in a multivolume, softbound set of books. The regulations are published in 50 titles, each of which represents a different subject area.

Legal Encyclopedias

A multivolume set of books that provides a summary of the law. The topics are arranged in alphabetical order, and the set includes an index and cross-references


The process of updating research through the use of Shepard's Citations


A single or multivolume work written by an expert in an area that covers that entire area of law.

Regional Digests

Court opinions that are published and separated by region

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