The process of researching follows the same general model no matter what jurisdiction you are clerking in. The differences are in terms of nomenclature and titles of specific primary and secondary resources.
Brand New Area of Law
Your issue will often comprise areas of law you have never studied. It is hard to really understand your issues without first understanding the broad brushstrokes. The best place to start is not necessarily case, statute or regulatory research - the best place to start is with a secondary source. They can range from Nutshells on large topics to very narrow multivolumed treatises on specific areas of law. Secondary sources are great because they (i) lay out the broader narrative of the topical area, (ii) give the elements for causes of action or legal processes, and (iii) lay out all the pertinent statutes, regulations and cases.
Good Working Knowledge of the Area of Law
When you have a good knowledge of an area of law, you will know most of the details, law and cases. This is when you need to trawl through the statutes, regulations and cases for law that can bolster your position. When searching on Westlaw or Lexis, always remember to limit your search to your jurisdiction. Remember to think about the terms you are searching for beforehand. An index (in print or on WL/LX) is always the best place to start, as it will delineate the appropriate legal terminology. Statute and regulatory schemes have word indexes. Digests also have descriptive word indexes.
I have included below resources for Massachusetts as an exemplar. Most states will have similar titles and content.
Books (most commonly used and cited titles in Massachusetts law firms and courts)
Massachusetts Practice Series – contains multiple volumes on various aspects of criminal practice, including sub-topics like OUI/Crim. Procedure, etc. (KFM 2480.M3) [only available on Westlaw] (brown volumes) (more academic and in-depth) (most-states have their own version, e.g. N.H. Practice)
Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education - contains multiple volumes on many aspects Massachusetts law, including sub-topics like landlord tenant, family, etc [available on LexisNexis and Westlaw] (blue binders, or white softback books) (more practitioner orientated
Social Law Library
Includes Massachusetts administrative and lower/unique court decisions (e.g. Land Court or State Tax Court), regulations, rules of court, statutes, constitution, and budgets.
HeinOnline provides full access to complete runs of more than 500 law journals. It also includes for Massachusetts historical statutes and session laws, etc.
State House News Service (Massachusetts Legislature) The State House News Service, an unofficial, commercial reporter group operating in the State House, covers public hearings on a selective basis. Reporters file debate notes on floor action from each chamber.
Whether you remember or not from law school, you should familiarize yourself with the basic concepts of American Jurisprudence. There are plenty of introductory materials out there - for example: Introduction to the Law and legal System of the United States by William Burnham.
Some concepts to read-up on for clerkships include:
Precedent (binding or persuasive)
Equity Actions and Equitable Remedies
Various Motions, e.g.
- In Limine
- Summary Judgement
- Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Cause of Action
Difference Between Statutes and Regulations
Difference Between Crimes and Civil Actions
HeinOnline provides full access to complete runs of more than 500 law journals. It also includes the Federal Register, treaties and related publications, U.S. Supreme Court materials, C.F.R., U.S Attorney General Opinions and lots of legislative materials from statutes-at-large to pre-collated federal legislative histories.
This is the one stop shopping for modern legislative history indexing and documents. This is the online version of the print indexes, CIS indexing and abstracting of congressional publications, and the CIS Legislative Histories (1970-present). It also includes electronic full text of selected congressional reports, documents, prints, bills and the Congressional Record; prepared statements and selected question and answer transcripts from committee hearings (1988-present); full text hearings (1824 to present); bill tracking reports that follow bills through Congress and the text of bills; public laws and the United States Code Service; the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations; biographical and financial information and voting records of members; rosters, charters and schedules for committees and subcommittees.
Lexis Advance and Bloomberg are available to co-op students working in the judiciary. Westlaw is NOT available to co-op students working in the judiciary. This does not mean, however, if your court has Westlaw that you cannot use their version.
Although there are many places one could find free legal information, the sources below seem to be the most reliable and intuitive.