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Research Guide for LLM Students: Home

This guide includes Internet links, research tips, and lists of books that Hastings LLM students might find useful. We hope you enjoy your time at Hastings. If you need help with any library or research project, feel free to contact librarian Vince Moyer.

Introduction to American Law

A Brief Overview of American Law

It is important to remember the hierarchy of American law. Cities can make laws, but these laws must be in compliance with the law of the State in which that city is located. Each of the fifty states make laws, but these laws must be in compliance with federal law. Federal law is therefore supreme.

Federal law is made by each of the three branches of government:

  • The executive branch makes laws through the various federal agencies. These laws typically are called regulations. They are first published in chronological order in the Federal Register (also on the 4th floor in the library) and then are arranged by subject in the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • The legislature makes laws by passing bills in Congress. When a bill becomes law, it is then called a Public Law. These laws are first published in chronological order in the U.S. Statutes at Large and then arranged by subject in the United States Code.
  • The judiciary branch interprets the laws created by the legislature and the executive branch. The judiciary also makes law by resolving disputes between individuals, organizations, or businesses that have been brought to the federal court. Once a court has issued an opinion in a case, then other lower courts must follow the court's ruling. Federal cases typically are brought in a federal district court and the opinions published in the Federal Supplement. Cases may be appealed to the federal appellate court; the opinions are published in the Federal Reporter. Some cases are subsequently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court; those decisions are published in US Reports, Supreme Court Reporter, and Supreme Court Reports Lawyers' Edition.

It is usually easy to find U.S. law; the hard part is interpreting the law. To help you understand the law, there are numerous secondary sources with descriptions and analyses of the laws. Some of these include legal encyclopedias, nutshells, hornbooks, treatises, practice guides, and law journals.

The Hastings Law Library has an extensive collection of both the primary sources of American law (regulations, public laws, and case law) and the helpful secondary sources which explain the law.

The Law Library of Congress webpage is a good starting place for students unfamiliar with the U.S. legislative process. It includes information about how U.S. laws are made and a brief guide to the U.S. legal system.

Selected Introductions to American Law

The following five books are good places to start if you want to get a better understanding of the American legal system. They are very readable and don't go into so much detail as to be overwhelming:

An Introduction to the Legal System of the United States, 3rd ed.
By E. Allan Farnsworth
KF387 .F3 1996 (5th Floor)

Introduction to the Law and Legal System of the United States
By William Burnham
KF385 .B87 2002 (5th Floor)

Introduction to the Law of the United States
By David S. Clark
KF385 .I58 2002 (5th Floor)

Law in the United States: An Overview
By Peter Hay
KF385 .H313 2002 (5th Floor)

Legal English: An Introduction to the Legal Language and Culture of the United States
By Teresa Brostoff

KF272 .B76 2003 (5th Floor)

Subject Specialist