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FAQ: UC Hastings Law Library Frequently Asked Questions: Legal Research

This guide will assist you in learning about the UC Hastings Law Library's rules, policies and procedures.

How do I find books in the law library?

Searching for Books at Hastings:

The best way to find books at Hastings is with the Hastings Catalog.  You can use the advanced search option for more complex title, author and subject searching.

Browsing for Books: 

If you find a book that looks interesting and you are not on campus, locate the book in our catalog, click on the book title, and then scroll to the bottom of the screen to virtually browse the titles nearby on the shelf.  Of course, if you are on campus, browsing the shelves is a great way to find relevant books.

Borrow Books through Interlibrary Loan:

Use Inter Library Loan to locate a wider selection of available books. 

  • Search WorldCat to see if other libraries have books you can borrow through inter-library loan.
  • Once you find a book on your topic in WorldCat, click on blue "Request Item" link in the middle of the page.

Google Books:

Use Google Books to search a wide variety of books. You may have an option to view the contents of the book, but often online access is very limited.

How do I find scholarly research articles?

Locate the Journals that Hastings Subscribes to in Print and Online:

Articles in Lexis, Westlaw, LSN & HeinOnline:

Good sources for journal articles include:

Law Review Articles:

Most law review articles are available online:

The library also has a limited number of law review volumes in print on the 4th floor in call numbers K1 - K29.  Generally speaking, the library maintains the Hastings journals in print and a few other print journals that are not available online.

San Francisco Public Library (SFPL):

If an article you have found is not in one of the online resources at Hastings, you may want to search the online databases collection at the San Francisco Public Library. Any resident of California may apply for a SFPL Library card to get online full-text access.

Interlibrary Loan --- Articles
If you are unable to find the article you need using UC Hastings and SFPL resources, you can search for articles using WorldCat.

  • Search for the article by title, author or keyword
  • Limit search results to "Articles" using the filter boxes on the left
  • Click on the article title
  • Then click the blue "Request Item" button in the middle of the page.

Google Scholar:

You can search a large number of law and social science journals using Google Scholar .

How can the Hastings Library Catalog help with my research?

The Hastings Online Library Catalog allows users to search the Hastings Library collection for books, journals, and videos.

The Catalog indicates if a particular title is in the collection, on order, checked out, or placed on course reserve. The Catalog also shows if the item is available in print or online. 

When you search the catalog you have the choice to search for:

  • "Library Catalog" - searches for books in print and online
  • "Books + Articles + More" - searches for books and articles
  • "Articles" - will search for journal articles
  • "Course Research" - locates books placed on Course Reserve by Hastings professors

Click on "Advanced Search" to see more search features and tips.

What is the Research Certificate Progam?

The Legal Research Certificate Program

This program is designed to provide current Hastings students with the research tools necessary for success in internships, externships, summer associate positions, and that first law job. Attend live classes in-person, watch classes online, and complete online quizzes on Canvas to earn a notation of completion on your Hastings Transcript.  

All classes are taught by the Hastings Law Librarians. 

Contact a Librarian for more information.

Where can I find cases?

Cases in Print:

The Library has a number of case reporters in print including:

Cases Online:

Hastings students and faculty have access to cases through online subscription research services:

What is ALR?

American Law Reports (ALR) is a selective case reporter that includes detailed analysis of the case topic.

ALR is available in print and online through Westlaw and Lexis.

Case Finding Tools:

If you can't find cases on a particular topic with simple keyword searching in Lexis or Westlaw, you might try searching:

What are depublished California cases?

Opinions of the California Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeal are public record, whether published or unpublished. The majority of Court of Appeal opinions are not certified for publication and are thus not published in the Official Reports. These opinions are known as "unpublished"; they generally cannot be cited or relied upon in other cases (see California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115).

California Court of Appeal cases originally designated for publication in the official California Appellate Reports (Cal. App.) can be depublished and become "not citable" due to actions taken by the California Supreme Court.

Appellate cases are not automatically depublished when the Supreme Court grants review

Published and depublished decisions are all included in the Official Advance Sheets of the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal; the library has these volumes (from 1979 to current) in the 5th Floor Stacks.

The librarians at USF Law Library have created an informative Guide to Depublication of California Cases.

Where can I find federal and state statutes?

How do I find Legislative History?

Legislative history refers to the Congressional documents produced as a bill is introduced, studied, and debated. These legislative history documents are often used by attorneys to try to determine Congressional intent or to clarify vague, unclear or ambiguous statutory language.

The Hastings Law Library has produced two legislative history guides:

Where can I find a practice guides?

The Rutter Group and Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB) publish many of the best California practice guides:

Rutter Guides are available in print (4th Floor Circ Desk or Research Alcove) and online (Westlaw). 

CEB Guides are available in print (4th floor Research Alcove) and online (CEB OnLaw subscription).

Browse or Search the 4th floor Research Alcove for other practice guides.

What are hornbooks,?

A hornbook is a scholarly one-volume treatise that contains a fundamental explanation of one area of law. In 14th century Europe, students used wooden paddles to learn basic texts. These "hornbooks" were covered with a very thin layer of horn as a means of preservation.

In this tradition, West Publishing company produces a collection of treatises on particular areas of law called their "Hornbook Series." Today any one volume legal treatise is commonly referred to as a hornbook.


Current Hastings students can read the West hornbooks for free online as part of the West Study Aids Subscription


Most hornbooks are located in the 5th floor library stacks.  A few hornbooks are located at the 4th floor Library Circulation Desk.  The library catalog will indicate the call number and location of a given hornbook.


What is a Treatise?

Treatises are scholarly publications containing an organized summary of the law on a particular subject such as contracts, bankruptcy, civil procedure, or copyright law. They are usually multi-volume sets that are updated regularly.

Treatises typically contain:

  • An overview of the current state of the law as of the treatise publication date.
  • Citations to relevant primary authority like statutes, case law, and administrative regulations.
  • Tables of cases and statutes.
  • Popular Name Tables to look up a law or act by name
  • Keyword index
  • Tables of Contents as a quick starting point to locate topics.

Treatises are available in print.  Selected treatises are available on Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law

Can you recommend a legal dictionary?

Black's Law Dictionary is the preeminent American law dictionary.  It is available:

  • Online - Westlaw
  • Print - Available on dictionary stands throughout the library and in the 4th floor Research Alcove (KF 153 .B53). 

In addition, you might consider using:


Where can I get research help?

Students are encouraged to consult with a reference librarian for:

  • Advice in planning research
  • Information about research databases
  • Help finding books and articles
  • Citation help

Students can also submit online reference questions.

Additionally, the reference staff publishes a number of research guides (California Law, Federal Law, Foreign & Int'l Law, State & Local Law, Topical Research Guides) to assist patrons with legal and library research.

The library has also created an Academic Success Guide with links to commonly-used online research tools and legal research books

Where can I get help picking a paper topic and writing my seminar paper?

Books on Scholarly Research:

Two books that might be helpful when you start thinking about writing your law review note or seminar paper are below. They both include information about choosing a topic, writing & editing your paper, and getting your paper published.

Circuit Splits:

Circuit splits provide students with an opportunity to examine and analyze an unsettled area of law where lawyers and judges are in disagreement.  Read the arguments in each circuit and then decide how the circuit split should be resolved.  See the following resources:

  • Seton Hall Circuit Review - Publishes scholarly articles analyzing recent important developments in all areas of the law at the federal appellate level. Each issue has a Current Circuit Splits section which provides short summaries of splits identified by federal court of appeals opinions.  Also available on HeinOnline.
  • Bloomberg U.S. Law Week Circuit Splits - On the Bloomberg Law home page, scroll to "Law Review Resources" and then click on "United States Law Week Circuit Split Charts" or "Circuit Splits Court Opinion Search"

Current Awareness Resources:

Search for specific current awareness resources such as Bloomberg Practice Centers, Bloomberg In-Focus Topics, and Bloomberg Hot Legal Topics. These resources list hot topics of current interest to practitioners and academics.

Newsletters & Topical Highlights:

Help for Journal Team Members

How do I complete my journal team edit?

Each journal has a reserved section of shelf space on the 5th floor of the library for members to use for cite checking and source checking assignments. These reserved shelves are located on the South end of the 5th floor. Journals have established their own guidelines regarding how these shelves are to be used.

How do pick a topic and write my Note?

Use the Preemption Check Guide to make sure that an article on your topic has not already been published.

If you have questions about your note or the Preemption Check ask for assistance at the library reference desk.

See advice above on Seminar Papers for helpful information about picking topics, writing, and editing your Note.

How do I Shepardize & KeyCite?

Lexis Shepard's and Westlaw KeyCite are citation services that allow researchers to view the history of a case to help determine whether it is still good law.  Researchers also use Shepard's and KeyCite to analyze cases by locating all of the important cases that have cited the case being Shepardized or KeyCited.

Here are guides to using Shepard's and KeyCite.

Hastings no longer has print Shepard's volumes in the library.