This guide discusses the New York legal system, provides instruction on researching New York law, and explains how Harvard Law School affiliates can access New York legal materials.
The process for researching New York law is the same as that for researching the law of other U.S. states. However, there are some New York-specific secondary sources, including treatises and practice guides, that are frequently used by practicing attorneys. Those sources are highlighted below.
The Harvard Law Library has New York legal materials both in both print and electronic formats.
In the Harvard Library catalog, Hollis, many materials related to New York law have been assigned the Library of Congress subject heading "Law -- New York" -- click the link to view these items in Hollis.
Print materials for New York law are located in the 4th floor reading room. Their call number range is KFN5000 -- KFN6199.
Westlaw and Lexis both offer access to primary and secondary law resources for New York law. For both of these databases, click the link to New York in the homepage's State materials menu to view a list of the full collection of the available New York sources.
The law library offers access to Westlaw and Lexis for HLS affiliates. In addition, a public Westlaw terminal is available in the library for anyone with access to the library to use. For more information about library access, visit the Access Services homepage.
View the State Government Structure guide from the New York State Division of the Budget for a brief overview of the New York state government.
The Governor heads New York's executive branch, which includes high-level state officials and the state's administrative agencies.
Like the federal government, New York's legislative branch features a bi-cameral legislature: the Senate and the Assembly. An identical version of a bill must pass in both the Senate and the Assembly and be signed by the Governor to become law.
Both of the executive and legislative branch offices are located in the state capital, Albany.
The organizational infrastructure of the judiciary is called the New York State Unified Court System. The court system in New York is a bit confusing, so the state's website provides both a Court Directory and an administrative structure chart, with hyperlinked references to the courts at all levels.
In New York, the highest level state court is called the Court of Appeals. General trial courts are called "Supreme Courts" in New York, and they are categorized geographically (New York City Courts, and Courts Outside New York City). There are also four intermediate-level courts throughout the state, each of which go by the name of "Supreme Court Appellate Division."
New York attorneys have many state-specific legal treatises and practice guides at their disposal, including New York Jurisprudence, a multi-volume encyclopedia dedicated exclusively to New York law. These items are described below.
Although the law library has some of these items in its print collection, Lexis and Westlaw are your best options for accessing these materials, as they are frequently updated and searchable.
New York Jurisprudence is a multi-volume legal encyclopedia focusing on substantive and procedural aspects of New York civil and criminal law. It is currently in its second edition, and may be referenced as "NY Jur 2d."
The print version of this resource consists of a collection of more than 100 volumes, organized alphabetically by topic, and an index. Although the law library has it in print on the shelf in the reading room, it has not been updated since 2008. Therefore, Harvard Law affiliates should access New York Jurisprudence electronically through Westlaw or Lexis.
From the Westlaw homepage, click Secondary Sources > New York > Texts & Treatises > New York Jurisprudence.
From the Lexis homepage, click New York, then click New York Jurisprudence 2d under Secondary Materials -- Top Sources.
In both databases, this source can be browsed by clicking links in the table of contents, or searched using the search box at the top of the screen.
Each encyclopedia entry includes a brief description, as well as references to relevant case law, statutes, and other secondary sources, including West's Key Number Digest, American Law Reports, American Jurisprudence, and Corpus Juris Secundum.
Lexis and Westlaw provide access to electronic versions of legal treatises and practice guides that cover substantive and procedural law in New York. A selection of general practice guides from Lexis and Westlaw is listed below. To access a source listed below, type its name in the search box of the homepage of its respective database.
Note: Lexis is the exclusive electronic provider of all guides published by Matthew Bender.
(Note: Bloomberg's main New York treatise is James Publishing's New York Civil Practice Before Trial.)
Nolo is a company that publishes materials about the law and legal research for non-lawyers. In addition to its numerous print guides, the Nolo website includes many articles about New York law. To view a list of them, run this Google search.
The procedure for enacting legislation in New York is the same as that for the federal government: a bill is introduced in either the House or Assembly, and then it is debated and voted on. Once both legislative chambers have passed the same version of the bill, the governor can either sign it (and it becomes law) or veto it (it goes back to the legislature, which has the option to override the veto).
The New York City Bar Association has created an excellent Glossary for the New York State Legislative Process, which is freely available online.
There are several options for accessing New York legislation for free online:
In Westlaw, New York statutory law is available through the New York Statutes & Court Rules collection. Content from McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated is provided for each statutory section.
New York statutes in Lexis are available through the All New York Statutes & Legislation collection. For each statutory section, Lexis provides content from the New York Consolidated Laws Service.
New York statutes in both databases are annotated, which means that the statutory text and references to related primary and secondary materials are provided for each statutory section.
Options for researching historical New York statutes include the following:
The New York State Library has created a free online tutorial for researching legislative history for New York statutes.
An important element of legislative history research that is unique to New York is the availability of bill jackets for enacted laws. These contain the text of memoranda, letters, and other materials related to the law that were produced by the legislature and the executive during the legislative process. Bill jackets for selected years have been digitized and are freely available online through the New York State Archives' Legislative Bill and Veto Jackets Digital Collection.
Legislative history research for New York statutes can also be done on Lexis and Westlaw (in both databases, access these materials through the New York statutes page). In Westlaw, bill jackets and related materials are available through its New York Legislative History collection. In Lexis, materials of this type are included in the New York Legislative Bill History collection.
Detailed information about New York administrative law research is beyond the scope of this guide. Research guides published by other libraries provide information about administrative law research in the state, including:
The New York Law Reporting Bureau provides free online access to the New York Official Reports, which includes decisions from the Court of Appeals, the Appellate Division, the Appellate Term, and the Supreme Court. Date coverage is from 1956 to the present, and a slip opinion service (providing accessing to opinions for recently-decided cases) is also available. Although this resource is maintained by Westlaw, citator service (KeyCite) is not provided.
HeinOnline's State Reports: A Historical Archive includes a large collection of historical reporters for New York state courts. Coverage of the mid-to-late 1800s, from courts throughout the state, is particularly strong in this collection.
Through its Caselaw Access Project (CAP), the Harvard Law School Library Innovation Lab (LIL) has digitized all U.S. federal and state case law published through 2018 -- roughly 40 million pages of court decisions.
CAP includes the text of more than 1,100,000 cases for New York courts.
This collection was launched publicly in October 2018 and is available online through https://case.law/. The data is accessible through an open-source API and as bulk-data downloads.
For more information about CAP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find New York state court filings in Bloomberg, click Dockets on the homepage. You can then configure the search page to search New York court dockets. Coverage varies by court.
Westlaw's New York page includes links to its New York State Dockets library, as well as collections of New York Trial Court Documents and New York Briefs.
HeinOnline's New York Court of Appeals Records and Briefs library provides digitized access to briefs filed in New York's highest court. Coverage is from October 2003 to the present, updated monthly. Older records and briefs from this series, going back to 1975, are available in the law library's microfilm collection.
LLMC, a subscription database, provides access to historical records and briefs for the New York Court of Appeals (1847-1956). On the LLMC homepage, click the Search Collections link on the right side, then click the Records and Briefs tab, and New York.
Pattern jury instructions can be a helpful tool for understanding statutory law because they are created with a non-lawyer audience in mind.
The nycourts.gov website includes a collection of general applicability jury instructions, organized alphabetically by topic and downloadable as Word, Word Perfect, and PDF documents. These documents are annotated, with citations to relevant statutory provisions and case law.
New York jury instructions are also available through Westlaw and Lexis, linked to on the New York state law collection page in each database.
Why reinvent the wheel? Sample forms that adhere specifically to New York's legal requirements are available for you to download, edit, and save through both Westlaw and Lexis.
From the Westlaw home page, access sample legal forms by clicking State Materials > New York > New York Form Finder.
From the Lexis Advance home page, click New York > All New York Forms.
In both of these form pages, you can search by keyword or browse by source. In Westlaw, you can also browse by topic.
The Practical Law feature in Westlaw provides practitioner-oriented content, including standard documents and clauses, checklists, current awareness sources, and more. New York-specific materials are included. Practical Law is a popular resource in many law firms, so law students who plan to practice in New York should become familiar with it.
To access this resource, from the Westlaw homepage, click State Materials > New York > Practical Law New York.
From the Practical Law New York page, you can browse by practice area (Commercial Transactions, Corporate / M&A, Labor & Employment, Litigation, Real Estate, and Trusts & Estates) or by resource type.
The Practice Advisor tool in LexisAdvance (sometimes called Lexis Practice Advisor or LPA) includes several resources for New York state law. This tool is popular in law firms that subscribe to LexisAdvance, so law students planning to practice in New York should become familiar with it.
Access: click the Product Switcher icon at the top left corner of the LexisAdvance homepage (it's a box with little boxes inside it). Then, click Lexis Practice Advisor. On the Practice Advisor home page, click Jurisdiction, then click New York. From here, you can browse by practice area or by content type, or run a search.
Continuing legal education (CLE) is available online through the New York State Bar Association. For more information, visit http://www.nysba.org/CLE/.
Selected CLE materials for New York are available in Westlaw, through the City Bar Center for CLE collection.
For help, visit the HLSL Ask a Librarian website: http://asklib.law.harvard.edu.
This site includes links to all of our research guides, contact information for the research librarians (phone, text, email, chat), and a schedule of our training classes.