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Prepare to Practice: Advancing Your Legal Research

This guide introduces advanced research concepts including: 50 state surveys, legislative history, federal regulation, court dockets, sample forms, and current awareness.



This guide will walk researchers though advanced legal research concepts. These subjects are particularly useful to students starting their summer employment or a new job. Those interested in a deeper exploration, may consider taking the Advanced Legal Research course.

State Law Comparisons

50 State Surveys

Fifty state surveys help researchers compare issues of state law across multiple jurisdictions. Often these surveys will contain citations to the state law that covers the relevant issue.

Want to check out the content mentioned in the video above? See: 

For more information on comparing state law visit our Comparing State Laws and Constitutions Guide:

50 state surveys are secondary materials. Not every legal subject will be covered by these resources.

Legislative History

Finding Federal Legislative Histories

Legislative histories can help you understand the motivation behind language in a law or bill. Often federal legislative history information is already compiled and available for researchers to use.

Want to check out the content mentioned in the video above? See: 

You can create a legislative history yourself if it has not been compiled yet. Check out our Federal Legislative History Research Guide to learn how:

First, gather your legislative history materials. Then you can use the following to learn how to interpret the materials you found:

State Legislative History

For state legislative histories, the process may be more complicated. Each state creates different materials during the lawmaking process and may store those materials differently. Start your research with a legislative history research guide for the state in question. These guides typically provide a step-by-step approach to finding legislative history information in your jurisdiction.

Federal Regulation

Intro to Regulatory Materials

Federal regulation is important in a number of areas of law. There are great resources to help you get started when searching for federal regulatory material.

For more information about Administrative Law Research see our guide:

Regulation is particularly prevalent in certain areas of law. Consider using the following guides if they are relevant for you: 

Court Dockets

Locating Docket Materials

A docket is a formal recording containing “the proceedings and filings in a court case.” It often provides information that never appeared in the case decision. In some cases, a case docket may be the only source of information. For example, dockets are essential when no decision was issued or a case is ongoing.


Want to check out the content mentioned in the video above? See:

For more information see our research guide on:

To learn more about PACER visit:

Sample Forms

Locating Forms and Drafting Tools

Practicing lawyers often rely on model forms and common language, proven to withstand legal scrutiny. When creating instruments such as contracts, wills, and agreements try starting with a model document. Tailoring pre-existing language to your needs, may be better than unique expression in these circumstances.


Many platforms now offer sample forms and agreements, some at low or no cost. It is wise, however, to approach these documents with caution. Stick with well-vetted sources whenever possible. Annotated model forms can help you understand why the drafter made relevant drafting decisions. Want to check out the content mentioned in the video above? See:

For more information see our research guide on:

For more legal forms by state visit:

Current Awareness

Current Awareness Sources

Keeping current in your area of interest can be important to your work. It can also help you to develop strong relationships with legal practitioners. Choosing a few current awareness sources to check regularly can help you stay informed.


Want to check out the content mentioned in the video above? See:

To learn more about law blawgs that may be of interest to you visit:

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CC License

CC License

Creative Commons License

This guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

You may reproduce any part of it for noncommercial purposes as long as credit is included and it is shared in the same manner.