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Basic Legal Research

The purpose of this tutorial is to guide a person beginning legal research on Virginia law. After completing this course you will have a basic understanding of the legal research process.

To begin, you must define your legal question. Consider whether state, federal or local law governs your legal issue. Once you have defined your legal problem, you may want to begin by using a legal research guide to better understand the process and the resources available for you.
This library has many resources both online and in print available for the legal researcher.


Internet Resources

American Association of Law Librarians Legal Research Guide
This is an excellent web site that offers a step by step approach to legal research.

Virginia Public Libraries Information Toolkit
American Association of Law Librarians provides a list of resources for researching state law. You can also research other state law resources from this website.

Top Ten Legal Research Resources on the Internet from Appalachian School of Law

Print Resources

This is not a comprehensive list. See the library catalog for other titles at Library Catalog
Legal Research: How To Find And Understand The Law
How To File For Divorce In Maryland, Virginia or the District of Columbia
Family Law And Practice
Landlord Tenant Law In Virginia

Legal Definitions

If you need definitions for legal terms try:
Black's Law Dictionary located in the Quiet Reading Room
Nolo's Everybody's Legal Dictionary
FindLaw's "Search the Legal Dictionary"
Basic Legal Citation

Self Help Guides

Self Help books are another resource available at the library. Many of the self help books are published by Nolo Press and can be found in the Quiet Reading Room. There are also additional circulating copies of many of the titles at all branches of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

Print Resources


The library has many self-help books including the following:

Represent Yourself In Court
101 Law Forms for Personal Use

For additional titles see the library catalog at Library Catalog

Encyclopedias and other Resources


Another good starting place for legal research is a legal encyclopedia. Legal encyclopedias work the same way as general encyclopedias. The legal encyclopedia for Virginia and West Virginia is Michie's Jurisprudence. Michie's can be found in the law library. The law library also owns American Jurisprudence 2d, an encyclopedia which covers the law on a national basis. Other helpful resources include the Virginia Practice Series with volumes on Business Entities, Virginia Corporations, Family Law: theory and practice and forms to name a few. Search the Library Catalog for other titles. The library owns this series in print format and also has it available through its Westlaw subscription. The library also subscribes to Virginia Continuing Legal Education (CLE) materials. In the library you will find CLE Notebooks on topics such as How To Collect Debts The Law And The Method, Medical Malpractice Law in Virginia, Debt Collection for Virginia Lawyers to name a few. These notebooks are located on the round spinner in the law library.

Online Resources for Codes and Statutes

Use the following resources to locate state, federal and local laws:

Code of Virginia
State Laws

Virginia Administrative Code

County And Municipal Codes
Click on the map of Virginia and then select the county to search the county code.

U.S. Court Of Appeals Fourth Circuit
Search for opinions, rulers and procedures and other information. The court calendar is also available at this website.

Search Virginia Supreme Court and Virginia Court of Appeals Opinions
Search for Supreme Court and Virginia Court of Appeals cases beginning in 1995.

Workers’ Compensation
Search opinions from the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Supreme Court Of Virginia Opinions
List of Supreme Court Of Virginia Opinions in reverse chronological order.

Virginia Court Of Appeals Opinions
List of Virginia Court of Appeals Opinions in reverse chronological order.

Virginia's Freedom of Information Act
Need to know if the information you seek is a public record? Check out the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and other information available on this website.

Finding Case Law


The library's Westlaw subscription is an easy way to search for caselaw. See the

Westlaw Tutorial

for an introduction to Westlaw. The library also has Virginia Digest in print in the Quiet Reading Room. To use the Virginia Digest, check the Descriptve Word Index for your topic. This will lead you to the volume and section you need which will provide citations for case law. With the citation, you can search on Westlaw for the opinion, or use our print version of Virginia Reports and Court of Appeals opinions.