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Fall 2024 Update: New/Newish Helpful WSU Libraries Resources and Services

JSTOR  - we have continuing access to ALL of JSTOR's journal content (including the Security Studies and Sustainability thematic collections)! This was originally set to end in June 2023, but has been extended as a permanent subscription. 

Introduction: What Law Is and How to Read a Legal Citation

What Law Is

"Law, in its generic sense, is a body of rules or action or conduct prescribed by controlling authority, and having binding legal force."  Black's Law Dictionary.

To do any legal research a knowledge of the four forms of law: Constitutional law, Statute law, Administrative law, and Case law, is essential.  "Legal research" consists of tracing the history of constitutions, statutes, court cases, and administrative regulations - looking for connections between them, and making interpretations and judgments of them.


  1. Constitutional Law: Constitutions provide the framework for the functioning of governments. They also create the “legislative body” that  governs a country or state. The United States Constitution created the United States Congress, and the Washington Constitution created the Washington State Legislature.
  2. Statute Law: Statute laws, or acts, are passed by the legislative body: Congress or the State Legislature and signed by the executive: the President or the Governor.
  3. Administrative Law: The rules, regulations, licenses and decisions made by administrative agencies that operate under the executive.
  4. Case Law: When two parties disagree about what a law means, they ask a court to make a decision as to what is the proper interpretation of the law.


How to Read a Legal Citation

Any law, court case, rule or regulation has a legal citation.  Legal citations has a specific format and it is different from the citation format used in other academic disciplines.  To do legal research you need to be able to understand a legal citation.  This is how to read a legal citation:

  • Law Name:          Civil Rights Act of 1964           
  • Legal Citation:    78 Stat 241

78 is the volume number; Stat is the abbreviation for United States Statutes at Large, the publication; and 241 is the page number.

This format - volume, abbreviation for the publication, and page number - remains basically the same for all legal materials and it is used to cite law review articles as well as other legal sources.


Legal Research Databases

Nexis Uni is the primary legal research database that is available to WSU faculty, students, and staff.  It provides full text access to a wide range of United States, state, and foreign  legal materials including codes, court opinions, law reviews and legal periodicals, as well as thousands of news sources and company information. An online guide provides a tutorial and other information on searching Nexis Uni.

A Sampling of WSU Legal/Law Journals via the Browzine tool

An interface provided by the company Third Iron, BrowZine allows patrons to browse and stay current with the electronic journals in their academic fields. BrowZine provides multiple entry points to connect with scholarly materials, including: via the BrowZine web and mobile applications and from within Search It. Learn more at

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