Finding a Topic | Preemption Checks | Spading | Research Help | Writing Help | Visiting Other Libraries

Finding a Topic

Book Chapters

Chapter 2, "Inspiration: Choosing a Subject & Developing a Thesis" in Scholarly Writing for Law Students, 4th ed., by Elizabeth Fajans & Mary R. Falk. RESERVE KF250 .F35 2011.

Part I, "Finding What to Write About (The Claim)" in Academic Legal Writing, 4th ed., by Eugene Volokh. RESERVE KF250 .V65 2010.

Helpful Articles

Heather Meeker, Stalking the Golden Topic: A Guide to Locating and Selecting Topics for Legal Research Papers, 1996 Utah L. Rev. 917. Available from HeinOnline, LexisNexis & Westlaw.

Richard Delgado, How to Write a Law Review Article, 20 U .San Francisco. L. Rev. 445 (1986). Available from HeinOnline.

Current Awareness Databases

BNA databases provide in-depth news and analysis of current events along with applicable statutes, administrative regulations, decisions, and cases in a variety of legal subject areas including business law, criminal law, environmental law, labor law, and intellectual property. The BNA databases are excellent for current awareness of legal developments and finding a topic for a student note. BNA's U.S. Law Week publishes a list of circuit splits once per month. You will see the link on the left of the screen under "Key Features." See also BNA's flyer, entitled "Locating Paper Topics Using BNA Publications."  

CQ Researcher offers in-depth analysis of major issues in the news. CQ Weekly covers Congressional news and both provide background on public policy issues.

Blogs

The ABA maintains a Blawg Directory that is browseable by topic, if you would like to find a law blog in a particular area of law. 

The Adjunct Law Prof Blog - A section of the blog is an on-going list of Law Review Ideas

Split Circuits – A blog dedicated to tracking developments concerning splits among the federal circuit courts. (This blog is temporarily not updated since September 2013.)

Legal Research Guides

Read a legal research guide to home in on the best treatises and other sources about your topic. Pay particular attention to current awareness materials in the area of law. Georgetown Law Library has an extensive list of research guides here. Alternatively, search the Internet for: Legal Research Guide [subject], e.g., Legal Research Guide Family Law, to find a reliable, accurate guide (usually published by academic law libraries).

Preemption Checks

Preemption Checklist PDF file

Lexis and Westlaw – Note that coverage on Lexis & Westlaw generally begins around 1980. Many law reviews are not included at all, and others have only selected coverage. Do not rely solely on Lexis/Westlaw for your preemption check!

Index to Legal Periodicals - Searchable index of articles going back to 1908. Only selected full text is available; once you’ve identified a citation, you can use HeinOnline, JSTOR, or the e-journal finder to retrieve articles that ILP does not provide in full text.

HeinOnline - HeinOnline offers full-text, PDF versions of law reviews and journals going back to volume one for most American law reviews and journals. Use a field search in the Law Journal Library, and put all Boolean connectors in capital letters, e.g. AND.

Google Scholar - Searches the scholarly literature across many disciplines to help you find law and non-law articles. You can use the Library Links tool in the Settings menu to tell Google Scholar that you are affiliated with George Mason University. Then, articles retrieved by your search and available in one of library databases will be available to you after you sign in with your GMU credentials.

Other Periodical Indices – Indexes for periodicals covering many other areas of scholarship are available at the main Mason library. The most popular are: EconLit for economics articles; Business Source Complete for news and articles about business; Academic Search Complete as a catch-all for many subjects; and Factiva for newspapers. For others, browse the GMU Database Portal.

Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN) and bepress
Abstracts and full-text scholarly working papers in law, economics, and other fields. Papers are published here before submission to academic journals.

International and Foreign Law - Use the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals in HeinOnline and PAIS International to search for foreign periodicals covering foreign and international law topics.

Writing Help

Elizabeth Fajans.  Scholarly Writing for Law Students:  Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes, and Law Review Competition Papers.  Law Library – RESERVE KF250.F35 2011 (older editions on the Third Floor).

Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, and Seminar Papers. Law Library - RESERVE KF250 .V6 2010 (older editions on the Third Floor). 

Bryan A. Garner, The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style, 3d ed. Law Library - REFERENCE KF250 .G375 2013 (older editions on the Third Floor).


Spading

Citations

Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations. Online, free. Enter a title to find the abbreviation; or enter the abbreviation to find the title.

Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations. Copies are available at the Circulation Desk, in the Reference area (KF246.B46 2001), and on Lexis. 

World Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (Reference collection, K89.K38) if your cite is not listed in Bieber’s. 

Books

Start with the GMU Catalog. We share the catalog with the main campus library. If your book is located at another campus library, request it using the ILLiad request form. For more information on borrowing from other libraries see the Borrowing from Other Libraries page.

If GMU does not own your book, use WorldCat to find all the necessary information for filling out the ILLiad request formMost importantly, please include the OCLC, or Accession, number in your request form. This unique identifier ensures that we borrow the precise edition of the book you are requesting.

Loans from other libraries can take up to 10 days, so plan ahead when possible. It may be faster for you to visit another library yourself. Use WorldCat to see whether a local library owns your material. See below for details on visiting other law libraries in the region.

Articles

Check the GMU E-Journal Finder to locate electronic copies of journals.  Follow the link to the database noted for your journal. Some journals are available in PDF files, others are not. Links to HeinOnLine and JSTOR will surely include the full text in PDF format. Except for very recent articles, nearly all law review articles are available in HeinOnLine in PDF format.

If the journal is not available electronically using the E-Journal Finder, check the GMU catalog for print copies. For articles in journals not in the law library, you can request articles using the ILLiad request form. Include the ISSN or OCLC number of the journal in your request form. Also be sure to include the necessary information for the lending library to find and photocopy the article you want – author, title, page range, etc.

ILL for articles is usually fast because lending libraries normally photocopy and fax or email the article to us.

For more detailed information on finding articles, please see our Journal Databases research guide.

Congressional Materials

You can find many Congressional documents, including bills, Senate and House reports and documents, hearing transcripts, legislative histories, and the Congressional Record in the ProQuest Congressional database. Many of these documents are available in PDF format. Coverage of the Congressional Record and House and Senate reports is extensive, going back to the early sessions of Congress. If a compiled legislative history is available, then ProQuest Legislative Insight is an easier to use alternative.

Many congressional materials, bills, and laws from 1993 forward are also available in PDF format at FDsys.gov.

For PDF versions of Public Laws published in United States Statutes at Large use HeinOnLine (1789 to 2008) or the free FDSys (1951 to 2010, and Public Laws as slip laws 1994 to present). The FDSys versions are official and certified to be authentic and unaltered from their original form. 

To track the status of a bill in the current Congress, track the status of any bill from 1973 to present, or find Senate and House reports related to bills from 1995 forward, you can use Congress.gov.

For more detailed information on finding congressional material, please see our Federal Legislative History research guide.

USC, CFR, and Federal Register (FR)

HeinOnline provides comprehensive coverage in PDF of the USC, CFR, and Federal Register (FR) as follows: USC (1925 to present), CFR (1938 to present), and FR (1936 present).

The Government's free FDSys provides PDF versions of the USC (1994 to present), CFR (1996 to present), and Federal Register (1994 to present), too. The FDSys versions are official and certified to be authentic and unaltered from their original form.

Litigation Filings/Court Documents

Federal court dockets (except for the United States Supreme Court) are searchable on Bloomberg Law--Search Dockets in the Litigation & Dockets tab. The underlying documents are available (in PDF format) so long as they were electronically filed with the court originally. Bloomberg Law waives the fee for academic users. Docket coverage goes back to the 1980's for most courts, but the underlying documents are only available since about 2000 (it varies by court). If you need assistance retrieving a federal court document, please consult with a reference librarian.

Newspapers

The law library keeps a couple of weeks' worth of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and the Washington Business Journal, as well as the American Lawyer, Lawyers Weekly, and Virginia Lawyers Weekly. Ask at the circulation desk.

Historical Newspapers in PDF

Proquest Historical NewspapersAtlanta Constitution 1868-1945; Baltimore Sun 1937-1987; Boston Globe 1872-1981; Chicago Defender 1910-1975; Chicago Tribune 1849-1987; Christian Science Monitor 1908-1999; Los Angeles Times 1881-1989; NY Times 1851-2009; Wall Street Journal 1889-1995; Washington Post 1877-1996.

American Periodical Series - Lesser known and short run American newspapers, magazines, and journals from 1740 to the mid 1940's. Examples include: New Englander (1843-1885) and Outing Magazine (1906-1911).

Nineteenth Century US Newspapers – Lesser known papers from the 19th century. Examples include Montgomery Daily Advertiser (1847-1965), Raleigh Register (1800-1886), and Virginia Sentinel (1854-1868).

Early American Newspapers, 1690 to 1976 - Fully searchable issues from over 710 historical American newspapers, focusing largely on the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Harper's Weekly in HarpWeek - Digital replica of Harper's Weekly, an authoritative, illustrated political news magazine covered in HarpWeek from 1857-1912.

Times [London] Digital Archive – 1785-1985

Chronicling America: Historic America Newspapers – Free database of the Library of Congress. Digitized select, U.S. papers from 1836 to 1922.

For more detailed information on finding historical newspapers, please see the historical newspapers section of our Legal History research guide.

Contemporary Newspapers in print or PDF

The Law Library keeps a couple of recent weeks' papers at the circulation desk, and some older newspapers are digitized, but for many in between, you will have to use the ILLiad request form to request microfilm of the paper you need. Be sure to first use Lexis or Factiva to verify all the information about the article – title, author, date, page – before filling in the ILLiad request form. Below are listed the ISSN and OCLC numbers for the most commonly requested papers. For others, please use WorldCat to obtain the OCLC (accession) number that you need for the ILLiad request form.

  • The Economist – ISSN 0013-0613; OCLC 1081684 (PDF available 1843-2010 in Economist Historical Archive).
  • New York Times – ISSN 0362-4331; OCLC 1645522
  • Wall Street Journal – ISSN 0099-9660; OCLC 4299067
  • Washington Post – ISSN 0190-8286; OCLC 226935
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch – OCLC 9493729

ProQuest Digital Microfilm - Hosts selected local and national microfilmed newspapers such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. Coverage is typically from 2008 to about three months ago.

For more detailed information on finding contemporary newspapers, please see our Newspapers, Magazines, and Other News Sources research guide.

 Working Papers

SSRN: The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) provides access to working papers in social science research, including law. These papers are not necessarily in final format. You should cite to an article in a published journal, not SSRN, if it has already been published.

Overhead Book Scanner

The Library provides an overhead book scanner in Computer Lab 342. It is fairly easy to use, allowing you to quickly scan pages from books and other sources you need to assemble for spading. You can email them to yourself or save them on a flash drive. Please abide by US Copyright Law (U.S.C. Title 17).

Visiting Other Libraries

Most local undergraduate academic libraries are NOT open to the public.  Academic and other law libraries have restricted access:

Library of Congress

obtain a Reader ID Card from LC’s visitor office in the Madison building; closed stacks, book retrieval can take up to 2 hours

Georgetown Law Library

must show GMUSL ID

G.W.U. Law Library

must show GMUSL ID and a letter from GMUSL Reference Librarian

Catholic Univ. Law Library

open except during exams; must show GMUSL ID

American Univ. Law Library

open except during exams; must show GMUSL ID

Research Help

The librarians are willing to meet with all students to help with research for a scholarly paper or for help with spading assignments. The librarians use this Conference Checklist PDF file when we meet with you about the research for your note, comment, or seminar paper. This is a helpful tool for you to use while researching your paper.

The reference librarians have extensive experience in legal, business, and general research.  We each have a J.D. and a Masters in Library Science.  Please call (703-993-8076 or 703-993-8111), email, or stop by with questions (First Floor Library, Room 141).  We can save you a lot of time.

For more information on specific research topics such as Intellectual Property, Foreign and International Law, and Legislative History, consult the GMU Law Library Research Guides.

Last edited July 22, 2014