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Advanced Appellate Advocacy: Creating, Drafting, and Researching a Legal Argument: Primary Sources

This guide has been designed to assist students in the Advanced Appellate Advocacy Seminar as they research and write their appellate briefs.

About Primary Sources

Primary sources are laws, orders, decisions, or regulations issued by a governmental entity or official, such as a court, legislature, or executive agency; the President; or a state governor. Examples of primary sources include court decisions, statutes, and constitutions. In appellate advocacy, the primary law includes any relevant federal and state court rules, statutes, and case law.

Federal Case Law Reporters

Rules Regarding Citation to Unpublished Opinions

Fifth Circuit Local Rules

28.7 Citation to Unpublished Opinions, Orders, etc. FED. R. APP. P. 32.1(a) permits citation to unpublished judicial dispositions. Parties citing to such dispositions must comply with FED. R. APP. P. 32.1(b). If a party does not need to submit a copy of an unpublished disposition, the party must provide a citation to the disposition in a publicly accessible electronic database.

Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure

Rule 32.1. Citing Judicial Dispositions

(a) Citation Permitted. A court may not prohibit or restrict the citation of federal judicial opinions, orders, judgments, or other written dispositions that have been:

(i) designated as “unpublished,” “not for publication,” “non-precedential,” “not precedent,” or the like; and

(ii) issued on or after January 1, 2007.

(b) Copies Required. If a party cites a federal judicial opinion, order, judgment, or other written disposition that is not available in a publicly accessible electronic database, the party must file and serve a copy of that opinion, order, judgment, or disposition with the brief or other paper in which it is cited.

Finding Federal Case Law

  • Read the cases you have for references to other cases (the “one good case” method)
  • Retrieve a known case using the name or citation
  • Use secondary sources or annotated statutes
  • Search by subject using the digest system
  • Run full-text keyword searches to find cases on important issues or cases with fact patterns similar to yours
  • Use headnotes to find cases dealing with a particular issue of law
  • Shepardize, Keycite, and BCite the case to make sure that it is good law and to lead you to additional cases

The Federal Court System

Geographic Boundaries of Federal Courts

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