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Legal Research for Summer Law Clerks, Interns, & Externs: Starting Points for Pain-Free Legal Research

Introduction to Starting Points

The below boxes will provide a broad overview of how your research process should look, and tips on why and how you should use different resources. Please consult the links at the bottom of each box where appropriate, and contact the law library reference desk at if you experience difficulty accessing these resources.


Researching at UNM

Getting Started with Specific Sources


Big tips to keep in mind:

(1) At the very beginning of your research, a case is a terrible way to start. Find a secondary source or use an annotated statute

  • In NM, the best way to get to annotated statutes is to consult NM OneSource

(2) Read the primary law referenced in the secondary source

  • If common law, use research tools to find more cases on point
  • If statutory, consult annotations

(3) Review and reanalyze

  • If there is little information available or the information is ambiguous, consider looking outside the immediate jurisdiction of your issue 
  • Reanalyze, then update using citators and read the material cited
  • Reanalyze again

(4) Stop when your research becomes recursive -- if you keep seeing the same results, you have likely found all you can on a particular topic

NM OneSource is a free resource of primary authority for New Mexico as well as annotated statutes. It is the best place to go for New Mexico legal research, and externships have even reported that they want students to know how to use it in preparation for placement.

Why is it so important?

1.ANNOTATED STATUTES  #1 – both current versions and historical back to early-mid 90’s, sometimes as far as 1989
2.Both published and unpublished New Mexico judicial decisions
3.A smattering of federal opinions
4.New Mexico AG opinions
5.The NM Admin Code
6.Downloadable official court forms – editable WORD format
7.Two of our law reviews
8.New Mexico Session Laws – current legislature and historical back to 1993

Unlike Lexis and Westlaw,  NM OneSource provides the official New Mexico annotations. Under a statute, you can see the  "History" where you will find when the statutes was passed, what session law passed it, and every instance in which it was amended separated by semicolons. Below the history, you can see annotations in a grey box. These annotations contain cross references, links to decisions, and other important information about the statute. 

Consult the screen cast video at 16:46 for an example. 

Other Free Sources

  • Subject-Specific UNM Law Library Research Guides
  • Guides from other law libraries
    • Try searching Google for "research guide" [your topic here], or
    • Libguide [your topic here]
    • This works for non-legal research topics, too. 

You may not always get a specific fact pattern to work with, but when you do there are two sources that may make your work much easier to tackle. 

(1) Causes of Action (Westlaw)

  • A great source for tort-bases actions. Provides sample pleadings, leading cases and practice tips. 
  • Available on WestlawNext – there is an index available in the electronic AND print versions
  • Using the print index can often reduce frustration (as with most of West print products now available on WLN)
    • Contact for assistance with this resource
  • See screen cast video at 19:33 for example

(2) American Law Reports

  • Annotations ('articles' or 'reports')  can be especially useful for a review of caselaw across jurisdictions relative to a specific fact situation.

  • Available on both Westlaw and Lexis Nexis platforms

  • You can KeyCite/Shepardize an ALR to find citing references

  • See screen cast video at 20:38 for example and use tips


Here are some examples of great secondary sources to help you dive in to your legal research on specific topics:

Law Review Articles

You probably already know that Westlaw and Lexis have the latest-and-greatest law review articles, but as a student you have access to other good sources.

  • Legal Source

    • Can be found on the Law Library’s A-Z list of Licensed Databases

    • Indexes by subject, so it will catch relevant articles that lack the key words you might use to search Westlaw or Lexis Nexis

    • Coverage goes back to 1908 (farther than Lexis or Westlaw)

    • Find a relevant article that’s not full text? Email the article citation to the law library ( and we will try to find it for you

  • HeinOnline

    • ​Can be found on the A-Z list as well

    • Includes full-text coverage back to issue 1 for most law reviews

    • Includes some law reviews that WL and LN don’t include

Legal Encyclopedias

Generally provide a concise summary of terms and topics with annotations. A great starting place because they provide more info than a legal dictionary while being almost as easy to use. They also include citations to cases on your issue, but please note that the encyclopedias themselves are not authoritative--don't cite to them. Here are two widely-used examples:

  • American Jurisprudence 2d (Am.Jur. 2d)
    • On Lexis and Westlaw
    • Selective coverage, editors cite to only those cases they deem the best or most important
    • More likely to cover federal statutory material
  • Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS)
    • Available on Westlaw
    • Tends to be more comprehensive 
    • Cites to published cases and the USCA as well as any relevant West Digest and Key Number subjects

Nutshell Series

Provide concise intro to unfamiliar areas of law. Not available on Westlaw, but through the law library's West Academic online study aids subscription. This database can be found under "W" in the law library's A-Z database list.

If you know what you are looking for: you might have a citation in mind either because of your consultation with secondary sources, or because some one told you what they wanted you to look for. 

Try some of the following free sources-

  • Agency websites (for example, USPTO makes final decisions available on it's website)
  • Court websites (will often make opinions publicly available)
  • Legislature websites (state and federal level make a lot of information available--but note that much of this information may be non-official)
  • Google Scholar (large repository of case law, be sure to limit to "legal documents"  and jurisdiction before searching. You MUST update cases using different means as part of your ethical duty.)

And specifically for New Mexico Law...New Mexico OneSource has pages for statutes and court rules, bills, regulations, judicial opinions, and a case lookup (dockets). You can also use the court's website to look up dockets, see screen cast video at 30:39 for a walk-through on how to use New Mexico court websites for research.

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