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PRDV301: Introduction to Paralegal Studies

Unit 3: Sources of the Law   We think we know what we are talking about when we talk about the law.  But what exactly is the law, and where does it come from?  For example, the United States Supreme Court decided in 1954 that there could not be separate schools for blacks and whites in America.  Is this law?  What other sources of law are there?

In this unit, you will learn about where the law comes from.  A paralegal can have all the research skills in the world, but it will not matter much if the paralegal does not know what valid law is and what is merely commentary or opinion.  You will learn how to locate and interpret relevant court cases to assist you and the lawyers you work for in making strong legal arguments.  You will also learn how to locate statutory law – law passed by legislative bodies– and the unique challenges related to interpreting statutes.

Unit 3 Time Advisory
This unit will take you approximately 3 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 3.1: 0.25 hours

☐    Subunit 3.2: 0.25 hours

☐    Subunit 3.3: 1.5 hours

☐    Subunit 3.4: 1 hour

Unit3 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to: - Identify and locate statutory law. - Identify and locate case law. - Use legal reasoning to interpret the law. 

3.1 Where Does the Law Come From?   - Reading: B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn Correctional Center College Correspondence Program: Keith Nordyke’s Intro to Law and the Paralegal Profession: “Chapter 2: Sources of Law” Link: B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn Correctional Center College Correspondence Program: Keith Nordyke’s Intro to Law and the Paralegal Profession: “Chapter 2: Sources of Law” (PDF)

 Instructions: Now that you have familiarized yourself with the
various definitions of “law,” you need to understand where the law
comes from.  In democratic societies, the ultimate source of the law
is usually founded on a constitution with lawmaking authority in a
legislature.  In fact, there are various other sources of law in
democratic societies.  For example, consider the role of customs and
of government agencies.  Please click on the link above and read
Chapter 2, which begins on page 10.  This reading will familiarize
you with these various sources of law.  

 Reading this chapter should take approximately 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: The material above has been reposted by the kind
permission of the B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn Correctional Center College
Correspondence Program and Keith Nordyke.  Please note that this
material is under copyright and cannot be reproduced in any capacity
without explicit permission from the copyright holder.

3.2 Kinds of Law   - Reading: B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn Correctional Center College Correspondence Program: Keith Nordyke’s Intro to Law and the Paralegal Profession: “Chapter 3: Classifications of Law” Link: B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn Correctional Center College Correspondence Program: Keith Nordyke’s Intro to Law and the Paralegal Profession: “Chapter 3: Classifications of Law” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read Chapter 3,
which begins on page 19.  There are various types of law.  For
example, some law addresses the substance of a claim (e.g. did the
defendant act negligently), while other law addresses the procedure
to be used in addressing claims (e.g. what information must be
presented when a plaintiff files a claim).  In addition, some law
affects the relationship of the government to citizens, while other
law bears the relationships between private parties.  This reading
will introduce you to these and other classifications of the law.  

 Reading this chapter should take approximately 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: The material above has been reposted by the kind
permission of the B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn Correctional Center College
Correspondence Program and Keith Nordyke.  Please note that this
material is under copyright and cannot be reproduced in any capacity
without explicit permission from the copyright holder.

3.3 Fundamental Law: The Constitution   - Reading: B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn Correctional Center College Correspondence Program: Keith Nordyke’s Intro to Law and the Paralegal Profession: “Chapter 10: Constitutional Law” Link: B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn Correctional Center College Correspondence Program: Keith Nordyke’s Intro to Law and the Paralegal Profession: “Chapter 10: Constitutional Law” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read Chapter 10,
which begins on page 95.  This reading provides a comprehensive
overview of the origins and impact of the Constitution of the United
States.  This chapter includes a discussion of what a constitution
is and its relation to other law.  Be aware that constitutions can
take many forms and have many varying provisions.  In fact, the
United Kingdom operates with an unwritten constitution.  Ask
yourself: how would an unwritten constitution work?  Note also that
each state in the federal system of the United States has its own
constitution.  

 Reading this chapter should take approximately 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: The material above has been reposted by the kind
permission of the B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn Correctional Center College
Correspondence Program and Keith Nordyke.  Please note that this
material is under copyright and cannot be reproduced in any capacity
without explicit permission from the copyright holder.

3.3.1 Finding Statutory Law   - Reading: Harvard Law School Library’s “Researching Federal and State Statutes” Link: Harvard Law School Library’s “Researching Federal and State Statutes” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and read this entire
webpage.  This site provides a fairly comprehensive overview of
sources available for United States federal and state statutory
material.  This resource covers print and online sources, as well as
commercial, academic, and government sources.  Be sure to explore
sources that are freely available or that point you to freely
available statutory resources.  

 Studying this resource should take approximately 45 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

3.3.2 Interpreting Statutory Law   - Reading: University of Washington School of Law: Professor Deborah Maranville’s “How to Read a Statute: MAP It!” Link: University of Washington School of Law: Professor Deborah Maranville’s “How to Read a Statute: MAP It!” (DOC)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and then select the
link “How to Read a Statute: MAP It!”  This will take you to a Word
document in which Professor Maranville provides a very useful
approach to reading and interpreting statutes.  You are guided to
adopt a method for analyzing the statute, identify and deal with
ambiguity, and understand the policies and procedures that courts
use in reviewing statutes.  

 Reading this document should take approximately 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

3.4 Case Law   3.4.1 Finding Case Law   - Reading: Boston College Law Library’s “Finding Cases” Link: Boston College Law Library’s “Finding Cases” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the link above and under the heading
“PDF Guides” and select the “Finding Cases” link to access the PDF
file.  This guide introduces you to using print, commercial, and
online resources to find legal cases.  Note that there are an
enormous amount of cases in the United States legal system alone,
encompassing state and federal court decisions by trial,
intermediate appeals, and final appeals courts.  Without assistance,
finding a case can truly be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
 Luckily, there are various tools to help you locate cases.  Pay
particular attention in this reading to the use of digests.  Also,
note that annotated codes can be very helpful.  Lastly, be aware
that the Internet also provides access to a wide array of cases. 
Don’t forget to click on the link provided to Boston College’s Law
Library webpage to explore resources available on the Internet.  

 Studying this material should take approximately 30 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

3.4.2 Interpreting Case Law   - Reading: State University of New York at Albany: Julie Novkov’s “How to Read a Case” Link: State University of New York at Albany: Julie Novkov’s “How to Read a Case” (PDF)

 Instructions: On the linked webpage, scroll down to “Teaching
Resources,” and click on “How to Read a Case” to download the PDF. 
While the article was written for a particular course, its advice
for reading cases is generally applicable.  The article provides a
strong introduction to reading and analyzing cases for non-lawyers. 
Note particularly the doctrine of *stare decisis* and how this
impacts the evolution of case law in the United States.  You will
also need to become an expert at distinguishing issues of fact and
issues of law.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: John Jay College of Criminal Justice: Lloyd Sealy Library’s “How to Brief a Case” Link: John Jay College of Criminal Justice: Lloyd Sealy Library’s “How to Brief a Case” (HTML)

    Instructions: Interpreting a case law begins with understanding what happened in a case.  To do this, students of the law and paralegals use a somewhat standard form for “briefing a case.”  Briefing cases involves setting out the key information in a case in a logical and easy-to-use format.  As the article points out, be careful to avoid confusing this kind of briefing, which is a tool for understanding, with an appellate brief, in which attorneys lay out the legal arguments for overturning a lower adjudicator’s decision.

    Reading this article should take approximately 20 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.