Free Legal Research

Legal research differs from other types of research because it requires a comprehensive understanding of legal authority.   Sosis Law, LLC can help with legal research to support your case.  Read below for some research tips.



Legal Research Tutorial

This website provides an introduction to legal research. The website includes a large amount of free legal research methods you can use to represent yourself in court. But you must learn how to conduct legal research first before you can sort through the free legal research methods. To that end, the website provides you with a basic introduction, framework, and strategy for conducting legal research. It introduces you to how legal research works as a process and some of the vital skills you will need to present a strong legal argument.

Legal research differs from other types of research because it requires a comprehensive understanding of legal authority. Legal Authority is any published source of law that presents the legal rules, legal doctrine, or legal reasoning that may be used as the basis for legal decisions. Whether you are prosecuting or defending a law suit, good legal research skills are invaluable if you intend to represent yourself in court. These skills enable you to search for legal authority that can be applied to a given set of facts and issues.

The five-step legal research process below will help you find the relevant legal authority for arguing your case. The order of these steps is not etched in stone. There is no single best way to conduct legal research. So the five steps should not be applied blindly as they may vary in your particular case, as explained further below. Before you can begin you should review and understand the definitions in Appendix "A". These definitions contain legal terms that are going to be important as you go through this material. If at any time you need to go back and review the definitions, definitely do that.

The Five-Step Process for Conducting Legal Research:

1. Review Preliminary Considerations to Legal Research;
2. Conduct a Background Analysis using Secondary Sources of Law;
3. Find Primary Sources of Law (Binding precedent);
4. Check for persuasive precedence; and
5. Refine, double-check, and update your work.

As you become more experienced with the legal research process these five-steps will become more intuitive.


What is Legal Research?

Legal research is the process of finding solutions to legal problems. You conduct legal research because you want (or need) to solve a problem. This makes the goal of legal research finding a solution or conclusion to your problem. This process requires analyzing the facts, finding relevant statutes and cases, interpreting them, and applying them to your particular legal problem. The process begins with you thoroughly understanding your problem and how the law applies to solving it.

An initial step in conducting legal research is to familiarize yourself with the types of materials that constitute "the law," the relationships between these materials, and their relevance to the problem you're trying to solve. In the process of researching a legal problem, you will need to consult statutes (laws enacted by legislature), cases (court opinions that generally interpret statutes), and/or regulatory materials (administrative agency regulations and decisions). All these types of materials are considered "primary sources."

A major challenge for a novice researcher is to identify the legal issues. Lawyers sometimes call this process issue spotting because it requires using facts to trigger questions about what law and rules might apply. The process begins by asking the question: What legal issues must be answered to solve this legal problem? Developing the correct answers to this question is the starting point for focused legal research. The importance of issue spotting explains why most first year law students are taught "substantive law". Substantive law provides you with the rules the govern civil behaviors in property, criminal, torts, and contract law. This enables lawyers (or you) to detect issues. The bottom line is that issue spotting is the most critical skill in determining how to conduct your legal research, which types of materials apply to your legal problem, and what information should be included in documents you file with the court.

Civil Procedure

Civil Procedure are the rules governing litigation. When you think about Civil Procedure think of a boxing match between two boxers. The match always includes managers, promoters, spectators, and at least one physician. But there is always a referee too. The referee is always right in the middle of the ring, overseeing and directing the boxers during the entire match. In litigation you might equate the litigants (parties to a lawsuit) with the boxers and the judge with the referee. Like the referee, the judge is responsible for enforcing the rules. In New Jersey these rules span thousands of pages. They include hundreds of rules, subparts, case notes, and comments.

So you might be asking, if Civil Procedure concerns the rules that apply during the litigation, what does that have to do with legal research? The answer is that Civil Procedure includes other important rules that determine where (and if) the litigation can start. Namely, the subject of jurisdiction.


The power of a court to hear a case and render a judgment is known as jurisdiction. There are several types of jurisdiction. The most basic types of jurisdiction are subject-matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. It is important to understand the differences between them. Each type of jurisdiction provides the court with a certain type and quality of power which it may use to exercise power and authority over a controversy. In some cases a court's exercise of jurisdiction over a case can be contested. If a court is shown to lack jurisdiction then it is without power to act, and any action it takes is a violation of due process.

Personal Jurisdiction

Personal Jurisdiction looks at where a defendant can be sued. In other words, to which state does the defendant have enough of a relationship that it would be fair to require that defendant to go to that state and defend a lawsuit there. Personal Jurisdiction can also prevent a court from exercising power over a defendant if doing so would "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Before a court can exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant it must be located in a state that has some connection to the defendant or with the matter that gave rise to the lawsuit. Notice that when we talk about personal jurisdiction we refer to the defendant; not the plaintiff. This is because the plaintiff is the party that files the complaint to forcibly bring the defendant into court. Hence it would be the defendant who is most likely to challenge the court's power to hear the case.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Subject Matter Jurisdiction is a court's legal authority to adjudicate a specific category of cases based on the subject matter of the dispute. New Jersey courts have rules about the type of cases that can be filed and in which courts. These rules govern the courts' subject-matter jurisdiction. A court having subject-matter jurisdiction can only act if it has jurisdiction over either of the litigants as well. An objection to subject matter jurisdiction may be made at any time. In cases involving divorce, it is improper for the court to act if they do not have jurisdiction, even if the parties consent.

New Jersey Statutes of Limitation (SOL)

Statutes of limitation are laws passed by the legislature that set time limits on a plaintiff's right to sue a defendant. When a plaintiff misses the cutoff date, the defendant can use the statute of limitations as a defense against the lawsuit. If the defendant establishes that the statute of limitations applies and that the time to file a lawsuit has run out, the court will normally dismiss the case, unless some rare exception applies that may extend the filing deadline. Appendix "B" contains a list of New Jersey Statutes of Limitation, the type of case they apply to, and their respective authorities. Knowing the statute of limitations that may apply to your case is the first step before filing a lawsuit.

The New Jersey Court System

The New Jersey Courts comprise the judicial branch (judiciary) of New Jersey's government. The functions of the Courts revolve around adjudicating disputes through the application and the interpretation of laws. You can find a map and description of the New Jersey Court System in Appendix "C".

The Mission Statement of the Judiciary states that the New Jersey Courts "are an independent branch of government constitutionally entrusted with the fair and just resolution of disputes in order to preserve the rule of law and to protect the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States and this State."

Types of Cases

New Jersey courts deal with two basic types of cases: civil cases and criminal cases. Civil cases are disputes between parties which typically arise because one person or entity sues another for money or some other remedy they may be entitled to. Criminal cases are where the government charges a person with a crime and the courts must determine their innocence or guilt.

Types of Courts

The courts in New Jersey are composed of trial courts and the appellate court. Most cases start and end in trial courts. Trial courts hear the facts of the case and decide which side is right and which is wrong. They are described below.

The Civil Division

The Civil Division consists of three operational parts: Civil Part, Special Civil Part, and Chancery, which includes the General Equity and Probate Parts.

Civil Part

In the Civil Part, there is no monetary limit on the value of cases that may be filed. Either party in a Civil Part case may request a jury trial. A jury in a civil case typically consists of six persons. Like all trial court cases the Civil Part includes a discovery process that allows each side the opportunity to learn about the other side’s case. The purpose of the pretrial discovery rules is to ensure that there are no surprises at the time of trial and that the end result of a case is based upon the actual merits of a case. During pretrial discovery, each side learns the evidence that will be used at trial to support either side’s case.

There are approximately 95,000 cases filed in the Civil Part each year. A case gets started in the Civil Part by the filing of a complaint and case information statement and the requisite fee with the court.

Special Civil Part

The Special Civil Part is the civil court of limited jurisdiction. The Special Civil Part is a high volume court that deals with three case types: landlord/tenant matters, small claims lawsuits up to $3,000 and up to $5,000 for actions to recover security deposits and special civil lawsuits up to $15,000.

Typical small claims and Special Civil lawsuits include breach of a written or oral contract, return of money used as a down payment, loss or damage of property caused by a motor vehicle accident, back rent, bad checks, return of a tenant’s security deposit, payment for work performed, or defective merchandise.

Landlord/tenant matters involve disputes between landlords and tenants. A landlord may file a complaint against a tenant for failure to pay rent, continued disorderly conduct, willful destruction of property, habitual lateness in the payment of rent, violation of the rules and regulations after a written notice to comply as outlined in a lease or document, or a tenant’s conviction of a drug offense or other offenses.

General Equity

Complaints filed in the Chancery Division, General Equity are for what is known as equitable relief rather than monetary compensation. This usually involves the court’s compelling or restricting the actions of one of the parties (such as labor injunctions, foreclosures, and dissolution of a partnership or corporation). General Equity judges have jurisdiction to grant relief in the following areas:

Enforcing the performance of contracts, trusts and fiduciary obligations;
Re-executing or correcting documents lost or erroneously drafted;
Setting aside transactions that were illegal, fraudulent, etc.;
Executing writs of attachment;
Stopping actions that will cause irreparable harm; and
Granting the reacquisition of property upon default of mortgage or tax payments in foreclosure actions.

Probate Part

Judges in the Chancery Division, Probate Part hear cases seeking equitable remedies such as execution of a will, appointment of guardians, and distribution of estates. The probate court’s jurisdiction is generally over the following areas:

Resolving will contests;
Distributing estates;
Establishing guardianships to protect persons who are mentally incapacitated and children; and
Completing gifts of money or property according to the donor’s intent.

The Criminal Division and Criminal Justice Process


The criminal division of the Superior Court manages criminal complaints from the time they are issued to their resolution or disposition. The defendant is charged with an offense as a result of a formal complaint issued by a law enforcement agent or a citizen who believes that an offense has been committed against their person or property. A criminal case also can result from an indictment by a panel of citizens called grand jury, who are gathered to consider evidence. Arrests can occur at the scene of a crime or based on warrants or sworn statements ordering a court appearance. All arrests must be based on probable cause, which means there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offense has been committed and that the defendant may have committed the offense.

Complaints state the reasons for the charge, and refer to offenses listed in the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice (Title 2C). Criminal offenses are heard or considered in the Superior Court and are more serious than non-criminal charges heard in municipal courts where the offense occurred. Defendants found guilty or convicted of crimes face more serious consequences, with punishment ranging from probation supervision and fines to the loss of liberty through confinement for a year or more. Crimes are classified by degree. Degrees range from first to fourth. A first degree crime carries the potential penalty of 10-20 years in prison. A second degree crime carries the potential penalty of 5-10 years. Defendants who are convicted of first and second degree crimes face a presumptive term of incarceration. It is assumed that they will be sentenced to serve time in prison. A third degree crime may result in 3-5 years if convicted, while fourth degree crimes carry a potential penalty of up to 18 months in jail. There is a presumption of non-custodial sentenced for third and fourth degree offenses. Complaints heard in municipal courts are disorderly persons offenses or petty disorderly persons offenses, which carry less restrictive punishment upon conviction. Disorderly persons offense may result in up to 6 months in jail. Petty disorderly persons offenses may render up to 30 days in jail.

First Appearance and Setting Conditions of Pretrial Release

Once a complaint is issued, a defendant is either arrested on a warrant or issued a summons to appear in municipal court or Superior Court on a first appearance, which is the defendant’s first appearance before a judge. As part of the criminal justice reforms implemented on January 1, 2017, the first appearance for defendants arrested on a complaint-warrant must occur within 48 hours of the defendant’s commitment to the county jail. During the first appearance, a judge will set conditions of pretrial release for eligible defendants, order pretrial detention in certain cases or set a bail. If the defendant fails to appear for the first appearance, a warrant may be issued for his or her arrest by a judge.


Another aspect of criminal justice reforms implemented on January 1, 2017, is that bail is applicable in a very limited number of cases. Defendants who were arrested prior to January 1, 2017 still have a constitutional right to bail. If bail is posted, defendants are released until the charges listed in the complaint are resolved. Defendants can be required to post funds or property to assure that they will appear in court in the future. They may be required to deposit funds or property in exchange for a promise to appear. If defendants have significant ties to the community, or no criminal history, they may be considered for a Release on Own Recognizance (ROR), which is an affidavit certifying that they are aware of the charges levied against them and will appear in court to face them. Defendants also might be required to give a personal bond, which is a promise to appear or face a judgment, whereby a specified amount of money is forfeited. Some defendants pay a bail bondsman to post funds on their behalf. These defendants may be ordered to post a higher bail, or have no bail set. They will remain in jail until the charges are disposed. If they are released and appear in court as required, bail money may be refunded in full upon the case resolution or disposition. Once defendants are released, bail is discharged to the surety.

When a bail is set, bail investigations may be ordered by a Superior Court judge in the criminal division. Criminal division bail investigators collect information on the defendant's ties and standing in the community in addition to the names, addresses, dates of birth, employment, criminal record, mental health and drug abuse history. They also investigate and report on a defendant's amenability to bail. Bail investigation reports consider the seriousness of the offense and the severity of punishment upon conviction as well as the defendant's family ties and financial status. All of these factors are considered in light of the probability that the defendant will appear for trial or other court events. Bail investigators report to the judge, who hears evidence from the defense and prosecution and decides the amount and form of bail to be set, if any.

Right To Counsel

At their first appearance, defendants also are advised of their right to counsel. This means that they are entitled to have an attorney represent them and answer the charges. If they indicate that they are unable to afford an attorney, criminal division staff are assigned to conduct indigence investigations. These investigations consider the defendant’s assets and liabilities and can result in a recommendation that cases be assigned to a public defender if a defendant is unable to afford a private attorney. Private attorneys are usually either self-employed or work for private law firms that charge an hourly rate for services. In making indigence determinations, staff review the defendant’s tax returns, credit and wage records and any other relevant information regarding the ability of defendants to hire their own attorney. If a defendant is determined indigent, a public defender or a pool attorney is assigned to handle the case until it is resolved. If the investigation reveals assets or it is determined that a defendant has some means to pay for an attorney, the application may be denied. A criminal division judge may make the final decision to order a defendant to hire an attorney, allow pro se (self) representation, or order a defendant to consult an attorney who may take their case at a reduced rate.

Pre-Indictment Events

Following the filing of a complaint and the first appearance, the prosecutor’s office in each county determines whether to pursue the case further. Prosecutors determine if cases have merit and sufficient evidence to pursue a conviction. In most counties, the prosecutor’s case screening unit reviews police reports and interviews victims and witnesses to determine if the original charges will be prosecuted. If there is insufficient evidence, the charges are downgraded to disorderly person offenses or remanded back to the municipal court for a hearing or dismissed.

Substance Abuse Evaluations

According to state and federal estimates, up to 70% of all persons charged with a criminal offense are impaired with drugs during the crime. Substance abuse evaluators interview defendants charged with drug and property offenses to determine the extent of their involvement with drugs. Working within the criminal division’s treatment assessment services for the courts (TASC), these professional evaluators interview defendants, subject them to urine screening to identify current drug use, and prepare drug assessment reports for criminal judges. The reports detail drug abuse histories, identify treatment needs and recommend counseling at local drug and alcohol treatment centers when support is needed to overcome the addiction. Judges may order defendants into drug or alcohol treatment as a condition of their pretrial release or probation. This program is helpful to judges when determining appropriate community support systems for defendants who are released from jail. Failure to complete treatment may result in sanctions, including probation revocation with a loss of liberty. For some defendants who suffer from severe drug addictions, receiving treatment arranged and mandated by the courts becomes not only a choice between jail and community living, but one of life and death.

Plea Bargains

In many cases, the prosecutor and a defendant’s attorney will negotiate a plea bargain. In a plea agreement, the prosecutor may offer the defendant an arrangement with a reduced term of incarceration or probation in exchange for a guilty plea. In some instances, the charges are downgraded or dismissed as part of the plea agreement. Maximum sentence terms also could be part of negotiated agreements. Criminal Division individual judge teams, managed by team leaders, coordinate court dates with the prosecutor and the defense attorney regarding the plea agreement and establish a court date for the plea to be entered on record. Defendants entering a plea must sign a statement certifying that they understand the plea and are entering into the agreement voluntarily and without pressure from the prosecution or their own attorney. They also acknowledge that the Criminal Division judges are not bound by the agreement when deciding and rendering sentences. If a judge perceives that the plea bargain is too lenient, the judge can reject the plea and order the prosecution and defense parties to renegotiate, or order the matter set down for trial. Defendants who plead guilty to crimes are subject to a presentence investigation, which is conducted by probation officers in the Criminal Division.

The Criminal Practice Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts tracks all criminal cases in all counties from the time a complaint is issued to its disposition in order to create statistical reports and monitor backlog.

Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI)

Criminal division probation officers conduct investigations on adult defendants who apply for Pretrial Intervention. This is a diversionary program that permits certain defendants to avoid formal prosecution and conviction by entering into a term of court supervised community living, often with counseling or other support. Criminal division managers direct this program. Probation officers conduct investigations into the history of all applicants to ensure their eligibility. Their reports aid the Criminal Division Manager and the prosecutor in deciding whether to recommend approval, and they also assist criminal judges in determining if defendants will be admitted. Defendants opting for this program apply directly to appropriate criminal division manager’s office. Admission to PTI requires the consent of the prosecutor, the criminal division manager and the judge.

Defendants charged with violent offenses generally are not admitted. Probationers and parolees also are generally excluded since they have prior convictions. Persons accused of racketeering or organized crime are generally not admitted as well as public officials who are accused of abusing their positions for personal gain against the public trust. Prosecutors must be consulted before an applicant charged with a first or second degree crime can even be considered for PTI.

The objective of PTI is to provide an incentive for first time non-violent offenders to rehabilitate. Conditions attached to judicial orders for PTI may require defendants to obtain a substance abuse evaluation from TASC, participate in substance abuse or mental health counseling or community service, or submit to urine testing, pay restitution and fines, or give up a firearm or a driver's license. Participants have criminal charges formally suspended for up to three years. Once a participant completes the program, charges are dismissed. However, if defendants fail to complete special conditions attached to their term of PTI supervision, they can be terminated from the program. The termination triggers resumption of the formal criminal process. Those defendants may face indictment and trial, and if convicted, face the penalties prescribed by the Criminal Code. The Administrative Office of the Courts maintains a computer registry of all PTI applicants to ensure that a person is not admitted into PTI more than once.

The Grand Jury and The Indictment Process

If a criminal case has not been downgraded, diverted or dismissed, the prosecutor will present the case to a grand jury for an indictment. The grand jury is composed of a group of citizens who have been selected from voter registrations, drivers’ licenses and tax lists. It is their civic duty to serve. The grand jury considers evidence presented by the county prosecutor and determines if there is sufficient evidence to formally charge defendants and require them to respond to the charge(s). An indictment is not a finding of guilt. Neither the defendants nor their attorneys are present. Witnesses normally testify regarding the crime. After considering the prosecutor’s evidence, if a majority of the 23 jurors vote to indict, the defendant must face further criminal proceedings. This finding is a true bill that triggers further proceedings in the Criminal Division of Superior Court. If a majority finds the evidence to be insufficient to indict, the grand jury enters a no bill and the charge(s) are dismissed. The jury may, however, decide to charge the defendant with a less serious offense, to be downgraded or remanded to the municipal court. The defendant must then appear in municipal court to face a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons charge.

The Arraignment

An arraignment is the formal notification of the charges against the defendant. The arraignment occurs within 14 days if the indictment. Upon notification by the criminal division, the defendant must appear before a judge for the arraignment. Defendants may wish to apply for public defender representation at this point if they are not yet represented. Prior to this conference, discovery or evidence is available to defense counsel. This exchange of evidence provides the defense with an opportunity to review the evidence the prosecution intends to use against the defendant prior to the conference. After reviewing the discovery provided prior to the arraignment, the defendant may decide to apply for Pretrial Intervention (PTI), or to enter plea bargain negotiations. Defendants also may indicate their intention to plead guilty to the charge for which they were indicted. If a guilty plea is entered at the formal arraignment, criminal division judges order a presentence investigation to be conducted by criminal division probation officers. Sentencing will follow the presentence investigation, generally four to six weeks after convictions.

Disposition/Status Conferences and the Pretrial Conference

Defendants who have pleaded not guilty at this point may continue plea negotiations or preparation for trial. Pretrial case resolutions may occur at a disposition/status conference, where a defendant may decide to enter a guilty plea with or without a negotiated plea bargain.

At the pretrial conference, defendants may enter a guilty plea to the charges. A plea cutoff date is set, after which no further plea negotiations can occur. If no agreement to plead guilty is reached, the matter will proceed to trial. Criminal division staff track conferences to ensure that cases are moving without undue delays.

The Criminal Practice Division at the Administrative Office of the Courts evaluates statistics entered by staff in each criminal court to monitor the overall case movements statewide. It also assists local court staff to address backlog if it should occur.


Starting on January 1, 2017, the Criminal Justice Reform laws required certain speedy trial deadlines. Defendants have a constitutional right to a jury trial, but may opt to forego this right in favor of a trial by a judge in the Criminal Division of the Superior Court. Once a case has been tried, there are two outcomes. Defendants are found either guilty or not guilty by a jury or judge. Normally, an acquitted person has no further obligation to the court unless they face new charges. Prosecutors have no right to appeal acquittals and defendants may not be charged twice for the same offense. Defendants who are found guilty or convicted face sentencing, where punishments are rendered by the judge who tried the case. Once a trial is concluded, the criminal judge orders a presentence investigation by the criminal division on all defendants who have been convicted. Judges also set a date for sentencing.

Presentence Investigation Reports and Sentencing

Criminal division probation officers prepare presentence investigation reports (PSIs) for criminal judges who render sentences on all convicted defendants. The presentence investigation report is designed to assist a judge in weighing the circumstances of the crime and a defendant's criminal and juvenile record and overall life situation to the severity of the sentence. The presentence investigation report provides a uniform assessment of a defendant's overall family, medical and criminal background. Offense circumstances are summarized, as are statements received from victims and their families. Assessments of drug abuse history and the amenability to probation supervision and treatment are addressed. Financial conditions of defendants are considered, since most sentences involve a fine, penalty or restitution to a victim. Assessments of the defendant’s situation and the suitability for probation also are discussed. Reports generally recommend either prison or probation. Judges are not bound by the probation officers’ advice in the report, but their insight is essential in the criminal sentencing process.

Judges consider the degree of harm and hardship imposed on victims and their families. Mitigating factors or reasons explaining the crime in the light of a defendant's past or present circumstances weigh against aggravating factors, which are elements that speak to the severity of the crime. Prior criminal record weighs heavily. It is an indicator of a defendant's potential for rehabilitation based on his past history as well as the risk posed for another crime if probation is ordered.

In most cases, sentencing judges have some discretion or choices on how they will sentence convicted defendants within the parameters of the Criminal Code. This discretion may extend to whether a defendant must serve time in prison or receive a term of probation. Of course, a judge's discretion may be limited if there is a plea agreement that contains a sentencing recommendation. Some crimes, such as convictions for using a gun during a robbery, carry mandatory prison terms. The judge must sentence a defendant to prison for at least a minimum term.

Post-Conviction Motions

Defendants who are convicted of crimes may appeal their cases to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, which reviews trial records and decides if decisions made by judges in the Superior Court are fair and equitable. Defendants may file motions or requests to their sentencing judge to have sentences modified or for other relief.

Teams in Criminal Division Case Processing

Criminal Division offices are organized into "teams." There are individual judge teams, where each criminal judge is assigned a team leader with a team of clerical staff, a court clerk, a group of probation officers, and investigators, all of whom perform the work on the cases to be heard by the team's trial judge. Each team conducts calendar management and scheduling of all court events for that particular judge. The team also completes pretrial intervention reports and presentence investigation reports for the judge and provides courtroom support and computer data entry, manages active court files and records, and coordinates court dates with prosecutors and public defenders, who also are assigned to the judge. Team members work in unison and one member can generally perform the work of other members within that team. Their familiarity with each other's work and their judge improves efficiency and the overall case flow.

The Appellate Division

The Appellate Division of the Superior Court hears appeals from decisions of the trial courts, the Tax Court, and State administrative agencies. The Appellate Division decides approximately 6,500 appeals and 10,000 motions each year. An appeal is where one side in the case - almost always the losing side - argues that there was an error in the proceedings of the court that just heard the case. There can be multiple levels of Appeals. For instance if one side feels that the proceedings used by an appellate court were wrong they can appeal it to a higher level court. Note however that if an appeal is successful the case might not end. Instead, the appellate court might send the case back to the trial level to be redone with the error corrected. This is called a "remand."

The Appellate Division is generally composed of 32 judges who sit in two and three judge panels chosen from parts consisting of four judges. The Appellate Division considers appeals timely taken as of right from the final judgments of the Law Division and the Chancery Division of the Superior Court, final judgments of the Tax Court and final decisions of state administrative agencies. Litigants requiring Appellate Division review of interlocutory or interim orders of a trial court or agency may do so only with leave of the Court. This requires the filing of a motion for leave to appeal, which may be granted and ruled upon immediately, granted and permitted to be processed for a later determination, or denied. If leave is denied, the party seeking review may do so as of right following the final judgment of the trial court or final decision of the administrative agency.

Supreme Court of New Jersey

The New Jersey Supreme Court is the state’s highest appellate court. It is composed of a chief justice and six associate justices. As the highest appellate court, the Supreme Court reviews cases from the lower courts. Most litigants must request that the Court hear their appeal by filing a petition for certification with the Court. The Court may agree to hear an appeal because it presents legal issues of great importance to the public or because the issue is the subject of conflicting Appellate Division decisions. In very limited circumstances, such as where a judge in the Appellate Division files a dissenting opinion, a party may appeal as of right to the Supreme Court. In deciding the cases that come before it, the Court interprets the New Jersey and the United States Constitution, New Jersey statutes, administrative regulations of the state’s governmental agencies, as well as the body of common law. The Chief Justice also serves as the administrative head for the court system, overseeing the management of the state's courts.



Why Legal Research is Important

Almost everything you do is regulated, mandated, controlled, or prohibited by one law or another. Even if you devoted your entire life to studying law you could never know all the laws that govern human activities. There are 50 state governments, 3,006 counties, 89,004 local governments, and 1 huge federal government in the united states. They each have the authority to create new laws every year. If each government only passed 1 law per year, you would still have 92,061 new laws each year. But that is not all. In addition to the laws passed each year, there are about seven million new cases that are filed in New Jersey's state-level courts. Many of these cases result in new "case" law that may affect everything from you to your dog or cat. So staying abreast of the law is virtually impossible.

Legal research is the process of locating those laws that relate to your legal problem.

Where to start

Often the best place to start your legal research is with a secondary source. A secondary source is a commentary on the law; not the law itself.  A good secondary source to start with will be a state treatise or a state practice guide (or handbook). The differences between the two are sometimes hard to distinguish. Practice guides generally contain forms and step-by-step instructions for achieving a specific result in a matter or how to proceed in a particular court. They are typically lawyer oriented and focus on narrower topics within the broader subject of law. Treatises on the other hand are more abstract and may provide you with a better understanding of the law. Treatises are scholarly works written by attorneys to provide comprehensive coverage of a single, broad subject. For example, Family Law treatises may cover subjects like domestic violence, insurance and inheritance issues in marriage and divorce, trial and settlement, or alternative dispute resolution (ADR). New Jersey treatises and state practice guides can be purchased at the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE) by visiting their website at: