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Legal Skills

This is a companion guide for a series of sessions introducing legal research resources to students in Legal Skills.

About the Restatements of the Law

Definition & Topics Covered

Restatements of the Law are secondary resources that organize and summarize the common law into concise rules. They are written by scholars in various legal fields, and while they are secondary authority many judges consider them to be particularly persuasive secondary authority. Using them effectively summarizes common law issues throughout the United States of America.

Current restatement topics include Agency, Conflict of Laws, Contracts, Employment Law, Property, Restitution, Torts, and Trusts.

Special Persuasive Authority

As secondary resources, the Restatements of the Law are not Primary Law. However, in some jurisdictions the legislative or judicial branch gives such weight to the authority of a particular Restatement of the Law that the branch adopts that Restatement as the law for that jurisdiction or recognizes that Restatement as the best authority to guide judges in interpreting the law on certain legal issues.

Selected Finding Aids

Each restatement is handled separately, so has its own finding aids. The Index and Table of Contents are common to all.

  1. Index
    • All restatements have at least one Index, and it is usually integrated into one or all of the print volumes. It is one of the first things you examine. It is an alphabetical list of every topic discussed in the restatement (or that particular volume of the restatement), and it shows you every section where each of those topics is discussed. The index may show you that your legal topic is actually discussed in multiple sections or chapters.
  2. Table of Contents
    • All restatements have at least one Table of Contents, and it shows you where restatement's authors placed your legal topic in the organizational scheme of the restatement. The titles of sections near yours could indicate that those sections have relevant information on your topic. There is even more important information you can get from the Table of Contents. The placement of your section in the restatement in relation to the other sections and chapters gives you contextual information that you can use to develop your understanding of your legal topic. (E.G. Is your section listed under a heading like exceptions or exemptions to some general rule? If so, you need to find out about that general rule, and the Table of Contents is likely to show you another section where it's discussed.)
  3. Table of Cases
    • If you know of a case relevant to your legal problem, then you can use the Table of Cases to find every section in the restatement that cites it as authority. The Table of Cases lists every case cited anywhere in the restatement. This allows you to see any other legal issues that could be related to a case relevant to your legal problem.
  4. Table of Statutes
    • If you know of a statute relevant to your legal problem, then you can use the Table of Statutes to find every section in the restatement that cites it as authority. The Table of Statutes lists every statute cited anywhere in the restatement. This allows you to see any other legal issues that could be related to a statute relevant to your legal problem.
  5. Word Searches
    • Last, least important, and often dangerous is the keyword search. Beware! (See entry under Legal Encyclopedias for the dangers of a keyword search.)

Structure a Typical Restatement Section

  1. Rule
    • In bold face, just under the section title. This summarizes the common law on the legal topic by distilling it down to one concise rule statement (or it doesn't, but that's the idea). It may be that there is too much contradictory case law on the topic, and the rule must be from the majority of jurisdictions with a note to explain the minority law, or the rule may be from the minority of jurisdictions with a note explaining why the ALI is breaking from the majority of jurisdictions.
  2. Comments
    • Comments explain the rule or an aspect of the rule.
  3. Illustrations
    • Illustrations apply the rule, or an aspect of the rule explained in the immediately preceding comment, to a fact pattern.
  4. Reporters’ Note
    • The Reporter’ Note shows the authority for the rule statement and may explain how certain comments and illustrations were derived from actual cases.
  5. Case Citations to the Restatement of Law (Pocket Part or Appendix Volumes)
    • The ALI keeps track of cases that cite each section of a restatement. This can be useful to find cases with similar facts and legal issues to the one that you are researching.

Where Located

The restatements are in print on ground floor by the main doors, and they are available electronically with HeinOnline, Westlaw, and Lexis.

Selected Restatements