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TitleLegal Research
TagsCommon Law Judiciaries Precedent Obiter Dictum Statutory Interpretation
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Total Pages17
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and economic, political, philosophical, and religious thought may manifest
themselves in law. Legal research frequently must extend to these areas,
especially when historical or policy issues are involved.

The term sources of law can also refer to the governmental institutions
that formulate legal rules. The Philippines is a democratic and republican
State.1 Although there are some variations in their structures, each of these
governments has legislative, executive, and judicial components that interact
with one another. Because all three branches of government “make law” and
create legal information that is the subject of legal research, researchers must
understand the types of information created by each branch and the
processes through which that information is created.

Finally, sources of law can refer to the published manifestations of the
law. The books, electronic databases, microforms, optical disks (CD-ROMs and
DVDs), and other media that contain legal information are all sources of law.

1. The Nature of Legal Authority

Legal authority is any published source of law setting forth legal rules,
legal doctrine, or legal reasoning that can be used as basis for legal decisions.
In discussions about legal research, the term authority is used to refer both
types of legal information and to the degree of persuasiveness of legal

When the term is used to describe types of information, legal authority
can be categorized as primary or secondary. Primary authorities are
authorized statements of the law formulated by governmental institutions.
Such authorities include the written opinions of courts ( case law),
constitutions, legislations, rules of court, and the rules, regulations, and
opinions of administrative agencies. Secondary authorities are statements

1 Art. II, Sec. 1 of the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines.

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not differ in any significant facts from the instant case. Furthermore, similar
issues must be presented in the two cases and the resolution of those issues
must have been necessary to the decision in the previous case (otherwise, the
words of the court would be dictum). Courts can reject cases put forth as
binding authority by distinguishing the cases on their facts or issues, thus
finding that the previous cases are different from the instant case in some
significant way. In some situations, a court can avoid being bound by a
previous case by finding that the rule put forth in the previous case is no
longer valid and overruling it.

By the common law doctrine of precedent or principle of stare
decisis, decided cases are usually considered to be the primary source
of law and hence, past judicial decisions are generally binding for the
disposition of factually similar present controversies. 7

Having been under the American rule, the Philippines although
primarily a “civil law country has adopted the doctrine of precedent or
stare decisis. 8

As a matter of fact, Art. 8 of the New Civil Code specifically

“Art. 8. Judicial decisions applying or interpreting the laws or
the Constitution shall form part of the legal system of the Philippines

Hence, judicial decisions or judicial precedents form part of the
legal system of the Philippines.

7 Rufus B. Rodriguez, Legal Research, Chapter 5: The Doctrine of Precedent.
8 Ibid.

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Decisions of the Supreme Court are treated as such. However,
final decisions of the Court of Appeals which under the common law
doctrine should be binding before lower courts, have not in practice
been considered so not because of lack of regard to these decisions
but primarily because these decisions are largely not reported or
published. 9

Policy considerations supporting the doctrine of precedent include the
resulting fairness, as it encourages similar cases to be treated similarly; the
predictability and stability it encourages within the legal system; and its
efficiency in terms of time and energy as it enables decision-makers to take
advantage of previous efforts and prior wisdom. Critics argue that a reliance
on precedent can result in a rigid and mechanical jurisprudence that can force
us to treat unlike cases as if they were similar; that the doctrine of precedent
can perpetuate outmoded rules; and that its inherently conservative nature
can impede the law from being responsive to new social needs.

Notwithstanding these criticisms, the doctrine of precedent remains the

foundation upon which our models of legal research are constructed. The
written opinions of courts, particularly appellate courts, are the “stuff” of legal
argument and the major source of legal doctrine. Consequently, they are the
primary, but certainly not the only, objects of legal research. Law libraries and
legal electronic databases are filled with published court opinions, along with
secondary sources and index tools to help researchers find, interpret, and
update opinions that are relevant to particular fact patterns.

4. Legislation and the Interpretation of Statutes

a. Legislation. A Statute, sometimes referred to as legislation,
is an act of legislature as an organized body, expressed in the form,


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5. Evaluating Legal Resources

When inspecting and evaluating legal resources, it is important to
determine and understand the purposes the resources were designed to
serve. An awareness of the functions, features, interrelationships, strengths,
and weaknesses of resources, whether they are traditional paper resources or
electronic resources, is valuable for effectively conducting legal research. Is
the resource part of a set, or is it designed to be used with other resources?
Does it have finding tools or special features, such as indexes and tables? Is
the text searchable electronically? How is the resource updated, and when
was it last updated? The credibility of the author, editor, publisher, ort
producer should be considered, together with the types of authority (primary
and secondary) included and the potential persuasiveness of the authority.
With the expansion of resources available on the World Wibe Web, evaluating
the resources for accuracy, credibility, and currency is increasingly important.


In 1992, a special task force of the American Bar Association on law
schools and the legal profession issued a report that stated that “[i]t can
hardly be doubted that the ability to do legal research is one of the skills that
any competent practitioner must possess.| That report also stated that “[i]n
order to conduct legal research effectively, a lawyer should have a working
knowledge of the nature of legal rules and legal institutions, the fundamental
tools of legal research, and the process of devising and implementing a
coherent and effective research design.|

Furthermore, the ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct provide: “A
lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent
representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and
preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”

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