Tip for Quickly Finding the Relevant Court Rule

As a litigation paralegal, you need to be good at finding the relevant court rule quickly. Even with the ability to do a keyword search online, you want to make sure your results are refined so that you do not waste your time sifting through dozens of irrelevant search results.

In my first paralegal position back in the early ’90s, the partner I worked for did me a big favor for my career and I did not even know it at the time.  Every time I went to him and asked him what to do about a particular court filing or other litigation-related issues, he would answer, “I don’t know, Ann.  What do the rules say?”  I would go back to my office and spend far too long trying to find the relevant court rule. Feeling frustrated, I would think to myself, “he knows the answer, why can’t he just tell me?!” 

relevant court rule

Back then, there was no such thing as Google or online court rules. Litigation paralegals had to pull out an old-fashioned paper book and flip to the index to find the relevant court rule.

Searching the index is not the best option.

I quickly realized that going to the index was not the best way to find a relevant court rule. Most often, you need a specific rule during a specific aspect of the case. 

For example, let’s say that you have to record a final judgment and want to know what the process is.  If you look up the word “judgment” in the index (or search it in the online version now), you’re going to come up with dozens of results that relate to summary judgment motions and other things that don’t have anything to do with the steps involved in recording a final judgment.

A more efficient way of finding the most relevant court rule is to understand that all of the rules (regardless of whether it’s federal or state court) are organized in the way a case naturally proceeds through the court system.  Rules that relate to the filing of a complaint and service of process are going to be in the early sections of your court rules.  Then there will be rules relating to the motions practice, moving on to the discovery phase, the pretrial phase, the trial, and then the judgment, appeal, etc.

relevant court rule

Do these 3 things to help reduce the time you spend finding the relevant court rule. 

  1. Put together a cheat sheet like the one below. This one is based on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  You could also do something similar for state court rules.
Rule Number(s)Section
3Commencing an Action
5Service and Filing Pleadings & Other Papers
6Computing and Extending Time
7 – 16Pleadings and Motions
17 – 25Parties
26 – 37Discovery
38 – 53Trial
54 – 63Judgment
64 – 71Enforcing Judgment

As you put together your cheat sheet, you’ll notice that most local and state court rules follow the same numbering system.

2. For the sections you use most, do a more detailed listing.  Here’s one for discovery:

26Discovery, Generally
27Depositions to Perpetuate Testimony
28Persons Before Whom Depositions May Be Taken
29Stipulations About Discovery Procedure
30Depositions Upon Oral Examination
31Depositions by Written Questions
32Using Depositions in Court Proceedings
33Interrogatories to Parties
34Producing Documents, Electronically Stored Information, and Things
35Physical and Mental Examinations
36Requests for Admissions
37Failure to Make Disclosures

3. When you’re trying to find the most relevant rule, use the chart to go to that section and read the entire rule. 

As you read a rule in its entirety, you will notice that the court rules give you direction on what the court requires as part of that process.  For example, if you want to know what is required to request a physical examination of a party, rather than searching the index for “physical” or “examination” (which would give you dozens of search results) you would go directly to Rule 35 and read the rule in its entirety. 

You don’t have to memorize the court rules.

You don’t need to memorize every court rule (although that will come naturally after many years of working in litigation). As a litigation paralegal, you just need to know how to find the relevant court rule quickly.

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