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Discovery: A Beginner’s Guide

This post was co-authored by Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, Legal Reference Specialists.

We receive a wide array of questions here at the Law Library of Congress—from detailed foreign legal research, to tracing U.S. federal legislation, and everything in between—but one area of legal research on which we consistently receive requests for assistance is the U.S. legal process.  Specifically, researchers (including pro se litigants, or those who choose to act as their own legal counsel) have many questions regarding court procedure, and the laws, rules, and conventions that dictate how litigants should proceed during a court case.

Today, we would like to focus on one area of court procedure—the discovery process.  In short, the discovery process is a method by which opposing parties in a court proceeding learn more about certain witnesses and evidence that will be presented at an upcoming trial.  While information learned during the discovery process can be extremely helpful for litigants while they prepare their cases, it can be difficult for those unfamiliar with the discovery process to not only prepare discovery motions, but also to respond to opposing counsel’s discovery motions appropriately.  Thus, we have prepared this Beginner’s Guide in order to help litigants from all walks of life become more comfortable with the discovery process.

Lawyers sign register at opening of Supreme Court. Washington, D.C., Oct. 3..., Courtesy of Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Lawyers sign register at opening of Supreme Court. Washington, D.C., Oct. 3…, Courtesy of Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Treatises

Treatises are a great way to begin your research on the discovery process. Treatises synthesize court rules, statutes, and case law into a helpful overview that is supported by citations to primary authority. Below, please see the lists of treatises we have compiled on a variety of topics related to discovery to assist you with your research:

For True Beginners

General

E-Discovery

Subject-Specific

Forms, Drafting, and Checklists

If you are unable to visit us at the Law Library of Congress, we suggest finding these resources in a library near you by using the WorldCat catalog. When you select a resource from your search results list in WorldCat, scroll down to the “Find a copy in my library” section, enter your zip code (or city and country, for those not in the United States), and WorldCat will list the closest libraries to you that own that resource.  You can then click on the library’s name to be taken to the resource’s entry in that library’s catalog.

Court Rules

Often, the general scope and method of collecting each type of discovery request is prescribed by court rules.  The current editions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and of Criminal Procedure can be found both in print and on the U.S. Courts website.  To search for state court rules, we suggest doing a subject search in either our catalog or in WorldCat, for “Court Rules–[State],” where [State] is the name of the state in which you are interested.

Online Resources

In addition to the paper-based treatises listed above, there are several online resources that provide information about discovery in civil and criminal actions, including general overviews of the discovery process, explanations of the different discovery methods, and guidance regarding discovery strategies, among many others.  We have listed several below for your review:

If you are interested in the discovery process in your state’s court system, we suggest reviewing your state court’s website to see if it has any discovery forms or additional guidance for state court litigants.

As always, we hope this, and the other Beginner’s Guides, are helpful to you.  If you have any follow-up research questions, please do not hesitate to use our Ask a Librarian service.

Are there any other helpful sources regarding pre-trial discovery you would like to add?  Please let us know in the comments!

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