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Legal Research Basics


In the United States, there is a federal court system as well as separate court systems for each state. It is essential that attorneys understand the structure and functions of these different court systems.

Federal Court System

Court of Last Resort - United States Supreme Court

Intermediate Appellate Court - United States Courts of Appeals ("Circuit Courts")

  • 12 Regional Circuits
  • 1 Subject-based Circuit
  • California sits within the Ninth Circuit

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Trial Court - United States District Courts

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California Court System

Court of Last Resort - California Supreme Court

Intermediate Appellate Court - California Courts of Appeal

  • 6 Appellate Districts (may be divided into divisions)
  • Orange County sits within the Fourth Appellate District - Division 3

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Trial Court - California Superior Courts

  • 58 Superior Courts (one for each county; some have multiple branches)
  • Cases arising in Orange County go to the Orange County Superior Court