Before you jump headlong into legal research, read your assignment carefully to figure out what your professor really wants. Do you need to track down the original legislation? Or do you need to read broadly about a topic? What sort of information is required? If your professor wrote "cases" does that mean legal cases as recorded in a court reporter? Or does it mean "examples" or "stories" or clinical case studies, or ...? Don't be shy - do talk with your professor!
Don't neglect to do your PRESEARCH! Presearch is what we do to get some background on our topic, to try to discover the boundaries and contexts... and maybe get some ideas as to where we want to focus attention. Encyclopedias are a wonderful place to look, and a good alternative or even a supplement to wikipedia. Even if you decide not to cite them in your term paper, you'll probably find that they have been very helpful for starting the project. Presearch can save you a lot of time in the long run.
Finding legal information can be very complex. In law school, graduate students take a course in their first semester devoted to just learning how to find legal information. So if you think it all appears very confusing, be reassured that you are not alone!
Fortunately, there's quite a lot you CAN find out, fairly easily. This guide will tell you how.
Two competing companies create and market legal databases to law firms and colleges, West and LexisNexis. We subscribe to the educational version of Lexis, called Lexis-Nexis Academic and to the educational version of Westlaw, called Westlaw Campus Research. It provides access to news articles as well as to contemporary legal materials - be sure to notice whether you are in the legal or news part of the database.
The versions of these two databases marketed to law firms are much more expensive, and contain additional business/financial information and more secondary legal materials. We have very limited access to one of them - Westlaw. Ask at the reference desk for more information.