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Federal Court Rules Research Guide

This guide identifies the most important sources for finding federal court rules; it identifies the materials that help in the interpretation of those rules; and finally, suggests some sources for federal procedural forms.

Introduction

This guide covers important sources for finding federal court rules as well as materials that help in the interpretation of those rules (i.e., legislative history, cases, secondary sources) and federal procedural forms.

For a quick list of sources where you can find the text of federal court rules (without detailed descriptions of the sources, and without information on secondary sources, forms, or case law) see our Federal Court Rules Chart.

For information on researching state court rules, see our State Research Guides.

Understanding Federal Court Rules

Court rules prescribe procedures for practice in the courts. They answer such questions as:

  • How is a suit filed in that court? 
  • What evidence is admissible at trial?
  • What are grounds for appeal?

There are two basic types of federal court rules:

  • rules of general applicability, which apply in all of the federal courts at a given level (e.g., the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which apply in all U.S. District Courts; or the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, which apply in all U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal), and
  • local rules that apply only in the individual courts which have adopted them (e.g., the Local Rules of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, which apply only in that specific district court).

There are also separate rules for federal courts with special jurisdiction, such as military courts, the United States Tax Court, and the United States Court of International Trade.