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Encyclopedia > Legal research

Contents

What is legal research?

"Legal research is the process of identifying and retrieving information necessary to support legal decision-making. In its broadest sense, legal research includes each step of a course of action that begins with an analysis of the facts of a problem and concludes with the application and communication of the results of the investigation."


This article focuses on the process of finding legal documents issued by courts, legislatures and other government entities in the United States. Finding legal information in the United States can be challenging. Many lawyers use electronic databases such as LexisNexis, HeinOnline, FindUSLaw, Loislaw, LawLibrary, or Westlaw to access legal information. However, these resources may not be accessible to all. Special focus is given in this article to finding free legal materials on the Internet. As this article discusses a process, it is somewhat informal in tone. Nexis redirects here. ... HeinOnline is an internet service launched in 2000 that is a source of legal information, much like Westlaw and LexisNexis. ... The examples and perspective in this article do not represent a worldwide view. ...


The next section of this entry provides necessary background for understanding the process of legal research. Concepts such as law, legal authority and jurisdiction are taught to law students during their first year in Law School. The process of legal research is then discussed, followed by discussion of the primary sources of law (cases, statutes, and regulations). // A law school is an institution where future lawyers obtain legal degrees. ...


Background concepts

What is the law?

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law defines the law as "A rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority." In particular, it is the concept of authority that drives much of legal research. Whether searching in print or online, the challenges of legal research are usually: Authority- is a very talented rocknroll band out of Columbia, S.C. This power rock trio has its roots in rock, funk, hardcore, and a dash of hip hop. ...

  1. selecting appropriate legal authorities, and
  2. selecting appropriate search terms to find the legal rules in the resource that is being searched.

Authority: Primary versus secondary

There are many types of legal authority. However, the main distinction is between primary authority and secondary authority. Primary authority generally consists of the verbatim texts of constitutions, case law, statutes, treaties, regulations and similar materials cited in legal documents. A secondary authority leads to and explains the primary authorities. A Primary authority is a document that establishes the law on a particular issue, such as a case decision or legislative act. ... Secondary authority, in Law, is material purporting to explain the meaning or applicability of the actual verbatim texts of constitutions, statutes, case law, administrative regulations, executive orders, treaties, or similar primary authority sources. ... Case law (precedential law) is the body of judge-made law and legal decisions that interprets prior case law, statutes and other legal authority -- including doctrinal writings by legal scholars such as the Corpus Juris Secundum, Halsburys Laws of England or the doctinal writings found in the Recueil Dalloz... The Statute of Grand Duchy of Lithuania A statute is a formal, written law of a country or state, written and enacted by its legislative authority, perhaps to then be ratified by the highest executive in the government, and finally published. ... This does not cite any references or sources. ...


Because obtaining an understanding of a particular area of law by reading the cases, statutes, and regulations alone may be difficult, a common research tactic is to begin by using secondary sources to get a general overview, and then to use the secondary authority footnote references to guide the researcher to the texts of cases, statutes, and regulations.


Authority: Mandatory versus persuasive

Another major distinction is between mandatory authority and persuasive authority.


Mandatory authority is an authority that the court must follow. For a trial court, an example of mandatory authority would be a prior court decision by an appeals court that normally hears appeals from that particular trial court. For example, because decisions of the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana are appealable to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a prior decision by the Fifth Circuit court is mandatory authority for the District Court in the Western District of Louisiana. If the District Court in Louisiana does not follow a prior decision of the Fifth Circuit Court, the District Court decision may be overturned if a party appeals that court's decision to the Fifth Circuit.


Persuasive authority is one which the court may optionally follow. The fact that a particular text is a primary authority (such as a case) does not mean that the court must follow it. For example, the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana is not required to follow a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, even though the Ninth Circuit court is technically a "higher" court than the District Court in Louisiana. Decisions of the District Court in Louisiana are reviewable only by the Fifth Circuit Court, not by the Ninth Circuit Court, as noted above. Thus, decisions of the Ninth Circuit Court are only persuasive, not mandatory, for the Western District of Louisiana.


Similarly, a Pennsylvania state court is not required to follow a decision of any Alabama state court. In this instance, the primary authority from Alabama is only a persuasive authority in the eyes of the Pennsylvania court. This is a fundamental aspect of the concept of jurisdiction.


The concept of jurisdiction

Jurisdiction is the area in which a court or other government body is empowered to act. Jurisdiction is most commonly geographical but can be by subject, including bankruptcy and patent. There is a jurisdiction for the United States federal government as well as for each of the fifty states. Within each of these jurisdictions, there are organs of the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branch of government. These branches of government further subdivide. From a law librarian's view, each of these branches of government are the sources of law in the U.S. They produce books (or databases) where one can find the primary authorities associated with each of these entities. This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Notice of closure stuck on the door of a computer store the day after its parent company, Granville Technology Group Ltd, declared bankruptcy (strictly, put into administration—see text) in the United Kingdom. ... For other uses, see Patent (disambiguation). ... This article describes the government of the United States. ...


Common law versus civil law

Much of United States law comes from the common law, or courts. While legislatures can pass statutes and executive branch agencies and departments may issue administrative regulations, the courts interpret the meanings of the various pronouncements. By contrast, many countries operate under a civil law system, where statutes are the primary source of law. The law of the United States is derived from the common law of England, which was in force at the time of the Revolutionary War. ... This article concerns the common-law legal system, as contrasted with the civil law legal system; for other meanings of the term, within the field of law, see common law (disambiguation). ... For other uses of civil law, see civil law. ...


How attorneys think about the common law differs from how they think about statutes. In the common law system, the basic assumption is that if there is a case from the past having facts and legal issues similar to those in the case currently before the court, the outcome of the past case should control the outcome of the present case. This concept is often referred to as precedent. A lawyer is often engaged in the task of finding a case that is "on point," or as close to his or her fact situation as possible. In law, a precedent or authority is a legal case establishing a principle or rule that a court may need to adopt when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts. ... For the fish called lawyer, see Burbot. ...


This means that it is often quite difficult to determine what "the rule" is for any given legal issue. In many instances figuring out what the law is consists of comparing many different cases to the fact situation at hand. Rather than an absolute yes/no or true/false answer, the resolution may have to be considered on a strong/weak scale. How similar/dissimilar is one case (or fact situation) from another? One court may decide an issue one way, while another might go the other way. Does the precedent need to be abandoned altogether because of public policy reasons? Depending upon the issue involved, the case may eventually need to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. If, as is usually the case, the Supreme Court declines to hear the matter, then the highest court of the jurisdiction in which the case arose has had the last word.


The process of legal research

Although this is a process oriented article, there is no one right way to do legal research. There are however practices that have proven to be more efficient and cost effective. There is an overall "game plan" that is taught in the first year of Law school. The details vary according to the textbook, but a general search strategy might be: // A law school is an institution where future lawyers obtain legal degrees. ...

  • frame the issue (try to figure out what the case is about/ what legal issue or issues you will need to research)
  • brainstorm search terms (think up synonyms - assisted suicide? right to die? euthanasia?)
  • determine jurisdiction and time frame (do you have a lot of time to research this? Usually not. You may have to make do with a quick and dirty resource instead of an in-depth, ever so scholarly one)
  • decide which format to use (print or electronic- this often just depends on what you have access to)
  • locate, read, and update secondary sources
  • locate read and update primary authority (cases, statutes, and regulations)
  • lookup rules of procedure, ethics, non-legal and other materials if needed
  • repeat the above steps, as needed, depending on your search results.

Adapted from The Process of Legal Research by Christina L. Kunz et.al


The legal research textbooks below are good resources for finding out more about legal research and research strategies. Most of the titles offered have an abbreviated citation format with no date (look for the latest revision):

  • Berring, Robert C. and Elizabeth A. Edinger. Finding the Law.(West Group).
  • Roy M. Mersky and Donald J. Dunn. Fundamentals of Legal Research. (Foundation Press).
  • Morris L. Cohen & Kent C. Olson, Legal Research in a Nutshell. (Thomson West).
  • Morris L. Cohen, Robert C. Berring, and Kent C. Olson, How to find the law. (West Publishing, 1989).
  • Elias, Stephen and Susan Levinkind. Legal Research: How to Find and Understand the Law. (Nolo Press).
  • Christina L. Kunz et.al, The Process of Legal Research. (Aspen Law & Business).
  • Amy E. Sloan, Basic Legal Research: Tools and Strategies. (Aspen Law & Business).

A very good search strategy is to find a research guide before you leap. Your local library will probably have research guides on a wide variety of topics. LLRX.com and Lexnotes.com provide a wide variety of legal research guides and resources. The Zimmerman Guide provides a handful of good places to start in both print and electronic format for a wide variety of legal topics.


Judicial branch sources (cases)

The Judicial branch is the court system. Each jurisdiction in the U.S. judiciary (federal and the fifty states) has any number of courts, usually one of three types: The Politics series Politics Portal This box:      In law, the judiciary or judicial is the system of courts which administer justice in the name of the sovereign or state, a mechanism for the resolution of disputes. ... This article is about courts of law. ...

  1. a trial court,
  2. an appeals court,
  3. a "court of last resort," often (but not always) known as a Supreme Court.

On the federal level, there is a Supreme Court of the United States, a United States court of appeals for each of several geographic areas called "circuits", and trial courts, known as the United States district courts. The circuits for the federal appellate courts are numbered and each circuit generally covers several states. Pennsylvania, for example, is in the jurisdiction of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. A trial court or court of first instance is the court in which most civil or criminal cases begin. ... In the court system of a state or of a subordinate regional entity, an appeals court is a court of second instance where a party to a case on which judgment has been entered can ask to have their case reheard if they suspect an error of law, fact, or... The supreme court in some countries, provinces, and states, is the highest court in that jurisdiction and functions as a court of last resort whose rulings cannot be appealed. ... Federal courts Supreme Court Circuit Courts of Appeal District Courts Elections Presidential elections Midterm elections Political Parties Democratic Republican Third parties State & Local government Governors Legislatures (List) State Courts Local Government Other countries  Atlas  Politics Portal      The Supreme Court of the United States (sometimes colloquially referred to by the acronym... The United States courts of appeals (or circuit courts) are the mid-level appellate courts of the United States federal court system. ... Map of the boundaries of the United States Courts of Appeals and United States District Courts The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. ...


In general, the decisions of a higher court in a court system may be considered "binding" on the lower courts in that court system. The decisions of the Supreme court of a particular state are binding on the courts within that state. However, the decisions of a Pennsylvania state court may or may not be followed by a federal court in the Third Circuit, which includes Pennsylvania. The status of United States Supreme court opinions is complex. Many consider these cases to be binding on all US courts as a practical matter. However, Cohen, Berring, and Olsen, in their book "Finding the Law," state:

"The Supreme Court is the court of last resort in any federal dispute and has the final word on federal issues raised in state courts. In most situation, however, it has discretion to decline to review lower court decisions and disposes of most matters by denying petitions for certiorare or dismissing appeals. Only a small percentage of the cases appealed to the Supreme Court are accepted for consideration."

From: Morris L. Cohen, Robert C. Berring, and Kent C. Olson, How to find the law. (West Publishing, 1989) p. 26.


Only a small percentage of court decisions are officially published in a print court reporter. The most published decisions are issued by the United States Supreme Court. State trial courts produce the lowest percentage of published cases. Some courts provide copies of their decisions free on the web while others do not. Even if the decisions are on the web they seldom go back before 1994, when the web became more popular. The only exception is with U.S. Supreme Court opinions.


The Supreme Court of the United States provides the text of recent opinions on its website. It is one of the best places to obtain new opinions. Supreme court opinions can also be found at the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, Findlaw, LexisOne, Federal courts Supreme Court Circuit Courts of Appeal District Courts Elections Presidential elections Midterm elections Political Parties Democratic Republican Third parties State & Local government Governors Legislatures (List) State Courts Local Government Other countries  Atlas  Politics Portal      The Supreme Court of the United States (sometimes colloquially referred to by the acronym...


The websites for the federal courts can be found at the Federal Court Locator, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Lexisone and the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute allows searching all of the federal courts at the same time. However, Lexisone only allows free searching for the last five years and the court sites accessible via Cornell typically go back to the mid nineties.


There are several websites which provide links to state court websites, such as Findlaw, Loislaw and LexisOne. The Cornell Law School Legal information institute is also a good resource for finding US state court websites. Cornell is a member of a world Free Access to Law Movement movement whose aim is to provide free access to legal information. // The Free Access to Law Movement is the umbrella name for the collective of legal projects across several common law countries to provide free online access to legal information such as case law and legislation. ...


In print, to find the cases, legal researchers use indexes of various types. Classification systems provide index terms. For example, there may be a category of law, torts (non-crime injuries to people). There are many types of torts, or causes of Action, such as slander. These causes of actions have various elements which must be proved to establish a claim (there may also be various defenses). The general category, the cause of action and the various elements of the cause of action and defenses may all be index terms. The major classification for finding law cases is the West American Digest System. In the common law, a tort is a civil wrong for which the law provides a remedy. ... In the law, a cause of action is a recognized kind of legal claim that a plaintiff pleads or alleges in a complaint to start a lawsuit. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Concept mining. ... West American Digest System is a system of identifying legal cases and organizing them by topic and key number. ...


Matching your thinking to the mind of the person who wrote the index can be a trying task, particularly to those not generally familiar with the basic legal subject areas. The key to using legal indexes is to identify not only the key facts but the legal issues which are central to the case. "Issue spotting" is a skill that lawyers hone in law school and throughout their careers as they gain experience. For the layperson, reading secondary sources, such as books and journal articles, can help.


Once a case has been found, legal researchers must make sure that it has not been overturned by a higher court. Lawyers use citators such as Loislaw's "GlobalCite" or Shepard's citations to make sure that their case is still "good law." This process is often known as Shepardizing after the name of the service. Citators track resources, written at a later point in time, which cite back to a particular case. Because cases cite to related cases, citators can be used to find cases which are on the same topic. A common research strategy is to use "one good case" to find related cases. In legal research, a citator is a citation index of legal resources, the best-known of which is Shepards Citations. ...


Some courts provide court rules and forms free on the web while others do not. One of the largest collections of links to court rules and forms on the web can be found at LLRX.com. Legal forms can be some of the hardest documents to find because one person may call a form by one name while another person knows it by an entirely different name (neither of which may be the actual, official name of the form). Law libraries often have many sets of formbooks to search.


Legal researchers may also need the briefs and other background materials connected with a case, which are included in docket records. See the Virtual Chase for a guide to court documents as well as many other legal research guides. Other types of documents may exist in databases which cannot be searched with search engines such as Google. These 'invisible web' resources are also quite valuable. The word docket can mean: Look up docket in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A database is an information set with a regular structure. ... The success of the Google search engine was mainly due to its powerful PageRank algorithm and its simple, easy-to-use interface. ... Googles main pages unusually spartan design, uncluttered appearance and quick loading time have contributed greatly to the sites mass appeal. ... The deep Web (or Deepnet, invisible Web or hidden Web) refers to World Wide Web content that is not part of the surface Web indexed by search engines. ...


The works of Lawrence Lessig as well as the Washington Offices of the American Library Association and the American Association of Law Libraries are useful resources for those interested in information access issues. Not to be confused with Lawrence Lessing. ... ALA Logo The American Library Association (ALA) is a group based in the United States that promotes libraries and library education internationally. ... The American Association of Law Libraries is a nonprofit educational organization with over 5,000 members nationwide. ... Thomas Jefferson said that Information is the currency of democracy. ...


Legislative branch sources (statutes)

A statute is passed by elected bodies. There is legislation for the federal jurisdiction as well as for each of the states. There is a "life cycle" to the publication of statutes which is helpful to understand how to find them. Statutes start their "lives" as a "slip law" which can be found in print or, increasingly, on the web. In print, groups of statutes are next published together in book form in chronological order as "session laws." Paperback "advance sheets" with these session laws are found in many libraries before the hardbound session law volumes are published. Finally, the statutes are arranged and grouped in subject order in books called Codes. The Statute of Grand Duchy of Lithuania A statute is a formal, written law of a country or state, written and enacted by its legislative authority, perhaps to then be ratified by the highest executive in the government, and finally published. ... Legislation (or statutory law) is law which has been promulgated (or enacted) by a legislature or other governing body. ... In law, codification is the process of collecting and restating the law of a jurisdiction in certain areas, usually by subject, forming the legal code. ...


Some jurisdictions provide copies of their statutes online while others do not. You will have the most luck finding the new slip laws on the web. Far fewer provide their codes. Again, Loislaw ,Findlaw and LexisOne can help there. The Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C. (LLSDC) Legislative sourcebook has a lot of good information about state and federal legislation. See its list of state legislative websites and phone numbers. State statutes can also be found at the Cornell Lawschool Legal Information Institute.


There is no "up to the minute" version of the federal United States Code online. The official code is usually one to two years out of date. The print United States Code is one to two years out of date as well. Most lawyers use the more timely, commercially published United States Code Annotated (USCA) or the United States Code Service (USCS). They are called 'annotated codes' because they include summaries of cases which interpret the meaning of the statute. They may also include references to journal articles, legal encyclopedias and other research materials so it is good to look in an annotated code either in print or on Lexis/Westlaw as soon as you know there is a statute involved in your research problem.


"Founding Documents," such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers are available at the United States Government Printing Office (GPO) website (see their Core Documents of U.S. Democracy). The United States Declaration of Independence was an act of the Second Continental Congress, adopted on July 4, 1776, which declared that the Thirteen Colonies were independent of Great Britain. ... An advertisement for The Federalist The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 articles arguing for the ratification of the United States Constitution. ... The logotype of the United States Government Printing Office In the United States, the Government Printing Office (GPO) prints and provides access to documents produced by and for all three branches of the federal government, including the Supreme Court, the Congress, and all executive branch agencies like the FCC and...


In addition to the text of the current law itself, legal researchers may also have to research the background documents connected with the statute, which is known as Legislative history. Again the LLSDC guide, Federal Legislative History Research is one of the best guides on the topic. Thomas the Library of Congress legislative information service, provides the fulltext of proposed bills, bill status information (did it become a public law? who sponsored it? what committee was it referred to?), the text of debates from the Congressional Record, the full text of committee reports and other legislative information. See the guide How Our Laws are Made to see a listing of the potential documents which could be produced at each step of the lawmaking process. The Library of Congress provides access to legislative documents from 1774 through 1875 as part of its Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation digital library. Legislative history referes to various materials generated in the course of creating legislation, such as committee reports, analysis by legislative counsel, floor debates and histories of actions taken. ... Construction of the Thomas Jefferson Building, from July 8, 1888 to May 15, 1894. ...


In this category, the hardest items to find often come from local government, such as municipal codes or local ordinances. The General Code Corporation publishes municipal codes for several, but not all, states. You can also try Govspot's local government links to find the website for your local government. They may link to their local laws.


Executive branch sources (regulations)

A legislature usually has neither the time nor the expertise to administer all of the details of a particular statute. It may, for example, pass a statute mandating clean water. However, it delegates the authority to actually implement the statute to a Government agency, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Agencies issue administrative Regulations to implement the details of the "enabling legislation" that gave the agency authority to act. An agency is a department of a local or national government responsible for the oversight and administration of a specific function, such as a customs agency or a space agency. ...


The challenge with the executive branch is to track down the rules and regulations of federal and state administrative agencies. Luckily administrative regulations have a "life cycle" that is very similar to that of statutes. Regulations start out as an agency document, which many agencies now post on the web. They are then published in chronological order in registers, and finally are published in subject order in codes.


Federal regulations, for example, are first printed in the Federal Register, before they turn up in subject order in the Code of Federal Regulations. See the LLSDC Research Guide to the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations.


Because of this "publication pattern" in order to find out if there has been a change with respect to a particular regulation a print CFR user has to go through a two step process of checking 1) the List of Sections Affected (LSA) and 2) the latest issue of the Federal Register for the current month. An online CFR user need only consult the website for the List of Sections Affected online. An e-CFR pilot project is underway to provide a version of the CFR without having to refer to a separate publication for updates.


Go to Regulations.gov to comment on proposed federal rules and regulations.


State administrative codes and registers are tracked by the National Association of Secretaries of State.


The foremost executive branch entity is, of course, the Office of the President. The Whitehouse has its own website. Presidential documents are published in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documentsand the Public Papers of the Presidents.


The United States Government Printing Office publishes the federal regulations and presidential documents mentioned above, in addition to many other federal information sources. If you want to find documents posted directly on agency websites, the official portal for U.S. government information is Firstgov. The logotype of the United States Government Printing Office In the United States, the Government Printing Office (GPO) prints and provides access to documents produced by and for all three branches of the federal government, including the Supreme Court, the Congress, and all executive branch agencies like the FCC and...


The relationship between statutes and regulations means that one can usually never consider just a regulation alone. This intertwined grouping of regulations, statutes, and cases is often best deciphered using secondary sources such as books and journal articles.


Secondary sources

Books and journal articles are available at your school or public library. See the "Getting Help" section, below, for information on finding libraries. In law libraries books are known as "legal treatises." You can also find legal encyclopedias, such as Corpus Juris Secundum, and resources such as American Law Reports in a law library. A law library is a library designed to assist law students, attorneys, judges, and their law clerks in finding the legal resources necessary to correctly determine the state of the law. ... The Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.) with subtitle: Corpus Juris Secundum: Complete Restatement Of The Entire American Law As Developed By All Reported Cases (1936- ) 101 volumes. ... In American law, the American Law Reports are a resource used by American lawyers to find a variety of sources relating to specific legal rules, doctrines, or principles. ...


Although it is suggested to look first to secondary sources for general background explanation, free authoritative secondary sources are even scarcer on the web than the primary sources listed above. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law is available on Findlaw. All law libraries and many general libraries have a copy of Black's Law Dictionary. "Citing lecture notes from Law classes is not good authority for anything, anytime, anwhere" Lauchland and Hunter, Legal Research for Morons and law Students, 2nd ed, BUP 2009, p 666. Blacks Law Dictionary, 7th edition Blacks Law Dictionary is the definitive law dictionary for the law of the United States. ...


The University Law Review Project allows you to search the fulltext of law journals on the web. Not all law journals provide their text on the web, however. Another way to track down law reviews is to use the website which tracks the most frequently cited law journals (just click the submit button to see the list of all journals). You might also try a general scholarly search engine, such as Google Scholar. A law review is a scholarly journal focusing on legal issues, normally published by an organization of students at a law school or through a bar association. ...


Citing to legal documents

An often challenging element of legal research are the rules on how to create and decipher legal citations (see e.g., case citation). This is particularly acute for online resources, which routinely omit the official print pagination required by the major legal citation systems. The vendor neutral citation movement has made some inroads here, including provisions for citing to "web sources." However, current practices still favor using official cites. // The United States Reports, the official reporter of the Supreme Court of the United States Case citation is the system used in common law countries such as the United States, England and Wales, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Australia and India to uniquely identify the location of past court... // The United States Reports, the official reporter of the Supreme Court of the United States Case citation is the system used in common law countries such as the United States, England and Wales, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Australia and India to uniquely identify the location of past court...


Major online legal research portals

Findlaw and LexisOne are two low cost legal research portals. Loislaw a division of Wolters Kluwer has however made some headway in recent years into the former duopoly. Findlaw is sponsored by Thomson West (the owner of the Westlaw database) while Lexisone is sponsored by the owner of the LexisNexis service. Each site has a free registration option (although only Lexis' is mandatory). Signing up for MYFINDLAWprovides users with a customizable portal to legal news, legal research resources, as well as up to 10 of your favorite websites. Image File history File links Gnome-globe. ... A true duopoly is a form of oligopoly where only two producers exist in a market. ... The examples and perspective in this article do not represent a worldwide view. ... Nexis redirects here. ...


Many law school libraries write research guides to aid people with their research by identifying useful websites, databases, and books. Guides are typically focused on a specific topic (property, contracts, torts, etc.), jurisdiction (New York, Illinois, federal law, etc.), and/or type of publication (secondary sources, case law, statutes, etc.). These can be found on individual library websites. The Cornell Law Library Legal Research Engine searches over twenty websites providing guides for easy access to these helpful resources.


Lexbe Litilaw is a free online searchable collection of recent articles written by lawyers and presented as part of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) presentations or published as part of legal journals. For information on the type of fish called Lawyer, see the article on Burbot. ... Continuing Legal Education (commonly abbreviated as CLE) are requirements for attorneys in the United States to maintain their ability to practice law after initial admission to the bar. ...


Fastcase is another low cost legal research service which has made great strides in the market and is being offered for free by many state bar associations.


There are several other portals and information sources you may want to try, such as Lexnotes, the Cornell Legal Information Institute, Villanova Legal Express. and the Law School Lizard. An excellent state by state resource of legal links and information is Rominger Legal. Employment law resources are available at FindUSLaw.


An overview of the federal jurisdiction and its related legal documents can be found in A Guide to the U.S. Federal Legal System, Web-Based Publicly Accessible Sources.


What people often want are documents connected with a "hot" case or issue that has been extensively reported in the news media. Good sources for current issues are Findlaw legal news (see featured documents), Yahoo Full Coverage, Library of Congress Bills in the News, and University of Michigan Documents in the News. You can also do a web search for organizations that might be tracking the issue.


Legaltree is a free Canadian legal research portal that identifies key resources for all areas of Canadian law and contains articles on Canadian law.


Getting help

You can find listings of various types of libraries at Libweb and Libraryspot. Yahoo has a list of public law libraries. Try a web search for county "law library" (your county). County law libraries are usually open to the public. Also, Findlaw has a list of law schools through which you can find the web pages for their law libraries. However, not all law school libraries are open to the public so call ahead for their access policies. There are a few free online reference service websites. Check to see if your local library has one.


In general, you can do a web search for ask a law librarian (your state). Some services are open to the public while others are not. The Library of Congress has an ask the librarian service for many subject areas, including law. If you are in California, try their Ask Now service. The Internet Public Library has a general "ask the librarian" service. The Government Information Online website allows you to get live chat help from a government reference librarian. For those who are more phone-oriented, the Consumer Information Center's National Contact Center at (800) 333-4636 will refer you to someone at a government agency who can answer your question about Federal programs, benefits or services. A layperson may also want to seek a referral to a low cost lawyer or legal aid organization. Most liberal democracies consider that it is necessary to provide some level of legal aid to persons otherwise unable to afford legal representation. ...


Source

The original version of this article resides at http://vls.law.villanova.edu/staff/yjones/layman.htm.


External links

  • Justis Legal full text search website
  • JustCite Legal Citator
  • Ronen Perry, The Relative Value of American Law Reviews: A Critical Appraisal of Ranking Methods
  • Ronen Perry, The Relative Value of American Law Reviews: Refinement and Implementation
  • Lawyers - employment and earnings estimates for employed lawyers, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
  • Lawyers - from the BLS "Occupational Outlook Handbook"
  • Legal Research center from LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell.
  • Research Bar Directory of free legal research websites.
  • Legal Research Engine - from Cornell Law Library

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Katsuey's Legal Gateway is a free legal directory for legal professionals researching law related topics on the Internet and lay-people who want to know more about the law, understand their legal rights and obligations and search for an attorney to assist them.
Our wonderful legal research links are available to everyone; however, we do not provide legal advice and we provide legal research services only to licensed attorneys on a fee basis.
Katsuey's Legal Gateway is not meant to replace seeking legal advice from skilled attorneys; rather we developed these legal and legal related links for legal professionals and consumers to use in researching the law.
Legal research - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (4078 words)
Legal forms can be some of the hardest documents to find because one person may call a form by one name while another person knows it by an entirely different name (neither of which may be the actual, official name of the form).
Legal researchers may also need the briefs and other background materials connected with a case, which are included in docket records.
In addition to the text of the current law itself, legal researchers may also have to research the background documents connected with the statute, which is known as Legislative history.
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