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Where Do I Begin?

If you’re not a lawyer, law librarian, or have never researched the law, where do you begin? It depends, of course!

Each of us is different, with different learning styles and different levels of research expertise.

1) If you want to dive right into How to Research the Law, visit our Legal Research page.

2) If you want in-person assistance, find a library or law library in your community to visit, email, or telephone. Talk to the reference librarians and ask what legal research resources and legal research expertise the library has and if they can refer you to other sources of expert legal reference or research advice. (For expert LEGAL advice you will have to talk to a lawyer!)

You may want and need to visit a law library in-person anyway since a lot of legal research resources are not online or are available only through expensive databases, most of which are searchable only in-person at the library itself, not by you from a computer outside the library.

3) If you want a legal research pep talk, with some hard facts about legal research, and don’t mind some metaphorical meanderings from a law librarian, read on:

It's not enough to "Google" cases and statutes online. It’s also not enough to toss a question into cyberspace and expect someone to answer it with anything more than research tips.

Think about it.

Let’s use food as an analogy:  If you’d never cooked a meal, or anything that needed more skill or effort than the press of a microwave button, would you be able to prepare a 3 course meal (for someone whose opinion matters to you, maybe, the object of your affection?) by using information online?

Yes, you might, assuming you give the meal preparation a lot of attention, that is you would: search for recipes, shop for ingredients, buy or borrow the kitchen tools you need, watch online videos about making the some of the recipes you selected, and then you might test those recipes to make sure they will come out the way you want on the Big Day.

But it's even better to have some hands-on guidance from someone who does know how to cook. (Or you can order out, e.g. not unlike hiring a lawyer.)

Legal research is not unlike cooking. Yes, if you want to do it yourself, go it alone, it can be done, but you can save yourself oodles of time, burnt offerings, and mysterious icky gray lumpy stuff in the saucepan on the day of the big meal if you ask for help and prepare ahead of time.

Librarians and information geeks eat, breathe, and drink “legal information"; how to find it, how to verify its authenticity, how to preserve it, and how to make efficient use of it. (There are few things more satisfying to a librarian-info geek than to write the perfect search that drags up from the deep the exact document(s) we need in the shortest time possible.)

In order to save you time, money, and icky gray stuff, we read things like the following articles (and there are tens of thousands more where these came from - after all, it’s all online, isn’t it?) and we share with each other:

1) Quick and Dirty (and relatively $$ Cheap) Legal Research

2) From Joe Hodnicki's Law Librarian Blog, his May 15th blog post: "Now You See It, Now You Don't, Part I: Free Legal Research Services on the Web"

You can also keep current with the law and read cases, statutes, constitutions, law review articles, legal newsletters, bar journals, attend lawyer legal education classes, etc., etc., etc.

So,if someone ever says “you just need to file a form” or “you don’t need to talk to a lawyer,” consider the source, do a little research, and ask a librarian.

Bon appétit.