Internet Legal Research Guide

The very basics of legal research for the layman with this internet legal research guide . Enough to get a big head start. Guide to internet or offline research.

Legal research can be very intimidating if you have never tried it. Whether you have been arrested, or just want to know more about something before you try it, knowing the basics of legal research can save you money, time, and anxiety.

Whether you use the Internet or a library there are some basic elements that remain the same. Before we address those issues, where do you go? If you are conducting your legal research offline, try colleges and your courthouse. Some colleges have a separate law library and others will have a law section in their main library. There are many online resources as well.

You will need to determine the level you need to look at. This may be municipal, county, state, federal, and sometimes other areas. Most often you will look at the state level. The easiest way to look for something is by statute number. If you do not have this number your online search can often be conducted by keyword search. For some states you will have to search for a likely candidate through the table of contents. If that is required, leave no stone unturned. Offline you will want to look in the index for any possible word that might have any relationship to your topic.

There are some common mistakes you can avoid. The first is making assumptions. Common sense is not sufficient when trying to understand the law you have read. You must refer to the definitions given, usually at the beginning of that section. Next, always check the exceptions. Most laws state exceptions, and where to find them. These must be read thoroughly. Do not assume that because it is an exception it probably does not apply to your case. In my own research, the exception is usually the most important part. Third, do not be out of date. Make sure you are reading the most current version of the law.

Whenever possible you will want to read the annotations, which help you understand how the law has been handled and applied in the past. They will often state the arguments that effect the usage of the law, and how to defend yourself should it be used against you. They will often cite cases you can then look up and read. Case law is a very valuable tool, in addition to statutes.

At some point you will still probably need to consult an attorney. The ability to do research on your own will allow you to answer simple questions for yourself, and to help with your own case. Sometimes, it is something you would never bother with calling a lawyer for, but you still want the information. You may have a public defender without the time or initiative to properly advise you. Maybe you just want to see for yourself. Whatever your situation, you will want the ability to do some basic research on your own.

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