So you need to do some legal research for a court case in which you’re representing yourself, or you want to look up a particular local statute, or you simply want to read the court’s opinion for the interesting case you just heard about on the news? Now that you know about the existence of your local public law libraries to meet these needs, how do you get started? It can be intimidating to walk into a law library is you are not a law student or a member of the legal profession.
This is where law librarians come in. Many people do now know that law librarians, who are often attorneys themselves, are experts in legal research. While they cannot provide you with actual legal advice, a law librarian can help you get started in navigating the law library, which can be intimidating at first. The law librarian can help you with both online and more “traditional” research. They are experienced in analyzing the quality and accuracy of various legal resources, which can be especially helpful if you are representing yourself in court. Often when presented with a legal research question, the law librarian will provide you with a list of resources to get you started down the right path.
If you are reluctant to make the trek to the library building, you still have options. Nowadays, many law libraries provide extensive information and resources online. Some even maintain “virtual” law librarians to help answer your questions over the web! California’s “AskNow” resource connects you with a law librarian who will attempt to answer your question by pointing you to free online resources. The Texas State Law Library also provides an online “Ask a Librarian” option to assist you in your legal research. Many other states provide similar services – to find out whether your local library offers such a service, or for links to your local law libraries, check Court Reference. Click on your state and then the “Self Help” tab from the drop down menu to find out what’s available in your state.
Whether online or in person, do not be afraid to approach a law librarian with your legal research question. They are there to help!