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


Quick and Dirty Research Strategy:

1) Make an outline of your Quick and Dirty Legal Research strategy and take good notes as you proceed, especially keeping track of citations, effective keywords, and other results you find along the way.

2) Search Google or other search engine: You can find official and unofficial statutes, appellate court briefs, law review articles, case law, subject-specialist lawyer and law professor blogs, and much more.

3) Search Google Scholar: More case research – and don’t forget the “How Cited” feature.

4) Search any free legal research tool you have access to. Some public libraries and public law libraries have Fastcase, LoisLaw, or other low-cost legal research databases and many have law journal databases.

5) Last, use a full service legal research database for the “finishing” work to make sure you caught everything and for a double-dose of citator checking (KeyCite and Shepards). Many public law libraries have no-fee Public Access Lexis and Westlaw (for which they pay a hefty price so you can have it for no-fee).

No-Nonsense Law Librarian Tip:

Quick and dirty legal research is available for everyone, but, for the non-lawyer, the self-represented litigant, here’s an important warning, so take heed:

Legal analysis (and legal procedure compliance) isn’t free and it isn’t easy. It can cost you a lot, now and later, if you get it wrong.

Google and sample legal forms cannot replace 3-years of law school and the proverbial 10,000 hours of law practice. If your case matters to you, if it is serious business to you, please consult an attorney, even if you want to do some of the research yourself. And if there is a lot of money at stake, if the health and welfare of loved ones are at stake, if your liberty is at stake, PLEASE TALK TO A LAWYER.

At the very least, consult a professional law librarian to make sure you included all available legal research tools and to find out where you can find affordable attorneys to assist you.

As a wise lawyer/law librarian says to his students and library patrons: “If you read only what is written in the statutes, the cases, and the constitutions you will be absolutely wrong about what the law is.”

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