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RLA Program: Online Legal Resources


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Steven Jablonski, a reference librarian at Skokie Public Library, gave this presentation at an RLA CE program on March 4, 2010. …

Steven Jablonski, a reference librarian at Skokie Public Library, gave this presentation at an RLA CE program on March 4, 2010.

For more information about the RLA CE Committee, please visit

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  • 1. Online Legal Sources for the Librarian Steven Jablonski Skokie Public Library
  • 2. Today’s Agenda I
    • Legal Materials
      • Codes, Regulations, and Opinions
      • Court Records
      • Legal Forms
      • Legal Guides
  • 3. Today’s Agenda II
    • Professional Legal Advice
      • Legal Assistance Programs
      • Lawyer Referral Services
      • Lawyer Directories and Ratings
  • 4. Codes, Regulations, & Opinions
    • Codes are the codified arrangements of statutes passed by legislative bodies and signed into law
    • Regulations are rules produced by administrative agencies
    • Opinions are rulings by judges in appellate court cases that lower courts follow
  • 5. Online Codes
    • Federal level: US Code (USC)
      • Cornell Legal Information Institute USC ( )
      • Online USCs are NOT up to date
    • State level: Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS)
      • Illinois Compiled Statutes ( )
  • 6. Online Regulations
    • Federal level: Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)
      • Cornell Legal Institute CFR ( )
    • State level: Illinois Administrative Code (Ill. Admin. Code)
      • Illinois Administrative Code ( )
  • 7. Judicial Opinions
    • Judges interpret statutes and regulations by ruling in court cases
    • Higher court judges publish their rulings as judicial “opinions” or “decisions”
    • These published opinions set precedents (binding or persuasive) for future decisions
    • The area of law made up of these opinions is known as “case law” or “common law”
  • 8. Type of Court
    • Federal and state courts have a three part hierarchical arrangement:
      • Trial Court
      • Intermediate Appellate Court
      • Highest Appellate Court/ Court of Last Resort
    • In addition, there are several special federal courts
  • 9. Federal Courts
    • Trial Court:
      • 94 District Courts
    • Intermediate Appellate Court:
      • 12 Circuit Courts (including District of Columbia Court)
    • Highest Appellate Court/ Court of Last Resort:
      • U.S. Supreme Court
  • 10. Illinois State Courts
    • Trial Court:
      • 22 Circuit Courts
    • Intermediate Appellate Court:
      • 5 Appellate Courts
    • Highest Appellate Court/ Court of Last Resort:
      • Illinois Supreme Court
  • 11. What Opinions Are Published?
    • No state trial court (Illinois Circuit Court) and very few federal trial court (U.S. District Court) opinions are published, either print or online
    • Only state and federal supreme and appellate court opinions are generally published, usually both print and online, but some aren’t published at all
  • 12. Online Federal Opinions
    • Justia has opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court from the 1700s and all federal appellate courts since 1950 ( )
    • Google Scholar has opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court from 1791 and all federal district, appellate, tax, and bankruptcy courts since 1923 ( http:// )
  • 13. Online State Opinions
    • Google Scholar has opinions from all 50 states’ appellate and supreme courts since 1950 ( http:// )
    • The State of Illinois has Illinois Appellate and Supreme Court Opinions since 1996 ( )
  • 14. Librarians & Case Law
    • Librarians DO
      • Search for cases identified by a specific citation (e.g., Roe v. Wade, 410 US 113)
        • See Cornell LII for an online guide to citations ( /citation )
      • Provide patrons with secondary materials that might identify relevant cases (legal encyclopedias, annotated statutes, etc.)
  • 15. Librarians & Case Law
    • Librarians DON’T
      • Identify cases on a specific topic (except broadly through secondary sources)
      • State whether a particular opinion is still valid or applies to specific jurisdiction
  • 16. Trial Court Records
    • Trial court records are available from the Clerk of the Court for a particular court
    • Clerks of the Court must be contacted directly and will charge a fee
    • Very few court records are available online for free
  • 17. Trial Court Records
    • The Clerk of the Court for the Circuit Court of Cook County provides docket information only on its website ( )
    • Black Book Online is a good source to see what online court records are available for other jurisdictions ( )
  • 18. Trial Court Records
    • Some commercial websites sell basic court records, e.g. Crime Smasher ( )
    • CheckIllinois allows free searching for public records including some court records ( )
  • 19. Legal Forms
    • Patrons want “fill-in” forms but these may not be available or advisable
    • Some forms are standard (e.g., power of attorney) while others must be customized
    • Some forms are state specific
    • Patrons use forms at own risk
  • 20. Legal Forms
    • Illinois Legal Aid has numerous common forms and letters in its Form Library ( )
    • The Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County provides court forms ( )
  • 21. Legal Guides
    • Very brief, practical guides to the most common legal problems and proceedings
    • Written at a basic level for ordinary people
    • Several written specifically for Illinois
    • Some can be printed out or ordered as brochures
  • 22. Legal Guides
    • Illinois Legal Aid is a very good source for guides ( )
    • Illinois Attorney General’s website has many pamphlets and brochures, especially on consumer issues ( )
  • 23. Legal Guides
    • Chicago Bar Association has a few “must have” guides ( )
    • Lawyers contribute guides to Avvo ( )
    • Avvo also allows users to post questions to lawyers. These posts can then be searched. ( /free-legal-advice )
  • 24. Legal Assistance Programs
    • Numerous organizations provide legal assistance for people with low incomes or special circumstances
    • Illinois Legal Aid directs people to appropriate legal aid offices ( )
  • 25. Legal Assistance Programs
    • Valuable pamphlet Where To Go for Legal Assistance in or Around Chicago is available from the Chicago Bar Association ( )
  • 26. Lawyer Referral Services
    • Referral services put people in contact with lawyers for low-fee initial consultations
    • The Chicago Bar Association screens lawyers for experience but most do not ( )
    • Other bar associations have their own referral services
    • Illinois Legal Aid directs people to appropriate lawyer referral services ( )
  • 27. Lawyer Directories
    • LexisNexis ( ) and Westlaw ( http:// ) have directories where you can look up basic information on lawyers
    • The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission lists all licensed lawyers in Illinois and indicates if they’ve been disciplined ( )
  • 28. Lawyer Ratings
    • provides peer and client review ratings for top lawyers ( )
    • Avvo provides ratings for lawyers and allows clients to comment on them ( )
  • 29. Any Questions?