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Legal Research on the Web Presentation

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  • 1. Legal Research on the Web Boston College Law Library Reality Legal Research Session Mary Ann Neary Legal Information Librarian April 7, 2006
  • 2. On Beyond LexisNexis and Westlaw
    • LexisNexis and Westlaw- major commercial database systems - accessed through the Worldwide Web.
    • But … many other excellent sources for legal research on the Web, and most of them are free. Today: some of the most useful ones.
    • First, we'll start with a few tips on what you can and can't find on the web.
  • 3. What are free websites good for?
    • Primary materials: federal or state codes or recent court opinions
      • Always check: official or authentic?
    • Current items: cases or issues in the news
    • Government publications: state and federal, foreign and international
    • Background information from sources such as government agencies think tanks, or lobbying groups
  • 4. Free web sites
    • What works well – General tips
      • Official government sources, See .gov
      • Public service sites, See .org and .edu
      • Finding discrete documents
        • Findlaw, Google, Google Scholar
      • International legal materials, foreign government sites
  • 5. Concerns when using free sites
    • Authentic?
    • Official?
    • How to cite?
    • Concerns:
      • Confidentiality – electronic trail
  • 6. What are free websites not good for?
    • Complete, concise overview of the law
      • Use books or encyclopedias in print
    • Sophisticated full-text searching
      • Use LexisNexis or Westlaw
    • Complex case-finding tools such as annotated codes or citation databases
      • Use LexisNexis or Westlaw
  • 7. What are free websites not good for?
    • Comparative research
      • Search all states’ statutes on a topic
    • Historical materials
      • Use print sources (LexisNexis or Westlaw)
    • Practice materials for a particular jurisdiction, e.g. legal forms
  • 8. Starting Point
    • Boston College Law Library Research Pages
      • www.bc.edu/schools/law/library/research
  • 9. Find links to major sites
  • 10. Locating state cases
    • Issues re citation
      • Ask: Has the state adopted a public domain citation format? Check Blue Book
        • Ex.: Wisconsin has adopted public domain cites for
        • cases decided after 12/31/1999
          • www.courts.state.wi.us
        • Sample cite:
          • Glaeske v. Shaw, 2003 WI App 71, 261 Wis. 2d 549, 661 N.W.2d 72
  • 11. Locating state statutes
    • States post their statutory codes on the Internet; not designated as official (and may not be designated as authentic)
      • www.state.ma.us/legis
    • Try a gateway site for links to each state, e.g. LII
  • 12.  
  • 13. Legal Information Institute
    • www.law.cornell.edu
    • Serves as a gateway to federal, state and international legal research web sites
    • Good resource for state-level materials, e.g. Nevada regulations
  • 14. Locating state regulations
    • Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School – use as a starting point
    • Problem with regulation tracking: any proposed regulations?
      • Default to checking that state agency’s website for notices of pending regulations
  • 15. LII – Links to Nevada primary material
  • 16. Locating federal cases
    • Note: No official public domain cite except for Supreme Court
    • Findlaw
      • Find text of Newdow decision – case regarding Pledge of Allegiance (Seeks to strike “under God”)
      • Need to know that it was decided in Fed. courts
      • Findlaw – Must know which circuit to search
      • Locate decision from 9 th Cir.; text is in pdf format, but how to cite it?
        • http://news.findlaw.com/usatoday/docs/conlaw/newdowus62602opn.pdf
  • 17. How to know the status of this case?
    • No free citator on the web
    • Can use Shepard’s or Westlaw with a credit card; approximately $5.00 to check a cite …
    • BUT…
    • Need the Federal Reporter cite!
  • 18. Google
    • Search Google for:
    • Newdow and pledge
    • Yields a Washington Post article that supplies the Supreme Court’s docket number
  • 19. Supreme Court site – Docket info
  • 20. Supreme Court Docket
    • No. 02-1624 Status: GRANTED
    • Title: Elk Grove Unified School District and David W. Gordon, Superintendent, Petitioners v. Michael A. Newdow, et al.
    • Docketed: May 9, 2003
    • Lower Ct: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit  Case Nos.:(00-16423)  Decision Date: February 26, 2002  Rehearing Denied: February 28, 2003
  • 21. Find Newdow opinion on Supreme Court site, but still no cite – just slip opinion
  • 22. Federal Government Sites
    • Executive Branch
    • G.P.O. Access
      • Gateway to full-text U.S. government legal materials, esp. administrative law
      • www.gpoaccess.gov
      • Includes: Federal Register, 1994-present;
        • Code of Federal Regulations, 1996- present;
        • Public Laws
  • 23. Federal Government Sites
    • Legislative Branch
    • http://thomas.loc.gov
    • Includes: Full-text access to bills, 101 st
    • Congress to 109 th (current); Congressional
    • Record; Committee Reports, 104 th Congress to
    • present; Treaties.
    • N.B. Can search multiple Congresses now
  • 24. Federal Government Sites
    • Judiciary
    • Link to courts from www.uscourts.gov
      • Supplies links to all courts, including individual circuits’ websites
        • Current (last few years) opinions available; issue re citation
  • 25. Court Rules, Forms and Docket Info
    • www.llrx.com/courtrules
      • Links to over 1,400 sources for state and federal court rules, forms and dockets
  • 26.  
  • 27. International Legal Materials
    • International law definition:
      • “ Law that governs relations between nation-states. In modern times, international law has evolved to include the relations between states and international organizations and even individuals.”
      • E.g. Charter of the U.N.; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Geneva Convention
      • Web resource: http://www.asil.org/resource/ergintr1.htm
  • 28. International Legal Materials
  • 29. Foreign Law Materials
    • Foreign Law definition:
      • “ Law of another country”
        • Ex: What are the inheritance laws of Germany?
    • Many foreign law metapages available:
      • http://www.law.harvard.edu/library/services/research/guides/international/web_resources/internet_foreign_law.php
      • World Law Institute
      • http://www.worldlii.org/catalog/215.html
      • Library of Congress – Guide to Law Online
      • http:// www.loc.gov/law/guide/nations.html
  • 30. Summary – Free vs. Fee-Based Sites
    • Free sites
      • Watch for authenticity
      • Reliable provider/creator of site?
      • May find info re gun laws on NRA site but what incentive to give a balanced view of subject?
    • Commercial sites, e.g. LexisNexis, Westlaw, etc.
      • Incur costs but reap benefit of reliable source
      • Official citation available for legal materials
      • Citator services invaluable

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