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.

For more information about the RLA CE Committee, please visit http://rlace.info.

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RLA Program: Online Legal Resources

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