Though you probably already know how to differentiate between good and bad online sources, you may still need some tips for conducting legal research on the web. Law libraries often prohibit the general public from using their resources, and you may not find as much information as you need in public libraries. Using the right tips for searching online can help you find everything you need without paying for access to law sites.
Look for Legal Journals
Start your search with legal journals. Many of the top journals are now available online. While most charge for access to archived articles, some let you read current issues for free. You may have the chance to pay a small fee to read a single article from an older edition too. Check the library at your local college to see if you can access those journals through the library’s system.
Search Government Sites
Some of the best tips for conducting legal research on the web show you how to do research without paying any fees. If you’re on a strict budget and cannot afford to pay for information, look at government websites. Nearly every state in the country will let you search through public records for free, and many cities and counties will also let you search for free. Those sites let you look at property records, see marriage or divorce records and even view court cases online.
Use Two Types of Sources
As you look for legal information online, make sure that you use both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are records that come from those who were actually there, while secondary sources come from those who did research into the subject. If you write a paper on a historic civil rights case, you’ll find primary sources in the form of books and articles from the lawyers and witnesses involved in the case. Secondary sources may include papers that other college students wrote about the case or books that look at the social and economic issues relating to that case.
Opt for Legal Portals
The American Bar Association offers some tips for conducting legal research on the web and recommends using legal portals like Justia, the Federal Digital System and FindLaw. When you search a journal database, you can only view articles published in those journals that use the keywords you entered. Legal portals will search dozens of sites or archives at the same time to give you more results. You can then click on any article you want to read or site you want to visit to gain more information for your paper.
Double Check All Cases
After looking at different tips for conducting legal research on the web, you might start your research and make a list of sources that you can use. Before you talk about any case or cite a single source, double check that there aren’t any new updates to that case. You might write a paper on a man convicted of murdering his wife and children and later find out that the police arrested another man for the murders and released the original man. Double checking your sources and all cases you cite ensures that your paper contains valid information.
As a student enrolled in a pre-law program or law school, you’ll need to write a number of papers that may involve doing some research online. Knowing where you look and what types of sources to use can help you construct a better paper. You’ll also want to rely on some other useful tips for conducting legal research on the web before writing your paper.