Lots of free legal content is available on the web, but not all of it is useful. Sometimes information can be biased, erroneous or simply off the mark. Finding credible and authoritative sources for research — called curating — takes time and skill.
The sources on this page are curated by a librarian for the needs of pro se litigants. These legal research links will save time and help you become a more effective litigator.
Cases and Statutes
Use the legal research links below to find support for pleadings and motions.
Constitutions, Statutes and Codes (Cornell University Law School)
Cornell’s Legal Information Institute is aptly named. In one place, find all the laws for your jurisdiction. You can also access other legal research links.
Google Scholar (Choose “Case Law”)
Google Scholar is a free source for searching US case law. The “How Cited” feature allows you to determine if a decision has been overturned or reinterpreted.
Justia is a good browsing source for legal information. If you have a legal problem and cannot describe it, you can browse Justia for words to use in a search.
Public Library of Law is a searchable database of US Court cases. However, cases go back no further than 1997, and you must register a free account. There are also paid components of the site, including legal forms.
Research Links by Jurisdiction
The sources in this section make it easier to find cases and statutes in a given jurisdiction.
This Justia source, organized by state, is a great starting point for a search for legal information and resources. Find your state constitution, statutes and codes, and even access information by county.
The Pacer site links to all US federal courts. Beyond that, it allows for downloading of court transcripts and audio of arguments. You can also find and download federal cases. In order to use the site most fully, however, you must sign up for an account. Some resources require a fee.
Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
Don’t know what a term means? Look it up using a dictionary.
From the site: “Wex is a free legal dictionary and encyclopedia sponsored and hosted by the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School. Wex entries are collaboratively created and edited by legal experts.” Legal Information Institute, and in turn Wex, is a credible and popular go-to source for anyone looking for legal information.
The Free Legal Dictionary is a compilation of over 7,000 legal terms, their definitions, contexts, and related cases. What makes this source strong is its combination of both West’s Encyclopedia of American Law and The People’s Law Dictionary, two well established legal resources. Its ease of use also makes it a good source for non lawyers.
This no-frills lookup source for legal terms is provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. It has a definite federal slant, but many legal concepts in state law originated from federal law. If you’re in federal court, the terms and concepts here might prove valuable.
The Plain-English Law Dictionary from Nolo Press is a browsing source for thousands of, well, “plain-English” legal terms. It’s just as easy to use as the Administrative Office of the U.S. Court’s site but is much more comprehensive. Its straightforward browsing context makes it ideal for anyone trying to understand legal concepts. Some resources require a fee.
Research guides assist with finding free information, often by subject, on the Web.
Choose your state, then browse legal help resources. Though the site focuses on finding a lawyer, links for “self-help,” “legal information,” and other resources are worth exploring for people who want to represent themselves.
Justia’s guide is akin to a browseable encyclopedia of major legal topics. Though it doesn’t include an alphabetical listing, the topics are covered in depth. It is limited to major topics of consumer interest, like injury law, family law, estate planning, real estate, employment, criminal law and immigration. It’s a good starting point if you know nothing about your topic.
This source from the Thurgood Marshall Law Library at the University of Maryland is the nitty gritty. Despite its Maryland focus, this site is a wealth of information for anyone looking to learn more about the law and the US legal system. It’s actually a book with 11 chapters, each of which can be downloaded in PDF format. Its biggest drawback is that many of the resources listed are from paid databases, but its value as a general information source outweighs these shortcomings.
You don’t want the judge to be distracted by things that are out of place in your pleadings and motions. Rather, you want him or her to take your arguments and supporting authorities (cases and statutes) seriously. The legal research links below help you do that.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to cite legal authorities. This citation source, courtesy of the Suffolk University Law School in Boston, will help you do it the right way. The Bluebook has been around for years and is the standard legal citation guide for law students. In fact, this is the 19th Edition of the Bluebook. This site is organized according to the type of information you want to include in your writing, like cases, statutes, and articles. If you want to cite legal authorities like a lawyer, start here.
Cornell University’s Law Library shows you how to properly cite cases. Because of its depth, it may not be a starting place for new researchers, but as you continue in your case, you may need a strong resource such as this. An added benefit is a 9-minute companion video tutorial, Citing Judicial Opinions … in Brief.
Part of the Thurgood Marshall Law Library’s research guide, this source is easy to follow and understand. From the site: “The following examples of citations to cases and statutes, both federal and state, can be used as a guide to help you understand and construct citations. Each example is followed by a brief explanation of its components. The examples of citations to statutes follow the traditional Bluebook mandate of citing to the print versions of codes.”
The Writing Center at the Georgetown University Law Center uses scenarios to help drive home important concepts in legal writing. This source is only four pages long and is more than ten years old. However, if you want to understand how to use legal authorities to write persuasive motions and pleadings, it packs a wollop.
Use Courtroom5 to put your best foot forward in court. Sign up now!