The difference between an essay and an argument before a court is legal research. When you show a judge that the legislature has weighed in on your issue, or an appellate court has ruled your way in a similar case, then you’re probably going to win the day. Far too many of us are intimidated at the thought of research itself, not to mention legal research. But there’s no reason to be afraid. It’s not nearly as difficult as it sounds.
Just a decade ago, anyone seeking legal authorities for their argument needed an expensive subscription to Westlaw or LexisNexis. Your average small law firm couldn’t afford those services, and there was even less value for self-represented and other litigants with just a single case. There’s more competition for these services today, which lowers the cost a little but still puts them beyond the reach of regular people. However, free alternatives such as Google Scholar, Justia and Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute (LII) are leveling the playing field.
Regardless of the research tool, your first step is to choose the position you want to take. You don’t owe the debt because… well why, exactly? Is there an error in the loan documents? Did the lender violate the terms of the contract? Did you lose your job and the ability to pay? (Heads up: Don’t even bother with that last one.)
Once you specify the position you plan to take, search for relevant statutes in your chosen legal research tool, then search for cases in your state or jurisdiction that refer to those statutes. Alternately, brainstorm a set of keywords related to the position you’re taking and search directly for cases that speak to situations like yours. You’ll find the relevant statutes and rules from reading through those cases.
There are many other sources for legal research, including our own curated list. Some are easier than others to learn and use. But you’re in luck! Co-founder Debra Slone has produced the first edition of Representing! How To Use Free Legal Resources: A Practical Guide For Pro Se Civil Litigants.
Sign up for our free updates at the bottom of any blog post or web page, and we’ll send you our simple, 10-page e-book on getting the legal authorities you need to support your positions in court. Legal research is an essential skill that every pro se litigant should have, and Debra shows you how to think through the cases and statutes you need, as well as how to find them.
Learn to do legal research and file your next motion with authority!