A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer. -- Robert Frost
By Lyonette Louis-Jacques
In the past few years, many new resources have been put up on the Internet that facilitate legal research work. The sheer number and variety of resources can sometimes make it difficult to determine where to start, how to choose among similar resources, and how to keep up-to- date on available resources. The present guide is intended to explain why the Internet is useful for legal research, and describe some of the major resources available on the Internet for researching the law of the United States and other countries, comparative law, and international law. It will conclude with some tips for the net-traveling researcher.
Why Use the Internet for Legal Research?
The Internet is a cheap alternative to the use of commercial databases such as LEXIS and WESTLAW for finding primary legal materials such as U.S. federal and state statutes, bills, cases, and regulations. Sometimes these materials are available more quickly on the Internet than on LEXIS and WESTLAW (especially if they relate to the Law of Cyberspace/The Internet, Computer Law, the First Amendment and censorship, Communications Law, Intellectual Property, major criminal trials, Antitrust Law, elections, or other hot topics). And sometimes, the Internet is the only place where you will find some primary materials, for instance, legislation and case law from foreign countries, treaties involving non-U.S. countries, and materials in areas of law that have been traditionally underrepresented in print and electronic legal publications (women and the law, human rights, the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people, law and literature, Roman law, etc.), and non-legal materials that are important to law work or interdisciplinary research.
The Internet can augment an average law library's resources by providing alternate copies of print materials, and information that cannot be found in the law library in print or electronic format. For instance, here are some examples of the types of resources that are on the Internet: news; publishers' catalogs; worldwide library catalogs; indexes/tables of contents of journals; full text of articles from electronic law and non-law journals; books (such as the Classics); poetry; song lyrics; comic strips; tax forms; sports information (such as professional baseball and basketball players salaries); travel information; legal documents (transcripts of hearings, reports, memoranda, complaints, indictments, oral arguments, etc.). The Internet is strongest for non-legal materials, and for legal materials that are usually not found or will not be available as quickly on LEXIS and WESTLAW and print publications in your law library.
Where to Start Your Internet Legal Research
If this is your first time on the Internet, it is good to hunt down a legal research guide. The guides below are good to check before embarking on legal research on the Internet. They describe and link to legal resources generally available on the Internet such as web, gopher, ftp sites, and listservs, or list existing Internet legal research guides.
http://lawlib.slu.edu/misc/topical.htm "Law on the Web"
(this is one of the best places to start as it is a well-organized list of U.S. legal resources on the Internet - statutes, cases, etc., with links)
ftp://lawlib.slu.edu/interlaw.txt "An Introduction to Using the Internet at Saint Louis University"
http://lawlib.slu.edu/training/train.htm "A Clearinghouse of Internet Training Guides for Law"
G. Burgess Allison
http://www.abanet.org/lpm/magazine/booklist.html "List of Law- Related Internet Books and Newsletters"(includes most of the key guides to legal resources on the Internet)
Erik J. Heels
http://www.lcp.com/The-Legal-List _The Legal List_(covers all types of Net resources - webs, gophers, ftp sites, etc.)
http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/~llou/lawlists/info.html Lyo's "Law Lists" (browsable text)(has instructions for subscribing to about 400 law-related e-mail lists and about 150 Usenet newsgroups)
http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/law-lists Lyo's "Law Lists" (keyword search feature)
Clearinghouse for Subject-Oriented Internet Resource Guides (research guides on all sorts of topics, including law, many with hypertext links) http://www.lib.umich.edu/chouse/chhome.html
Or you can browse through some of the major Internet sites for law. If you become familiar with the sites below, you can do research on the Internet for legal questions more effectively. These web sites normally arrange information by legal subject (Antitrust Law, Civil Rights, Immigration Law, etc.), by type of document (Constitutions, Court Cases, Statutes, Treaties, etc.), by source (Governmental agency, International Organization, Law Firm, Law School, Publisher), and/or by intended audience (Law Students, Law Librarians, etc.).
U.S. House of Representatives Internet Law Library (one of the most
comprehensive sites for law-related information on the Net there is!)
http://www.pls.com:8001/ http://www.pls.com:8001 http://law.house.gov/ http://law.house.gov/ (new URL)
NOTE: The Internet Law Library is Now Being Hosted by The 'Lectric Law Library & can be found at http://www.lectlaw.com/inll/1.htm
Indiana University Law School (maintains the World Wide World Virtual
Library for Law)
Cornell University Law School (includes links by Legal Topics and
Emory University Law School (look under "The Emory Law Finder")
University of Chicago Law School (look under "Legal Information on the
http://www-law.lib.uchicago.edu/lib/ http://www- law.lib.uchicago.edu/lib/
Library of Congress
Chicago-Kent College of Law (look under "Legal Resources")
Washburn University Law School (wonderful site! Includes AALS
information, and much, much more law-related information)
Hieros Gamos (Lex Mundi)(aims towards being a comprehensive law site)
Yahoo! (Law Links)(subject catalog of the Internet - includes many key
Or you can do a keyword search through World Wide Web and other Internet sites by using one of the many Internet indexes. Some of my favorite search engines are below (note that they are extremely useful when looking for non-law information also):
http://www.lycos.com/ Lycos(great robotic index to Internet web sites (over 90%) - quick results for keyword searches)
http://www.yahoo.com/ Yahoo(subject catalog and keyword index to the Internet)
http://altavista.digital.com/ AltaVista(Internet search engine)
http://www.liszt.com/ Liszt(enables keyword searches for lists on all types of topics)
http://www.tile.net/ Tile.Net(another "list of lists")
http://www.dejanews.com/ DejaNews(a keyword-searchable web archive of Usenet newsgroup messages; great for looking to see if someone, or something, has been discussed somewhere)
General descriptions of and links to these and other Internet search engines are available at the following sites:
http://lawlib.slu.edu/misc/directry.htm "General Internet Directories and Indexes"
University of Chicago
Or you can browse or do a word search through the several public listserv and e-journal archives that exist to find answers to your question or to see if your topic has been discussed before:
Cornell list archives (INT-LAW, LEGAL-WEBMASTERS, LAWSRC-L, CYBERIA-L,
http://lawlib.wuacc.edu/washlaw/listserv.html Washburn (archives of many lists)
http://www.kentlaw.edu/lawnet/lawnet.html Chicago-Kent (The Legal Domain Network's list and Usenet newsgroup archives)
Or you can ask for help in finding useful Internet resources by posting a message to one of the many law-related lists that exist. Some key ones include:
AALSMIN-L (discussion list of the Section on Minority Groups of the
Association of American Law Schools)
Send the following message to [email protected]: subscribe aalsmin-l Your Name institution
LAWPROF (Law Professors and Lecturers)
Send the following message to [email protected]: subscribe lawprof Your Name
NET-LAWYERS (Lawyers and the Internet)
Send the following message to [email protected]: subscribe net-lawyers Your Name
LAW-LIB (Law Librarians (mainly U.S.)
Send the following message to [email protected]: subscribe law-lib Your Name
INT-LAW (Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Librarians)
Send the following message to [email protected]: subscribe int-law Your Name
EURO-LEX (All EUROpean Legal Information EXchange)
Send the following message to [email protected]: subscribe euro-lex Your Name
How to Keep Track of New Internet Legal Resources
The sources below can be used to find out about new Internet resources related to law (other than the ones listed in C. Burgess Allison's guide above, and the INT-LAW and NET-LAWYERS lists):
LEGAL-WEBMASTERS (list for maintainers of law-related web sites; also
announcements of new web sites)
Send the following message to [email protected]: subscribe legal-webmasters Your Name
LAWSRC-L (Law Sources on the Internet - announcements list)
Send the following message to [email protected]: subscribe lawsrc-l Your Name
NEW-LIST (New Lists announcement list)
Send the following message to [email protected]: subscribe new-list Your Name
Tips for the Net-Traveling Researcher
1. Always consult local resources first. This could be your institution's own Internet resources (web, gopher, etc.), librarian, catalog, expert in the area you're researching, etc. Resources in your city, your state, etc. Finding answers in resources nearby can save you time and money. It can be more efficient than Internet research - as sometimes what you are looking for might not be available on or from Internet resources. This tip is particularly valuable when using Internet listservs - you do not want to post to a list a request for information without asking people locally first if they have the information - it might make your institution or your colleagues look bad or look like they are not up to snuff. And there might actually be a resource locally that could help.
2. Try to develop an approach to research using the Internet. Become familiar with a few sites and search engines - it is always good to know what web site you'd like to begin your search with, and if that site doesn't hold an answer to your question, what search engine to use to find relevant sites. And if you don't know how to approach getting an answer to your research question, ask your librarian for help.
3. Never rely totally on Internet resources. They are useful complements to print and electronic resources, and can sometimes be the only place to find a needed document, but the Internet does not have all needed law resources. There are still some gaps in what is available on the Internet for legal research, and there may continue to be gaps. Have alternative plans for finding the information you need, just in case - especially if you are in urgent need of the information.
It is possible to be overwhelmed by the myriad of resources available on the Internet (and in print and electronic formats generally). It is amazing how much law-related information is published! A good approach is to have a research plan, and if you're uncertain where to begin, ask your librarian, a colleague or someone else who might be familiar with your legal research topic. And remember that sometimes the http://www- law.lib.uchicago.edu/lib/news.html fun stuff on the Internet is not only useful for taking a break in work, but also can help you become more efficient and familiar and comfortable with using resources on the Internet for legal research. So explore anything you're interested in. And have fun!
Bon voyage! Lyo
Ms. Lyonette Louis-Jacques is Foreign and International Law Librarian and Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School. E-mail: [email protected]
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