Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Choosing the best online source for your legal issue

Thankfully, there are numerous FREE online legal resources, but finding the best one for your issue can be a daunting task. A colleague and I recently ran into this very problem while preparing to teach a class on this topic. Google is often the first place people go to start their research and that isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Elliott pointed out in a previous post, but it doesn't take long to see that you can't find everything there.

For example, Google Scholar does a pretty good job at locating cases, but it's not the best place to start looking for state statutory research.

So, is there one resource that serves as a one stop shop for all legal issues? Not really, but there are a lot of aggregate sites out there that can serve as a launching pad because they have done all the leg work and collected relevant links to authoritative resources.

Perhaps I'm biased, but I think Law Library Research Guides are a great place to start your research.

Research guides point you to all the best resources for a particular topic. If you haven't checked one out in a while, you will be pleasantly surprised. Many of them are interactive with links to websites, full-text documents, and some even have videos. Although they are usually created with a specific class in mind, they are chock full of information that anyone would find useful.

As Renee points out in her post about the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries, trial court library websites are somewhat of a "professional secret" among law librarians. There are a variety of ways to locate state specific laws, regulations, and court rules on these sites.What's great about these sites is that they are created with the general public in mind, so you don't have to be a legal scholar to navigate through all the material.

Some of my other go-to sites include Findlaw, Findlaw for Legal Professionals, Cornell's Legal Information Institute, and Got a favorite site? I'm curious to see what other free sites people prefer and why.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Brief Post

microfiche reader
A microfiche reader
While databases like Westlaw and Lexis have the complete text of opinions issued by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, they lack coverage of another important resource – the briefs filed in those cases.

Luckily, the Law Library has a resource that can fill in much of that gap. We have Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Records and Briefs on microfiche, starting with cases reported in the 219th volume of the Massachusetts Reporter. That means cases starting in 1914!

With these briefs, a researcher can get an idea of the parties' competing arguments behind a legal issue, and see what parts of those arguments the Court found to be persuasive. This set of microfiche also includes the record from the lower courts that the SJC had at its disposal. Sometimes, a decision can only be fully understood in relation to the facts from which the judges worked.

The set is not comprehensive – not every case was deemed important enough to include. To find out if a particular case is included, consult the set’s Table of Cases, also located in the microfiche area.

The microfiche are located in cabinets #40-42, and #49, in the microfiche area behind Reserve. Don’t forget that you will need to get a lens for the microfiche reader at the Circulation desk to read them.