Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Legal Research for Non-Lawyers

The Goodson Law Library recently updated its guide to Legal Research for Non-Lawyers. The new additions include an extensive list of local and national services for legal referrals, maintained by the Duke Law School Pro Bono Project. New links to free legal research resources like Google Scholar (for case law) and the American Bar Association's Law Reviews & Journals Search (for articles) have also been added.

By far, though, the biggest change to the guide was the addition of e-book versions (where available) of popular Nolo Press self-help guides via the Legal Information Reference Center. These electronic versions may be used on-site by library visitors or off-campus by those with a current Duke University NetID. In many cases, the version available online is more recent than the library’s Reference Collection copies, which are updated less frequently. Some highlights:
  • Paul Bergman & Sara J. Berman-Barrett. Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare and Try a Winning Case, 6th ed. (Ref KF 8841.B47 2008 & 2010 ed. online)
  • David Brown, Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court & Win, 4th ed. (Ref KF2231 .Z9 B76 2005 & 2010 ed. online)
  • Denis Clifford, Legal Guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples, 14th ed. (Ref KF538.C87 2007 & 2012 ed. online). 
  • Janet Portman & Marcia Stewart, Every Tenant's Legal Guide, 6th ed. (Ref KF590.Z9P67 2009 & 2012 ed. online
  • Fred Steingold, The Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business, 2011 ed. available online.
As the guide cautions, though, legal research can be a difficult proposition even for seasoned attorneys. Information presented in these self-help resources is necessarily general and introductory, and will likely not provide a complete answer to a particular legal question. Last month, Consumer Reports compared the legal self-help websites Nolo, LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, concluding that they are no substitute for the assistance of a lawyer in all but the simplest of legal issues. However, these resources can provide valuable grounding in the terminology and procedures involved in a legal problem, and allow clients to better communicate with their attorneys.

For assistance with locating self-help guides on a particular topic, consult our new and improved Legal Research for Non-Lawyers guide or Ask a Librarian.