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Searching Law on the Web

"Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by packrats and vandalized nightly." - Roger Ebert

INTRODUCTION

The amount of free legal information on the web continues to grow, particularly for primary source information, such as judicial decisions, legislation, bills, debates, committee proceedings, international treaties, agreements, and documents put out by international organizations. It is also used by law firms and organizations to publish articles, papers, and conference proceedings.

At the same time, it can be, as someone once said, like using a library in which all the books have been dumped on the floor. Information appears and disappears from various sites, some sites are official and put together with care while others are hammered out in someone's basement, and the whole thing lacks any organizing principles.

This raises two fundamental issues:

  • how do you find relevant information efficiently and effectively?
  • once found, how do you evaluate the information?

FINDING INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET

Search Engines

Because the Web is not indexed in any standard manner, finding information can seem difficult. Almost any search can return thousands of results. Without a clear search strategy, simply googling for legal information can be very time consuming.

Successful searching involves two key steps. First, you must have a clear understanding of how to prepare your search. You must identify the main concepts in your topic and determine any synonyms, alternate spellings, or variant word forms for the concepts. Second, you need to know how to use the various search tools available on the Internet.

While there is a lot of legal information on the web, only some of it is reliable or official. A simple Google search will uncover some legal materials, but much online legal information will only be accessible via smaller, specialized legal search engines that are not indexed directly by Google. The amount of legal material available online will also vary by jurisdiction. Sometimes, the best you will get from online searching will be to locate the existence and names of print legal sources, which you can then find either in your home library or through interlibrary loan. This chapter will review some useful sources for finding legal information online.

EVALUATING INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET

The relative ease with which information can be presented on the internet and the volume of information presently available creates a morass of networked data that contains valuable nuggets buried in an incredible amount of junk. In looking for information on the internet, we need to use the same critical evaluative skills that we would use in looking at a book, a paper index, a musical score, or on an online commercial database.

Web sites should be evaluated for the relevance, accuracy and authority of the information provided. For more detailed information about evaluating websites, consult guides such as UC Berkeley Library's Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply and Questions to Ask.  

Some of the questions a researcher should ask include:

  • Does the site claim to represent a group, an organization, an institution, a corporation or a governmental body?
  • Does the site offer a selected list of resources in a particular discipline or field or does it claim to offer a complete list?
  • Does the site refer to print and other non-Internet resources or just Internet resources?
  • If a selected list is offered, are criteria provided describing how the list of resources was chosen?
  • Is an explanation provided for use of particular criteria?
  • Does the site claim to describe or provide the results of research or scholarly effort?
  • Are sufficient references provided to other works, to document hypotheses, claims or assertions?
  • Are references cited fully?
  • Can the results be refuted or verified through other means--e.g., by use of library-related research tools?
  • Is any sort of third-party financial or other support or sponsorship evident?
  • Is advertising included at the site, and if so, has it had an impact on the content?
  • Who designed the criteria used in selecting items for this site (if any), and who selected the items listed?
  • Is the site officially or unofficially sponsored or supported by particular groups, organizations, institutions, corporations or governmental bodies?
  • Can the researchers, scholars, groups, organizations, institutions, corporations or governmental bodies listed as authors, sponsors or supporters, be verified as such, and what are their qualifications?
  • How up-to-date is the study or the site?
  • Are results of research studies reported in the style expected for that discipline?
  • Are references provided in the style normally used for documentation in that discipline?

 

INTERNET LINKS

The following links may provide you with a good starting point in your area of research:

General Canadian Law Sites

  • CanLII
    Managed by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and part of the LII (Legal Information Institutes) network of websites around the world, CanLII provides free access to legislation, court cases, and tribunal cases from across the country. It adds new materials continually.
  • The Great Library of the Law Society of Upper Canada
    The library's primary function is to meet the legal research and information needs of Law Society members by providing access to publications, documents, and services necessary to the practice of law.
  • Legaltree.ca
    Legaltree.ca is a collaboratively built website with an extensive list of legal research resources by subject area maintained by the site administrators, and legal literature contributed by lawyers in the Canadian legal community. They also post brief summaries of Supreme Court of Canada cases shortly after the decisions come down.
  • Slaw.ca
    Created with a focus on legal information and research, it now a blog about all things legal.

General U.S. Law Sites - please see also the chapter on American Legal Materials

  • FindLaw
    Findlaw has sites for legal professionals, students, and the general public. This version is aimed at legal professionals and has links to dozens of law-related sites, mostly U.S.-based. You can browse for the latest legal news, case law, and analytical articles as well as search for a case or research an attorney.
  • Findlaw: Law Journals
    The student side of FindLaw contains mostly U.S. academic law reviews and journals, sorted by practice area, with links to the specific journals’ sites – some with full text articles.
  • Google Scholar's Legal Opinions and Journals
    Includes US state appellate and supreme court cases (1950-), US federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy courts (1923-)and US Supreme Court cases (1791-)(source: Google Scholar Help)
  • Hieros Gamos
    HG.org was one of the first online law and government sites. It was founded in January of 1995 by Lex Mundi, a large network of independent law firms. It is one of the most highly-used legal sites. There are many different kinds of legal directories, including law firms, legal experts and other legal services; employment, business and student centres; legal news links; links to both U.S. and international law sites; and more. Again, a heavy emphasis on the U.S. but a good starting point nonetheless.
  • JURIST: The Law Professor's Network
    An authoritative, non-commercial forum in which law professors, students, lawyers, judges, journalists and citizens can share a wide range of legal information and ideas.
  • Justia
    Custom search engines by area of law, blawg searches, etc.
  • The Legal Information Institute (Cornell University)
    Striving to make law more accessible not only to US legal professionals but to students, teachers, and the general public in the US and abroad, this website includes the United States Code, an organized compilation of current federal laws, and the collections of all recent opinions of the US Supreme Court and New York State Court of Appeals. The site also provides easy-to-understand topical overviews of such areas as banking law and employment discrimination law, and an organized collections of links to sites offering court decisions, statutes, regulations, and other legal materials.
  • THOMAS (United States Congress)
    A feature of the Library of Congress, this database allows you to search for federal U.S. legislation. It is also a good resource for other information regarding the U.S. Legislature, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the U.S. Code.

Foreign/International - please see also the chapter on International and Foreign Law

United Kingdom - please see also the chapter on Researching UK Law

  • Houses of Parliament Home Page (UK)
    A wealth of information about the UK Parliament, including bills currently being debated. Also has links to the UK Statute Law Database and Acts of the UK Parliament (see below). A good general resource to learn more about the UK government system.
  • Acts of Parliament (UK)
    This site provides links to the full text of all UK Parliament Public General Acts (from 1988 onwards) and all Local Acts (from 1991 onwards) as they were originally enacted, as well as The European Communities Act 1972 and Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975. Legislation made prior to 1988 is only available in its original print format as before this date legislation was not produced electronically. Bills currently before the UK Parliament are available on the UK Parliament website.
  • British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII)
    A free site which allows you to search for British and Irish case law & legislation, European Union case law, Law Commission reports, and other law-related British and Irish material.
  • Irish Legal Information Initiative
    Another free site which has access to databases of Irish statutes, statutory instruments, cases and periodicals.

Commonwealth

  • Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII)
    Free access to Australian legal information, including primary legal materials (legislation, treaties and decisions of courts and tribunals); secondary legal materials created by public bodies for purposes of public access (law reform and royal commission reports, for example); and a substantial collection of law journals.
  • New Zealand Government Online
    A general government site, it also has links to legislation and local and regional councils for their regulations.
  • New Zealand Legal Information Institute (NZLII)
    Similar to AustLII, this site has decisions from different court levels as well as treaties, tribunals and periodicals.
  • CommonLII
    The Commonwealth Legal Information Institute aims to provide one central Internet location from which it is possible to search – for free – core legal information from all Commonwealth countries, including case law, legislation, treaties, law journals and law reform reports.

Europe

  • European Union
    In addition to general information about the EU, there is an online library with links to European Law databases, case law, and summaries of legislation.
  • Council of Europe
    Founded in 1949, the Council of Europe seeks to develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other reference texts on the protection of individuals. In the legal field, the Council of Europe contributes to the harmonization of Europe's legal systems on the basis of standards which are laid down within the organization. Its overall aim is to encourage the establishment and development of democratic institutions and procedures at the national, regional and local level, and to promote respect for the principles of the rule of law. In addition to a database of treaties and agreements, this site has articles on legal relationships between the nations and news briefs.
  • Law-France
    L'Indexeur juridique AltaVista de la Faculté de Droit de l'Université de la Sarre vous offre l'index de plus de 300 serveurs gouvernementales et juridiques francophones qui constituent une base de 330 000 pages juridiques.

Asia/Africa

  • Asian Legal Information Institute
    A non-profit and free access web site for legal information from 28 countries and territories in Asia located from Japan in the east to Afghanistan in the west, and from Mongolia in the north to Timor Leste in the south. You can search and browse databases of legislation, case law, law reform reports, law journals, and other legal information, where available, from each country in the region.
  • Hong Kong Legal Information Institute
    Another free legal database, with access to the various Hong Kong court decisions, ordinances and regulations.
  • Southern African Legal Information Institute
    The Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII) collects and publishes legal materials from Southern and Eastern Africa for free online access.
  • Subsaharan Africa Government Information
    Created by the University of California Berkeley, this is a guide and custom search engine for government documents from the region.

Multi-Jurisdictional

  • Global Legal Information Catalog
    Created by the Library of Congress, this is a searchable database to find materials reprinting laws on a particular topic from a particular jurisdiction.
  • Inter-Parliamentary Union
    The IPU is the international organization of Parliaments of Sovereign States, established in 1889. The Union is the focal point for world-wide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and co-operation among peoples and for the firm establishment of representative democracy. The IPU works closely with the United Nations, regional inter-parliamentary organizations, and international intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. This site features links to many databases including The PARLINE database on National Parliaments, which contains information on the structure and working methods of 263 parliamentary chambers in all of the 189 countries where a national legislature exists; PARLIT, where you can search for bibliographic references on books and articles dealing with parliamentary law and practice; and links to many worldwide parliamentary web sites. There is also a special section on women in parliamenent around the world and a Women in Politics bibliographic database.
  • World Legal Information Institute
    The mothership of free legal information sites, with 865 databases from 123 countries and territories via the Free Access to Law Movement.

     

International Organizations/International Law Sites - please see also the chapter on International and Foreign Law (http://library.queensu.ca/law/lederman/foreignlaw)

  • United Nations
    In addition to being a general information site for the UN, this site links to a section on international law (http://www.un.org/law/) which provides many useful links and a research guide to international law. There is also a section on Human Rights (www.un.org/rights/) which outlines different treaties and tribunals.
  • World Trade Organization
    Contains WTO legal texts in addition to many other resources such as statistics, research, reports, and a database of the WTO library.
  • International Monetary Fund
    Includes a database of IMF publications and reports as well as a wide range of data and statistics.
  • World Bank
    Contains both current and historical archives of World Bank publications and reports, as well as data, statistics, reseach, and information on their various projects.
  • Organization of American States
    The Organization of American States (OAS) brings together the nations of the Western Hemisphere to strengthen cooperation on democratic values, defend common interests and debate the major issues facing the region and the world. This site contains documents, publications, news and other information regarding their activities.
  • NATO
    This site contains basic texts of NATO agreements as well as summit and ministerial decisions, speeches, press releases and statements, and conference proceedings.
  • International Court of Justice
    The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). This site contains information about the Court as well as information from all cases heard since its inception.

Law Journals

  • FindLaw - Law Reviews
    The student side of FindLaw has a wonderful resource of mostly U.S. academic law reviews and journals, sorted by practice area, with links to the specific journals’ sites – some with full text articles.
  • Bora Laskin Law Library List of Electronic Law Journals
    This database includes direct links to all full-text law journals on LexisNexis Quicklaw, WestlawNext Canada, and University of Toronto Electronic Resources or the Internet. The list also includes the library's print holdings. Wherever possible, holdings information (since 1992) has been included.
  • Law.com Quest
    This search engine is provided by a major publisher of legal and business magazines and links to several U.S. national and regional legal publications online, including The American Lawyer, The National Law Journal, New York Law Journal, and Legal Times.
  • Directory of Open Access Journals
    This directory includes scholarly law journals in its roster of quality-controlled journals available for free on the web.

Associations

  • Canadian Bar Association
    The Canadian Bar Association is a professional, voluntary organization which was formed in 1896 and incorporated by a Special Act of Parliament on April 15, 1921. Today, the Association represents thousands of lawyers, judges, notaries, law teachers, and law students from across Canada.
  • Law Society of Upper Canada
    The Law Society of Upper Canada is the self-governing body for lawyers in Ontario. The primary responsibility or mandate of the Law Society is to regulate the legal profession in the public interest according to Ontario law and the Law Society's rules, regulations and guidelines.
  • American Bar Association
    The American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional association in the world. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.

EDUCATIONAL AND DOCUMENTARY FILM COLLECTIONS IN CANADIAN LAW LIBRARIES

The aim of this project was to produce a list of titles of educational and documentary films (primarily on DVD/VHS) located in Canadian academic law libraries. The titles were compiled during the latter half of 2006. This is not intended to be used as a union list, rather it is meant to provide a record of what is available in Canada to view, borrow or purchase for a collection. Download the PDF

Last Updated: 26 August 2014