Legal resources are a wide range of materials used to support legal research, practice or advocacy. They may include legal dictionaries, law reviews, treatises, American Law Reports, and other secondary sources that organize, explain, and analyze primary source material. Although they are not law themselves, they can be persuasive authority in a court case, and courts often cite to them when making decisions on issues.
The first place to look when researching a topic is usually a legal dictionary. Legal dictionaries offer definitions of common legal terms and provide pronunciation guides. They also include the legal jargon that is often found in legislation and court cases. Legal dictionaries can be found in the reference area of most libraries or online at Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute.
Another excellent resource is a legal encyclopedia. An encyclopedia is an organized collection of articles, often in alphabetical order, about the laws of a particular area of the law. Legal encyclopedias can be very helpful in researching an unfamiliar subject because they describe and analyze the law and usually provide citations to the relevant primary source material, which can be more difficult to locate than a single source. The best legal encyclopedias are published by academic law libraries and contain authoritative, up-to-date information.
Law reviews are periodicals that publish essays and articles written by law professors, judges, and other lawyers. They can help researchers understand and interpret the law by describing, analyzing, and commenting on the law as it exists now and in the past. They can also provide citations to significant and recent legal cases and statutes that are important to a given issue. Law reviews are usually highly persuasive authority in a court case and can be helpful in formulating arguments. Some legal encyclopedias are also available online, such as HeinOnline and Westlaw Campus Research.
Federal law is largely determined by Congress, while state governments create the law in many areas, such as divorce, landlord-tenant, small business, and personal injury. A growing number of areas are addressed by both federal and state law, such as consumer protection, employment, food and drug regulation, and copyrights. Federal law alone governs a few subjects, such as bankruptcy, federal taxes, and Social Security.
The Legal Services Corporation has a website that contains statistics on legal needs and resources in the United States, including access to attorneys and other civil legal aid providers. It also includes a list of national and state resources for those without the means to hire an attorney. Other resources for individuals seeking legal assistance can be found through organizations like the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, which develops programs to help legal practitioners provide pro bono services for homeless clients. Other resources for individuals who need legal help include the Center for Adolescent Health and the Law, which provides research, analysis, training, publications and advocacy on a range of issues affecting adolescents’ access to comprehensive health care and legal assistance.