How to Do Legal Research (for Non Lawyers)

Trying to “do-it-yourself” with your legal issue? While we of course strongly recommend getting help from a licensed attorney, we understand that’s not always possible. But you should at least try – here are some options for free and low cost legal help!

If you still want to do it on your own, and you haven’t found the answer in our Legal Guides, we have provided some resources on this page for further research. Be sure to read Legal Basics before proceeding. For example, you need to know what happens if you find two laws that seem to conflict with each other.

Other Legal Info Websites:

LawHelp.org

Disasterlegalaid.org (for disaster victims)

Statesidelegal.org (for Veterans and their families)

U.S. Constitution

We have the full text of the United States Constitution. But the courts (particularly the Supreme Court) have the final say on how the Constitution is actually applied in specific cases, which is why you need to look at the “case law” (see below).

Federal, state and local codes

Codes are collections of laws passed by a body of lawmakers, such as Congress, the state legislature, and the city council. Laws passed by Congress or a state legislature are called “statutes,” and laws passed by city councils are usually called “ordinances.”

But the courts have the final say on how the statutes and ordinances are actually applied in specific cases, which is why you need to look at the “case law” (see below).

Codes

Federal statutes are found in the U.S. Code (laws passed by U.S. Congress)

State statutes are found in state codes. You can find these at the National Conference of State Legislators – compiles state by state laws on various topics

Local laws and ordinances are generally found in “municipal codes.” For the Los Angeles area, see here. Otherwise, do a Google search for “[your city] + municipal code.”

Federal Rules and Regulations

“Rules and regulations” are “laws” enacted by agencies within the executive branch at every level – federal, state, and local. These are created to implement and enforce laws already passed by the legislative branch.

But the courts have the final say on how the rules and regulations are actually applied in specific cases, which is why you need to look at the “case law” (see below).

You can find federal rules and regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

Case law research

All of the above types of law are subject to decisions made by courts and judges. In addition, where there are no laws relevant to a particular case, courts and judges generally have to “create” a law through their decision in the case (this is called “common law”). The decisions and opinions by courts and judges form the body of “case law.”

You can search for federal and state case law for free via Leagle.com and RavelLaw.com

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