Legal Research from home: Where to Start

Have a legal issue and don’t know where to begin? Start with Google! Yes, Google. It provides a starting point for getting acquainted with the topic and can point you where to go in your next research step. At this stage in the research process, you are getting familiar with the legal concept and terms associated with it. Write down any definitions, codes, or cases cited to look up on trusted legal databases. For example, you are looking for Homeowners Association rules because your HOA is not making the minutes from the meetings available. You can type “hoa rules California” into the Google search bar and see what comes up. One of the first sites that comes up is the California Association of Homeowners Associations. You will find reference to the Civil Code Section 4300 by using the “Davis Stirling” link on the left side of the website., Save that code section for further investigation.

You can search for the Civil Code 4340 before using our library’s databases by going to useful links on our website for the California Legislature, or by going straight to the California Code to see if those code sections will be pertinent to your issue. Once you have found specific terms and codes, you can search for case law using more efficiently. Secondary sources like legal encyclopedias will give you an overview of the legal topic (in the case HOAs) and will have citations and cases that you can plug into Westlaw or Lexis Advance, etc.

If you need assistance, staff can provide legal information but will not be able to give legal advice. Legal information would be: locating a legal definition of a word, identifying procedural definitions, and showing you how to find legislation, court rules, cases and other resources.  Legal advice would be: staff interpreting what statutes and case law means and how it applies to a set of facts, providing procedural court recommendations, using research findings to apply to a set of facts, and filing out forms.

As a disclaimer, in general, you need to be careful with Google searching, but it’s a great tool for getting little clues to point you in the right direction that you can then come verify on our website with curated, authoritative resources.

 In our next article in the series, you will learn how to search for caselaw using free resources online.

Written by: Jenna Pontious, Public Services Librarian 


By rcll

June 08, 2020

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