April 19, 2006
Ebbinghouse on The People's Law
Carol Ebbinghouse's (Law Librarian, California Second District Court of Appeal, Los Angeles, CA) article, The People’s Law: Free Legal Help and Legal Research on the Web, was published in the April 2006 issue of Searcher: The Magazine for Database Professionals (available on Information Today).
Carol offers the following qualified advice on using Internet resources for legal research:
if I didn’t have a pre-paid legal plan through my work and couldn’t afford an attorney, the free sources on the Internet are a great place to start. Certainly a lot of background research — especially factual and regulatory — can be done to gather evidence, look into the types of remedies available, and work with law librarians (in person at court libraries or through Internet “ask a librarian” sites) for help in 1) identifying reliable and up-to-date sites, 2) navigating the search mechanisms of the various Internet sites for legal research, and 3) identifying legal assistance programs in your area providing free or sliding-fee scale attorney services.
Just remember that legal information on the Internet is usually second rate; the first rate services cost — a lot. The free sites may be clunky to use or nonintuitive, or may only have legal sources from the last 10 years — or less. They may not be current at all — even years out of date. Question everything and make sure you use an “official” version of legal information (cases, codes, regulations, etc.). Double check your information on more than one site to verify it.
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