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Legal Research Resources for the Public: Self Help Resources

Online Resources for Self-Represented Litigants

Pro Se Pro Tips: Legal Citations
Legal citations may look scary, but they follow a basic pattern. Generally, legal citations are written with the volume number first, an abbreviation of the title, and the page number (for cases) or section number (for statutes and regulations). For example:
  • A case on page 436 of the U.S. Reports volume 384 is cited 384 US 436 
  • A statute in section 6301 of the 20th volume of the U.S. Code is cited 20 U.S.C. 6301
  • A regulation in section 503.1 of the Code of Federal Regulations volume 22 is cited 22 CFR 503.1
When a citation includes "2d" or "3d," these terms distinguish one series from another.
  • F.3d is not an edited version of F.2d—it’s a compilation of completely different material. 

Legal writing uses some special symbols

  • The symbol for section is §. Two section symbols in a row (§§) just means multiple sections are being cited.
  • Sometimes symbols are used to signify the Plaintiff (∏, Π, or π) and Defendant (∆).
  • When lawyers refer to a specific paragraph of a legal resource, they may use the paragraph symbol (¶).

The citation guide used throughout the American legal system is the Uniform System of Citation, known as The Bluebook.

  • The Bluebook is a helpful resource to unpack an unknown citation or abbreviation.
  • Use The Bluebook to craft citations for formal legal pleadings (e.g. motions to a Court).
  • Visit the Reference Desk to borrow a Bluebook.

General Legal Research Sites

Google Scholar
Allows users to search and read published opinions of U.S. state appellate and supreme court cases since 1950; U.S. federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy court cases since 1923; and U.S. Supreme Court cases since 1791. Includes journal and conference papers and scholarly articles available anywhere on the Internet. Also searches university digital repositories.

Legal Information Institute
Provides no-cost access to many U.S. primary federal legal sources, including the U.S. Code, U.S. Supreme Court opinions, the Uniform Commercial Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. LII's collection of state legal materials includes Internet-accessible sources of constitutions, statues, judicial opinions, and regulations. 

WashLaw Legal Research on the Web
This large collection of links to legal materials, arranged by jurisdiction and topic, is maintained by the Washburn School of Law. 

Justia
Provides free case law, codes, regulations, dockets, forms, and other legal information. 

Findlaw
Provides information on several legal subjects. Forms are available for purchase. 

 

If you need more help

If you need to speak with an attorney, please consult the Finding Legal Help page of this Guide.