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Legal Resources for Non-Law Students: Home

links to general legal information for students and the public

About this guide

booksThis guide is intended to provide general legal resources for students not requiring the detailed, more advanced research tools that are available in the Law Library.

If you need more specialized resources, or more expert guidance in using legal sources, please consult a librarian at the Law Library!

Many of the resources cited in this guide are freely available to the general public as well as to our students, from on or off campus. Resources that are restricted to our students are noted by this graphic: key


pointingMore details on some topics covered in this guide can be found in our LibGuideCongress, Legislation, etc., and in other LibGuides. Look for this graphic when reference to these other resources will give you more information on the topic being discussed.

On this page

Finding Legal Information

scalesLooking for legal information can be confusing and even overwhelming at times. But keeping in mind the various types of legal entities that produce information, and the general types of information produced, can make the process at least a little more understandable.

If you can answer these questions, you'll have a good handle on where to look for specifics.

  1. What is the jurisdiction covering the topic? In other words, is it a municipal, state, or federal (or international) matter? The answer to this question will determine which court system, or which government agencies, have produced the information you need.
  2. Are you looking for a law, a regulation, a judicial opinion or the result of a case?
    1. Federal laws are passed by Congress
    2. State laws by state legislatures
    3. Municipal ordinances by city councils or county governments
    4. Regulations are the rules written by agencies at these various levels that make the law enforceable
    5. Judicial opinions are rulings by a court regarding a particular law, regulation, or case
    6. Cases are individual legal actions that have been brought to a court for adjudication
  3. Each of these types of legal information requires a different type of searching.
  4. Cases heard only by federal courts include those dealing with:
    1. consitutionality of laws
    2. federal laws and treaties
    3. intellectual property
    4. disputes between two or more states
    5. interstate commerce
    6. bankruptcy
  5. Federal or state courts may hear cases in areas such as these:
    1. crimes punishable under both federal and state law
    2. some civil rights cases
    3. class action cases
    4. environmental regulations
  6. At some levels of court action, it might be important to distinguish between civil and criminal matters. Criminal cases involve affixing punishment for the breaking of a law, whereas civil actions resolve disputes in such areas as contracts, real estate, wills, etc. It's in civil court that lawsuits are brought against individuals or organizations as an attempt to redress grievances. 

If you have a legal citation from another source, interpreting the citation can be critical to determining the answers to these key questions. And, consequently, where you should look for the information.

Generally speaking, legal citations follow this formula: 

[chapter/title/volume] [source] [page/law/section/issue]

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For more information on interpreting citations and legal abbreviations, see the Citations tab of this guide.

Other guides to legal research