Making Use of Your Law Library


Law libraries are invaluable resources for self-represented persons, legal professionals, students,  and anyone else interested in law. These specialized libraries are stocked with a wealth of resources that can be instrumental in conducting legal research, understanding complex legal principles, and/or staying current with the latest legal developments. Here’s a basic guide to making the most of your law library.


Introduction to Law Libraries


Law libraries provide access to a vast array of legal information including case law, statutes, regulations, legal periodicals, treatises, and more. They are designed to support legal research in a comprehensive manner.


Traditionally, these resources were primarily in print form, but today's law libraries offer a blend of both print and digital materials.


Resources Available at a Law Library


Primary Law Materials:


    • Statutes and Legislation: Collections of federal and state statutes, legislative history, and session laws.
    • Case Law Reporters: Volumes of reported cases from various jurisdictions.
    • Regulatory Materials: Regulations and decisions from federal and state agencies.


Secondary Source Materials:


    • Legal Encyclopedias: Provide summaries of legal principles, often with references to primary law sources.
    • Treatises: In-depth analysis of particular areas of law.
    • Law Reviews and Journals: Scholarly articles on a wide range of legal topics.
    • Practice Guides: Step-by-step guides on how to handle different types of legal matters.


Reference Materials:


    • Legal Dictionaries: Definitions of legal terms and phrases.
    • Digests: Summaries of court decisions, organized by subject.
    • Citators: Tools like Shepard’s or KeyCite to check the history and treatment of legal authorities.


Technology and Online Databases:


    • Legal Research Platforms: Services like Westlaw, LexisNexis, and Bloomberg Law.
    • Public Access Terminals: Computers that provide free access to certain legal databases.


Archives and Special Collections:


    • Historical Legal Documents: Important for understanding the evolution of laws.
    • Rare Law Books: Early treatises and legal texts that are often hard to find.


Getting Help at the Law Library


Reference Librarians:


    • Law libraries typically have reference librarians who are experts in legal research and can guide you to the right resources.
    • They can also assist with using online legal databases and other electronic resources.


Research Workshops and Seminars:


    • Many law libraries offer workshops that teach research strategies and how to use specific resources.


Guides and Tutorials:


    • Printed guides or online tutorials for conducting legal research are often available.


How the Law Library Can Be Helpful


Legal Research:


    • Law libraries are the places to go for comprehensive legal research.
    • They provide the resources necessary to find case law, statutes, and develop legal arguments.


Academic Support:


    • Law libraries support academic endeavors, offering materials for coursework, moot court competitions, and law review research.


Continuing Legal Education:


    • They serve as hubs for continuing education through seminars, bulletins, and updates on the law.


Public Services:


    • Law libraries often provide legal information to the public, helping individuals understand their legal rights and obligations.


Professional Development:


    • They offer resources for professionals to deepen their understanding of specialized legal areas.


Legal Writing and Publications:


    • Access to research materials and databases is essential for producing high-quality legal writing and publications.


Tips for Using a Law Library


Plan Your Visit:


    • Know the library’s hours and any access restrictions.
    • Have a clear research plan or questions ready if you need assistance.


Use Online Catalogs:


    • Familiarize yourself with the library’s catalog to locate materials quickly.


Take Advantage of Technology:


    • Utilize online databases and research platforms available through the library.


Follow Library Policies:


    • Understand and adhere to the library’s policies regarding checkouts, photocopies, and computer use.


Engage with the Community:


    • Participate in events and seminars to network and learn from others.


A law library can be a goldmine of information, providing the tools and support needed to succeed in the legal world. Whether you’re drafting a legal memorandum, preparing for a trial, or just interested in legal study, knowing how to effectively use a law library is an indispensable skill.


For a more comprehensive look at legal research, how to do a legal analysis, and the civil litigation process generally, check out the Self Rep Edge Video Series and Civil Litigation Workbook.