Step by Step Guide to Legal Research for Non-Attorneys
Gather facts and information: Write a statement of facts and a timeline.
- Do this to help gain a complete understanding of everything that has happened, or is happening, in your case. This will help you identify important facts and keep dates in your case straight as you go through the legal research process.
Identify the legal issue: Determine your legal problem and your desired outcome.
- Simply figuring out where to start your legal research can often be a very hard part of the process. It may help to review your statement of facts and timeline, thinking about your ideal outcome as well as potential compromises. This will guide what type of law you research as well as assist others in helpful you accomplish your goals.
Find legal information and read about the law: Start with a broad overview, then narrow your search.
- Washington Law Help is one example of a resource that provides an overview of a variety of topics. Once you understand the general idea, you can narrow your search to specific cases or statutes. A lot of this information can be found online, but your local law librarian may be able to help find it.
Check your sources: The law changes all the time so make sure the law you are reading is current.
- This is where law librarians or an attorney might be helpful. Online databases available at the law library can be informative to check whether something has changed. A consultation with an attorney may be more valuable and effective after you have developed a general understanding of the issue, to make sure you are on the right track.
Write in all down: When you are asking the Court to do something, cite the law you found.
- Courts have to make decisions based on the law, not on what someone thinks is a good idea. When you ask the Court to do something, make sure to include the law that you found that supports your side, along with a way they can find that law (a 'citation').
Additional Resources about Legal Research
Westlaw Edge Access for Skagit County Law Library Patrons
In light of COVID-19, Thomson-Reuters is offering 20 hours of free Westlaw Edge access. While you will need to register, there is no commitment and no credit card is required. Here’s what you need to do:
- Read the detailed registration information included here.
- Follow the Westlaw Edge for Library Patrons Registration
- Enter your contact information. Note: you must use an email account not already associated with an existing Westlaw account.
- In the Organization Type field, you must select Government – State or Local. Note: you must select Government or access will not work
- Skip the Add Colleagues page.
- Agree to the Terms & Conditions and select Create Profile
- Complete the OnePass Profile and Security fields
- Confirm your OnePass profile and select Get Started to begin using your new Westlaw Edge for Library Patrons trial account.
Access to this database is available to patrons of the Skagit County Law Library on a trial (short-term) basis. If you have any difficulty accessing the database, please contact the law librarian.