In praise of legal research guides

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Legal research guides, sometimes called “pathfinders,” are exactly what they sound like – guides to legal research. A number of different organizations publish these guides, but a consistent source for particularly thorough and helpful guides is academic law libraries. As a new academic law librarian myself, I consistently use the guides published on the web-sites of other law schools when researching an unfamiliar topic. Almost every academic law library publishes them to some extent or another, and they can be a great resource for pro se patrons in learning how to find things like cases, laws, regulations – or even just in developing a research strategy when you don’t know where to begin.

If you need help with a particular type of problem, try googling for a research guide. For example, say you are going through a divorce – try googling “family law” and “research guide” or “family law” and “pathfinder.” I just tried the first search, and a number of helpful options came up.

If you need to find something more directly about your state (and most of the time, that is the case), you could try adding the name of the state to your search. Another, and probably more helpful, option, is to go to the home page for an academic law library in your state. Most such law libraries will have state specific, as well as more general, research guides, but they may not appear in Google. Because each law library works differently, you will probably have to poke around the web-site to see where the research guides are located, but usually, they are listed in the “Reference” or “Search” section of a given law library’s homepage.

As an example, check out the research guides on the UCLA Law Library web-page, which cover a variety of California and federal topics.

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