Legal Reference for Public Libraries: Online Sources for Getting Started

The sheer volume of information available in online format can be intimidating. At the start of a reference request, rather than attempt a comprehensive review of resources, often, it is best to check one or two well-known and reliable sources.

Remember to review with a critical mind any online sources, even those considered reliable. Review Evaluating Legal Information Websites periodically to refresh your memory about important criteria.

 

For Maryland Questions

People's Law Library of Maryland
The Maryland People's Law Library, a legal information site managed by the Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, provides Marylanders with information and summaries about the law, links to primary and secondary legal sources, and referrals to legal services.

For extensive information on the procedural aspects of a case, see the Maryland People’s Law Library information, How Do I…”

Gateway to Maryland Law
For primary sources – the text of actual statutory language (Code), regulatory language (COMAR), Rules, and cases, start at the one-source-for-all page. Reliable links to online primary law materials are provided, and include a collected list of county and municipal codes as well as state materials.

Maryland Courts
The Maryland Judiciary’s website contains a vast amount of helpful material. In addition to standard court-related information such as court structure, jurisdiction, contact phone numbers, and court forms, Maryland’s courts also make available extensive resources for self-help persons. These include, but are not limited to:

The Maryland District Court has Self Help Information Brochures on common topics including landlord/tenant, garnishing wages, collecting a judgment, expungement and more. Brochures are available in several languages, usually Spanish, French, Russian, Korean and Chinese.

In addition to printable information brochures, the District Court also has helpful information pages on a number of other topics, linked right in the center of their welcome page.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals' publication, A Guide for Self-Representation, is helpful for those pursuing an appeal in Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals.

Maryland Public Library Toolkit
Many further resources to help guide you through a legal information reference request are grouped in the Toolkit.

 

For General and Non-Maryland Questions

Cornell’s Legal Information Institute
The LII’s encyclopedia, Wex, is an excellent starting point for descriptions of legal terms and concepts. If the question posed includes terms that are unfamiliar, and you’d like to get a good footing before digging further, start here. This can be particularly helpful if the question comes from a student assignment, and the information they are seeking is more theoretical than practical. 
 
On the LII home page, choose Legal Encyclopedia, then All Wex Articles. Or, use the search engine in the upper right, and filter for Wex. 

Nolo.com
Nolo is a publisher of legal information for non-lawyers. There are several excellent options for print publishers of legal resources for non-lawyers, but Nolo also produces a free online encyclopedia – essentially, a brief, distilled version of their full publications – that can provide a good basic foundation for further research. Much, though not all, of the information in the Nolo online encyclopedia is non-state-specific, and use of the information must be accompanied by a look at state-specific laws and information. But there are some state-specific articles, and some state survey articles, and a number on Maryland law in particular. These can help augment the information provided on PLL. 
 
LawHelp.org 
Operated by Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit organization and a major player in the Access to Justice movement, LawHelp.net provides a platform for reliable state-specific legal information, similar to what the People’s Law Library is for Maryland. In fact, if you click on Find Help by State and choose Maryland, you will be directed to the PLL site.  
 
LawHelp.org is an excellent starting place if you are looking for state-specific information for a non-Maryland state. As Maryland not just a small state, but a rather sprawled one, many counties border other states, and many public library systems therefore get questions about laws in those neighboring states. LawHelp.org helps point you to useful resources. 

Last revised 12/12/2019