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Free legal information

Information on locating, accessing, and applying free legal resources on the internet.

About this Guide

This Guide describes a wide range of free legal resources. It covers primary law, government resources, court resources, research guides, self-help information, and various reference sources. There are many, many legal resources online and offline, but it is important to be aware of the source or publisher and to use accurate and authoritative legal information in your research and practice. 

Sources of Law

The legal resources provided in this guide come from various sources, so please be aware of the publisher and cite to official sources whenever possible.

  • Official information is provided by government agencies and designated official publishers (e.g. .gov websites and Official Reporters for cases).

  • Unofficial publishers (often non-profit organizations or law schools) provide legal resources that are similar to official sources but not maintained by the government.

Federal Sources of Law

California Sources of Law

California Government

The Executive Branch is overseen by the Office of the Governor and includes elected officials and administrators of agencies, department boards and commissions. Also, the agencies' proposed regulations are reviewed by the Office of Administrative Law, in compliance with the Administrative Procedures Act.

The Legislature includes two branches, the State Assembly and the Senate. The Legislature votes on state laws and drafts legislation.

The Judiciary includes the California Supreme Court and the Appellate and County Superior Courts in the state. It interprets and applies laws at state and local levels, develops court rules and official forms.

Local municipalities include cities, counties, special districts, and regional bodies.

Legal Citations

A citation (or cite) in legal research is a shorthand method of identifying a specific legal source, such as a statute or published case. Legal forums (e.g. Federal District Courts, State Courts, or Administrative Law proceedings) have various citation rules, for example the federal courts require the Bluebook. The Bluebook is also used for legal scholarship such as law reviews. 

The titles of primary legal authorities are usually abbreviated and the format of a cite is often standard for various sources (e.g. case cites are volume number, title, page). There can also be more than one citation for a publisher other than the official one, this is known as a parallel citation. The official citation is cited first, followed by, if necessary, the parallel citation.

Reading a Legal Citation

Here is an example of the various components of a legal citation adhering to the Bluebook citation conventions.

Party Names

Volume Number

Bluebook Abbreviation for Publication

Pages or Section Number(s)

Brown v. Board of Education

347

U.S.
 

483

Reading a Federal Code Section

Here is an example of the various components of a federal code section citation adhering to the Bluebook citation conventions.

Volume Number

Source

Section Number(s)

Year

42

U.S.C.

§ 1983

(2017)

Reading a California Code Section

Here is an example of the various components of a California code section citation adhering to the Bluebook citation conventions.

Code Title

Section Symbol

Section Number(s)

Year and Publisher

Cal. Penal Code

§

247

(Deering 2017)

 

Check out this video below for a further explanation of legation citations.

Beginning Research

Familiarizing yourself with the law and how to do legal research is the best way to understand your legal issue and use the resources available to you. These handbooks can help you do that.

Legal Research for Pro Se Litigants

  • This short handbook provides an introduction to legal research for civil legal cases in the U.S. Northern District Court, but the general information can help anyone doing legal research. It includes: how to define the legal issue, start research, narrow your results (provided by the San Francisco Bar Justice & Diversity Center).

Locating the Law: A Handbook for Non-Law Librarians (scroll down the page to access the the handbook)

  • This book provides an introduction to sources of law, citations, and how to conduct legal research. It is a geared towards novice legal researchers and self-represented litigants (provided by Southern California Association of Law Libraries).

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: How to Read a Legal Citation
  • Chapter 3: Basic Legal Research Techniques
  • Chapter 4: Legal Reference vs. Legal Advice
  • Chapter 5: California Law
  • Chapter 6: Bibliography of California Resources
  • Chapter 7: Federal Law
  • Chapter 8: Citators
  • Chapter 9: Assisting Self-Represented Litigants
  • Chapter 10: Bibliography of Self-Help Resources
  • Chapter 11: Availability, Accessibility and Maintenance of Legal Collections
  • Chapter 12: Major Law Publishers
  • Appendix A: Glossary of Legal Terms
  • Appendix B: Common Abbreviations in the Law
  • Appendix C: California County Law Libraries
  • Appendix D: California Law Schools

NOLO Self-Help Books

Legal Information Reference Center (database for NOLO books and forms)

  • NOLO publishes legal guides written in plain English to help answer common legal questions and to provide information useful for those handling legal matters on their own. NOLO books are often available at public libraries and public law libraries.
  • This database of NOLO books is provided by Yolo County Law Library for people living, working, studying or litigating within the County.
    • Log-in instructions are provided once you click the link. 

Not in Yolo? Check your county law library to see what resources are available for you.