Legal Research for Non-Lawyers

This site provides free self-help legal information and relevant history. The fifty U.S. States have similar laws. Once you learn how to find, locate and interpret the laws of your state, it becomes easier to do the same in any state; although each state has it's own unique set of laws and court decisions. The state concepts and laws mentioned in this site might provide clues for the types of laws and decisions to search for in your state if you're not a Missouri resident.

St. Louis Ordinances | St. Louis County Ordinances | Other Missouri Municipal Ordinances | Missouri State Law | Federal Law | Understanding Missouri Courts | Missouri Law Libraries​Library of Legal Articles | Why This Site Was Created | Rules of the Game | History | Legal Dictionary | Free Legal Help | 

Some of the information below is excerpted from chapter 5 of the ebook "Legal Research for Non-Lawyers". In addition to the information below, the book provides access to hundreds of other free valuable online legal resources.

There was a period in our nation's history when most citizens did not rely on lawyers for legal information. Between 1687 and 1788, all the legal treatises were written for laymen and not a single legal treatise was published in America that was intended for lawyers. Two of the most popular legal treatises share the same title; "Every Man His Own Lawyer", published in 1768 and another version by a different author, published in 1869.

Until the American Bar Association convinced the states to pass "unauthorized practice of law" statutes in the 1920s and 1930s, giving lawyers a monopoly over the legal system, most states enforced few if any restrictions on non-lawyers appearing in court on behalf of others.

The greatest trick the legal profession ever pulled was convincing everyone that, “a man who is his own attorney, has a fool for a client”. The “fool” proverb is so effective, even lawyers believe it’s true. However, many people now believe, "He who is represented is usually taken for a fool."

Warren Burger, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1969 to 1986, is quoted as saying; "75 to 90 percent of American Trial Lawyers are incompetent, dishonest or both."

What is Legal Research?

Legal research is "the process of identifying and retrieving information necessary to support your case and help the judge or jury with legal decision-making. Legal research is the backbone of any legal case. In its broadest sense, legal research includes each step of a course of action that begins with an analysis of the facts of a problem and concludes with the application and communication of the results of the investigation."

The goal of legal research is usually to find primary authority (a case, statute, or administrative law document) to support a legal argument. Legal research will help you find, understand, and apply the law. Performing good legal research will provide you with the foundation you need to proceed confidently and achieve the best result for your case. To perform legal research, you must learn how to use specialized resources.

Legal Research for Non-Lawyers eBook

Legal Research for Non-Lawyers is designed to help you help yourself and is based on the proverb, "give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime." This book can be used by anyone in the United States and provides resources for Federal law, State law for each of the fifty states, including most local municipalities ordinances. 

In rural areas and small towns, average attorney fees are  $100 to $200 an hour.  In urban areas, average hourly fees are $200 to $400. When you pay for legal services, you're basically paying for your lack of knowledge. However, you don't have to remain unknowledgeable about the law.

The cost of legal services is not affordable for most and even people solidly in the middle-class struggle to pay for attorney fees. The law is quickly becoming a luxury available only to the well-off. The cost of simply filing your initial papers for a lawsuit is usually between $500 and $1500. This price does not include the fees your lawyer charges for researching and drafting the papers. Since the cost of going to trial is approximately $50,000 or more, even when you do hire an attorney, they will most likely settle your case, even when the chances of winning are high.

The cost of litigation and going to trial include among other things:

  • initial fact investigation
  • legal research
  • drafting complaint or answer
  • conducting discovery
  • draft cross-claim, counterclaim or third-party claim
  • prepare and respond to motions
  • attend hearings
  • settlement negotiations
  • preparing witnesses and experts
  • prepare for voir dire (jury selection)
  • draft opening and closing statements
  • prepare for direct and cross-examination
  • propose findings of fact and conclusions of law

Most items mentioned above, I have personally done myself, at little or no cost, including winning a creditor lawsuit against one of the largest banks in the U.S.  at a jury trial.

After my wife and I both lost our jobs, we had, at least, thirteen cases filed against us. We won twelve of those cases and the thirteenth case went to the Missouri Court of Appeals and the appellate court ruled that the circuit court violated a rule. When you don't know your rights, or how to invoke them, you might as well not have any.

On Your Own

You can perform legal research without the ebook, just like I did, however, "Legal Research for Non-Lawyers" makes your task easier and quicker. Before I lost my job, I owned four houses, so I had resources I could sell. Prior to my job loss, Obama's stimulus package provided emergency extended unemployment benefits; which provide additional financial resources that gave me additional time to perform research. Unemployment benefits have since been reduced from 26 weeks to twenty weeks, then to only thirteen weeks in Missouri, but the reduction was overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court. 

I had accumulated assets and real property that I sold to get me over certain financial hurdles, which freed up time to perform legal research. If the resources revealed in "Legal Research for Non-Lawyers" would have been available to me, my legal battles would have been much easier. Do you have the luxury of time? 

This helpful and informative eBook about legal research is designed to provide you with the materials most commonly used by attorneys in their day-to-day practice and you'll gain access to some of the best online databases, and free sources of law on the Internet. You'll also learn about printed sources of legal material that usually cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars to purchase, and how you can gain access for free.

There are valuable hard to find resources in this ebook that are not contained anywhere within 

Legal research book cover 2

We live and work in a nation of laws that are always changing and many legal issues are too important to leave solely to the lawyers. You can discover how to locate the most recent decisions that have been made about the law that applies to your situation. Don't assume the judge or the opposing counsel haven't done their homework.

For a limited time only use the code 40OFF at checkout to receive a 40% discount.

"Legal Research for Non-Lawyers" is currently available in PDF format.  Get your copy today! 

Several years ago, the Internet reached a milestone of over one billion websites. The Internet provides a ton of valuable resources you can use to conduct legal research, but there are also a lot of dead-end, bogus legal theories, and incorrect information. You could search the Internet for weeks and still not find a fraction of the legal information you need to effectively help you with your legal issue. You need to know, not only where to search but what to search for, to answer a specific legal question. "Legal Research for Non-Lawyers" is your guide to help navigate you to reliable research sources. It's the sort of guide I wish had been available to me, so I wouldn't have wasted so much time.

The major legal research databases such as Lexis/Nexis and Westlaw used by law firms and corporations are very expensive and even some attorneys in private practice can't afford subscriptions. However, there are some excellent free and low-cost legal resources that can be used to help win your case which are revealed in  "Legal Research for Non-Lawyers".

The author of "Legal Research for Non-Lawyers" spent hundreds of hours at law libraries discovering valuable, often hidden legal information and provides easy to understand explanations and overviews of the law. Over a period of several years, thousands of hours were spent reading hundreds of books, magazines and newspapers articles and a  countless number of websites were visited to find the very best insider tips and the right combination of legal resources. Those resources were then used by the author, a non-lawyer, to defeat various debt collectors and predatory municipalities using licensed attorneys with years of legal training.

People face unfair and corrupt situations in courtrooms all across the country every day; most people simply get mad and lose. Learn how to turn your anger into action!

You will be introduced to the major concepts of criminal and civil law including due process, presentation of evidence, making objections and much more. Discover how to navigate the court system, find and cite controlling appellate opinions which determine who wins your case.  Discover how to improve your writing and draft proper legal pleadings and motions. Learn how to prepare for trial, recognize many of the dirty tricks used by attorneys and find out how to preserve your rights. Many of the most common legal terms are explained clearly in plain English.

Have you ever been treated unfairly but let it go because hiring an attorney is too expensive? When you learn how to find the law, you can make it work for you. Whatever your legal issue:

  • Lawsuit
  • Estate planning or wills
  • Housing
  • Personal injury
  • Traffic violation or DUI
  • Bankruptcy or financial
  • Criminal
  • Employment
  • Divorce
  • Discrimination

Knowing how to research the law will allow you to answer many of your legal question without having to pay attorney fees.

For a limited time only use the code 40OFF at checkout to receive a 40% discount.

Don't waste valuable time blindly searching or become frustrated finding bogus legal theories including ridiculous and dangerous legal myths such as "Admiralty courts", "Yellow Fringed Flags", "Patriots" or "Copyrighted Person" theories that always results  in losing the case.

"Legal Research for Non-Lawyers" is currently available in PDF format.  Get your copy today! 

Your payment will be processed by Paypal, one of the largest and most secure online payment processors  We never see or have access to your credit card information. Once your payment is complete, you can click a link which will bring you back to a confirmation page that contains a link to your digital file. You will also receive an email which contains a clickable link to your purchase. 

Your research will require reading court decision and you should read: How to read a legal citation (PDF). A document created for new law school students, How to read a legal opinion clearly explains the topic. Cornell’s an introduction to basic legal citation includes links to free video tutorials. 

Your purchase helps fund our efforts to providing free self-help legal information. However, if you can't or don't wish to purchase, we still want to help. Below are some tips to help you find the answers you need.

Statutory Interpretation

Before you begin researching the law, it is very important to understand what the law actually says, rather than guessing or assuming. Statutes are laws enacted by the legislature at the federal or state level. Statutory interpretation is the process by which courts interpret and apply legislation. Some amount of interpretation is often necessary when a case involves a statute. Sometimes the words of a statute have a plain and straightforward meaning. But in many cases, there is some ambiguity or vagueness in the words of the statute that must be resolved by the judge. To find the meanings of statutes, judges use various tools and methods of statutory interpretation, including traditional canons of statutory interpretation, legislative history, and purpose.

The judiciary interprets how legislation should apply in a particular case as no legislation unambiguously and specifically address all matters. Legislation may contain uncertainties for a variety of reasons:

  • Words are imperfect symbols to communicate intent. They are ambiguous and change in meaning over time.
  • Unforeseen situations are inevitable, and new technologies and cultures make application of existing laws difficult.
  • Uncertainties may be added to the statute in the course of enactment, such as the need for compromise or catering to special interest groups.

The court must determine how a statute should be enforced. This requires statutory construction. It is a tenet of statutory construction that the legislature is supreme (assuming constitutionality) when creating law and that the court is merely an interpreter of the law. Nevertheless in practice, by performing the construction the court can make sweeping changes in the operation of the law.

Pay close attention to all the "ands" and "ors." The use of "and" to end a series means that all elements of the series are included, but an "or" at the end of a series means that only one of the elements need be included. Assume all words and punctuation in the statute have meaning. For example, if a statute says you “may” do something, which means you are allowed to do it. But if it says you “shall” do something, it means you are required to do it.

Once you have identified a statute, it is a good idea to consult the annotated version. Annotated codes are copies of the statute codes that have annotations (explanations) — references to related judicial decisions, administrative materials, and include the history of the section of the law, secondary authorities—in addition to the text of the statutes. Books containing annotated statutes are available in law libraries and some public libraries of larger cities. Unannotated codes have just the text of the statutes, usually with brief notes indicating when each section was added or amended.

A good starting point for learning about legal research is  

For an overview of Missouri's court system, check out, "Understanding Missouri Courts", which also provides links to statutes, ordinances, and other resources.

The first task of legal research is to determine what your issues are and whether Federal or State Law applies.

The first steps in answering a legal research question are (1) identify the legal issues and (2) identify the legal resources needed

To help you with this process read the Law Nerd’s “Learn the Secrets of Legal Reasoning”. Law Nerds Introduces a formula called IRAC (IssueRuleAnalysis, and Conclusion) which forms the fundamental building blocks of legal analysis. It is the process by which all lawyers think about any legal problem. The beauty of IRAC is that it allows you to reduce the complexities of the law to a simple equation.

ISSUE – What facts and circumstances brought these parties to court?

RULE – What is the governing law for the issue?

ANALYSIS – Does the rule apply to these unique facts?

CONCLUSION – How does the court's holding modify the rule of law?

The conclusion of your legal question will usually be based on court decisions or case law. The problem is that the law and the interpretation of the law changes; so how can you know whether the case you are relying on is still good law or the most recent and valid interpretation? You’ll need to use a citator which is an index of citations between publications, allowing the user to easily establish which later documents cite which earlier documents.

Shepard's Citations found in most law libraries enables a researcher to find all of the subsequent cases that have cited to a particular case. Shepard’s is used primarily to trace the history of a case, to determine whether a case is still valid and to find other relevant authority to support one’s arguments. Researchers should always “Shepardize” a case before relying on it in court or in a court document. The verb Shepardizing refers to the process of consulting Shepard's to see if a case has been overturned, reaffirmed, questioned, or cited by later cases. Although the name is trademarked, it is also used informally by legal professionals to describe citators in general—for example, Westlaw's similar tool called Key Cite.

Allowing users to find citing documents for an article is a key feature of Google Scholar (see Google’s announcement). Click the case law button located just below the search box to limit your search to only U.S. federal court opinions or to search court opinions from individual states or combination of states. Keep in mind that because you are searching the full-text opinions your searches will inevitably result in many cases not directly relevant to your research. To utilize Google’s Advanced Search options click the arrow inside the search box.

Sources of legal information range from printed books, law school libraries and public law libraries found at most courthouses which often provide free public access to fee-based database vendors such as LexisNexisWestlaw, and Bloomberg Law; which are the major commercial sources of online legal information, targeted primarily to law libraries, law offices, corporations and government agencies.

These services are expensive; for example, LexisNexis requires a minimum one year contract and charges $170 per month just for the Missouri State Law package which includes statutes, case law, and other Missouri primary resources, but does not include Federal access or secondary legal materials. I have used all three at various law libraries and they do provide easier access and cross references, but for the most part, I have been able to find the same information using some of the free sources listed in the ebook, "Legal Research for Non-Lawyers".

Caselaw Access Project (CAP), freely available to the public online and maintained by the Harvard Law School Library Innovation Lab, includes "all official, book-published United States case law — every volume designated as an official report of decisions by a court within the United States…[including] all state courts, federal courts, and territorial courts for American Samoa, Dakota Territory, Guam, Native American Courts, Navajo Nation, and the Northern Mariana Islands." As of the publication of this guide, CAP includes published cases through June 2018, "and may or may not include additional volumes in the future."

LoisLaw is a lower cost alternative to the other commercial online legal services, but the database is not as extensive. Instead of requiring one-year contracts, users can purchase access as short as 48 hours with pricing starting at $29.95 and they offer a 24 hour free trial period. (LoisLaw was purchased by Fastcase)

Versuslaw is another flat rate, legal database, offering low-cost monthly plans. Services again are not as extensive as the major commercial services.

Fastcase, another low-cost alternative, also offers a free 24 hour trial period.

Before paying for any legal database, check them out if possible at a law library and compare them to the free resources; you may discover some services provide no more than what’s available for free. You may also discover you don’t need the extra features for your issue.

Missouri Law Libraries (open to the public – call for hours) for add’l research

Courthouse Law Libraries

  • St. Louis Law Library, 10 N. Tucker Blvd #1300, St. Louis, MO 63101 – No known website (314)-622-4385
  • St. Louis County Law Library, 7900 Carondelet Ave. #536, Clayton, MO 63105 – website (314)-615-4726
  • Supreme Court Library, 207 West High Street, Second Floor, Jefferson City, Missouri 65101 – web info (573)-751-2636
  • Missouri Legislative Library, Missouri State Capitol, 201 W. Capitol Ave., Jefferson City, Missouri 65101 – website – (573) 751-4633
  • Check if your local Municipal or Circuit court has a library open to the public.

Law School Law Libraries:

  • Wash. U. Law Library, 4th Floor of Anheuser-Busch Hall (Hilltop Campus), Between Forsyth Blvd. & Millbrook Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63130 –  website (314)-935-6450
  • SLU Law Library, 100 N. Tucker Blvd., Floors 5-6., St. Louis, Mo 63101 – website (314)-977- 3081
  • University of Missouri School of Law Library, 122 Hulston Hall, Columbia, MO 65211-4190 – website (573)-884-1760


Put the power of the law in your hands