Legal Research Self Help

Last Reviewed: March 2023 Reviewed by: JES Download

Learn About Legal Research

The best way to learn about legal research is probably to talk to a law librarian. However, in addition, there are some online tools that may be helpful.

Beginner's Guide to Finding Legal Research, from Courthouse Libraries BC, explains how to find legal information in British Columbia. It also provides links to many more self-help resources and guides. This guide is a starting point and is not meant to be exhaustive. It explains the law and legal procedures in general, and is not intended to give legal advice on your particular legal problem.

The CanLII Primer: Legal Research Principles and CanLII Navigation for Self-Represented Litigants. CanLII is a free legal database that can be accessed by anyone on the web. It contains federal and provincial case law, legislation, and more. The CanLII Primer, from the National Self-Represented Litigants Project, helps SRLs use CanLII to prepare for the presentation of their cases - in Court, chambers, or as part of a negotiation or mediation. The primer also gives a brief overview of the Canadian legal system.

Clicklaw: A good place to start on any legal research is a visit to the Clicklaw website. Clicklaw is a British Columbia focused website that offers information about common legal issues and answers to questions that recur. Clicklaw is run by the Courthouse Libraries of BC.

Dial-A-Law: Dial-A-Law features free information on the law in British Columbia in 130 topic areas. The information is reviewed by lawyers and updated regularly.

For a deeper understanding…

The University of Ottawa has put together a helpful online tutorial that teaches some basics about legal research. It is available here.

The University of Toronto Law Library also has an overview of the legal research process that is available here.

Another helpful and extensive resource is the Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide. This is a free publication available on CanLII, prepared by Catherine Best, an experienced legal research lawyer.

Harvard Law School has also put together an online legal research training tool. Though focused on American law, it may still be valuable. It is available here.

Review Textbooks

You may want to consider starting legal research by referring to the leading textbooks on the area of law you are concerned with. These will have broad overviews of the important concepts. Textbooks are available at the law libraries.

Different textbooks go into different levels of detail. You may want to start with less detailed textbooks that provide more of an overview. The Irwin Law, Essentials of Canadian Law series provides useful overviews of many subjects. Many of these books are available at the law libraries.

The Halsbury’s Laws of Canada series also provides concise overviews of many legal subjects and is available at the law libraries. However, it is written in a style that can be quite dense to read without legal training.

By starting with the textbooks, you will get direction as to what statutes and case law you should read.

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