Legal literature is often rife with terms, phrases and abbreviations that are foreign to most people. However, there are tools available to assist you in understanding the terminology or abbreviations that are being used.
This guide is designed to help you learn how to search for legal information online. The guide is broken into several sections, including legislation, legal topics, legal precedents, legal procedure, and legal comment. To navigate through this guide, use the tabs above. Each section provides help for finding information related to the specific topic, and a list of links that may be useful to you.
Many of the links relate specifically to Canadian resources, but we have included international sources as well. In many cases, the tips provided for searching for resources will work when trying to find either Canadian or international information.
If you have know of a website or database that you think should be added to this guide, or if you have any questions or comments, please contact AU Library (firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-788-9041, ext. 3-1-6254).
Evaluating Information Sources
Since the focus of this guide is on finding electronic information sources, it seems appropriate to discuss evaluation of information right at the beginning of the guide. Evaluating web-based information is always important, but careful evaluation of online legal information sources is especially important. Typical evaluation criteria for web based sources include:
Authority – What qualifies the author to write in this area? Is the author affiliated with a reputable organization? Who is the publisher of the information? For government information, watch for URLs that include .gc (Canadian sites) or .gov (Provincial and American sites).
Purpose – What is the purpose of the information – to educate, inform or sell? Who is the intended audience?
Timeliness – When was the information updated last?
Accuracy – Is the information accurate? Has the author provided documentation sources? Has the author identified any biases?
Relevance – Is the information relevant to your topic? Does the information support or refute the arguments you are making?
Coverage – Does the author provide any information about perspectives that have been left out? Has the author included points of view that differ from their own?
Website Design – How is the information presented on the site? Does it appear to be primarily commercial in nature?
From a Legal Studies perspective, it is important to consider other criteria as well. For example:
Is the document the official version or is it an unofficial version? This relates specifically to online versions of legal statutes. Until recently online versions of statutes were typically "unofficial", meaning that you could not cite them in a court of law. However, this is changing, so you must look carefully for this information.
Is the document the most recent version available? This refers to things like Rules of Practice, where several versions may exist.
Is the decision (judgment) in a case made by a higher or lower court? The higher the level of the court (such as an appeal court) the more important the previous decision will be for subsequent cases. In Canada, judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada must be respected by all other courts in the country.
Contact AU Library
Canada/US: 1-800-788-9041, ext. 6254