Free legal research resources

Being an associate member of the American Bar Association has its benefits, even for a translator. Just yesterday I was able to sit in on a free webinar about conducting legal research online for free. Of course, I jumped at the chance—besides being useful for finding parallel documents or quote sources, I am also interested in learning more about the laws in my source-language countries in general, and being able to compare them to those of my target country (the US). Much of the webinar focused on US laws in particular, but some of the resources discussed were quite relevant to my multinational work.

The Law Library of Congress is one of the most comprehensive resources to turn to for laws, regulations, cases, news, and commentary on US and global legal topics. If you live in the DC area, you can visit in person Monday through Saturday, 8:30am – 5:00pm. Probably the best feature of the LLoC is its Ask-a-Librarian line: call 202-707-5080 or use the online question form to ask a legal reference librarian about whatever law topic you are having trouble researching. For questions about laws of other nations, comparative law, and multinational topics, they will not turn you away empty-handed; your query will be referred to a more knowledgeable person.

For those of you translating texts with US law citations, THOMAS or Congress.gov might be helpful. You can search for exact phrases in Congressional records, reports, and bills; treaties; and other official texts. To search presidential speech transcripts (from Washington to Obama, in HTML rather than scanned PDFs/microfiche), try the American Presidency Project. Personally, I’m excited to have learned about this particular resource—the foreign press and political academic works love to quote our president and ambassadors on all sorts of topics, and rarely cite their original source.

The Cornell Legal Information Institute also houses an extensive collection of free online resources for legal research. Browse world law by region, country, international body, or convention.

Don’t know where to start? Try HG.org, a site which houses attorney-authored articles organized by general topic. NOLO guides are also useful, written as they are for non-lawyers. And of course, there’s always Google Scholar, which you can use to browse legal academic articles, patents (including sketches), and legal documents. Keep in mind that Google Scholar, while free to search, may point you in the direction of resources you must pay for.

The reference librarians also offered a few tips to make any search (legal or otherwise) more efficient for you:

  • Use “quotation marks” to narrow your search to a particular phrase. This is great for looking up terms you’ve found two different translations for, for instance—do two separate searches for the phrases in quotes, and see which gets more hits and/or more relevant results.
  • Whenever possible, avail yourself of the advanced search feature. This will help narrow your search before you get one million options spit at you.
  • Check sources from the bibliographies of articles you’ve already found for more information on specific topics. This is also useful for verifying the accuracy of a citation.

How do you track down elusive information or terms for your translation? What are your favorite resources for research?

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2 thoughts on “Free legal research resources

  1. Pingback: Mid-year goals check-in | translation, untangled

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