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Legal Research for Non-Law Users: Home

This guide offers an introduction to legal research resources that might be of use to non-lawyers who visit or otherwise access the UIC Law Library.

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Finding answers to your legal questions can be a complex process. This guide aims to introduce concepts and resources that may help you find answers to your questions. The reference librarians at UIC Law Library can also guide you to resources and explain how to use them. However, librarians may not give legal advice, which means they can not tell you how the law applies to your particular situation or "what the law means."

This page provides context for framing your question. The other two pages address primary and secondary sources of legal information. Also note this resource, How to Research a Legal Problem, from the American Association of Law Libraries, which covers the processes and resources here in more detail.

Getting Started


  • Think about where your issue arose and what the subject of your question is. Thinking about these will help you determine what sorts of resources you will start your research with and will determine which primary sources are most useful to you. If you are considering or are subject to legal action, this will also help you determine what court you may be dealing with. A major distinction in American law is the difference between federal and state courts.


  • Make sure you know how to read legal citations. As a rule, a citation will follow the format: [volume] [reporter/code/title] [page/section]. For example, the citation to Brown v. Board of Education is 347 U.S. 483, which means it can be found on page 483 of volume 347 of the United States Reports. Similarly, 42 U.S.C. §1983 refers to section 1983 of title 42 of the United States Code. For a more in depth conversation, see this guide by Peter Martin of the Legal Information Institute.

A Disclaimer

  • This guide is intended as a very general introduction to concepts and the resources involved in legal research. If you have a specific question, your most efficient option is to contact a law librarian. Remember, though, that librarians cannot give you legal advice. They can simply direct you to relevant resources.