Law Research Tips

Researching the legal past online

The Law Library’s guide to American Legal History Sources Online includes links to a wide variety of primary and secondary sources on American law and American history, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries.  The Legal History:  Sources guide has a section on Roman Law and full-text sources such as Statutes of the Realm (laws of England from 1235-1713), The Making of Modern Law:  Trials, 1600-1926, The Making of Modern Law:  Legal Treatises, 1800-1926 (American and British law books), and U.S. Supreme Court Briefs and Records (1832-1978).  University researchers now have access to Gale/Cengage’s The Making of Modern Law:  Primary Sources content expanded from 1620 to 1970.  The LLMC Digital database includes historical legal documents from U.S. and foreign jurisdictions,  including a growing collection for British Africa.

The Legal Classics library via HeinOnline goes from Pierino Belli’s 1563 Treatise on Military Matters and Warfare [De Re Militari et Bello Tractatus] , Hugo Grotius’ 1604 Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty [De Jure Praedae Commentarius]  to Chester James Antieau’s 2001 Our Two Centuries of Law and Life 1775-1975 – The Work of the Supreme Court and the Impact of Both Congress and Presidents .   World Constitutions Illustrated is very useful for locating historical constitutions from all countries.  Also now available via HeinOnline is one of the Law Library’s newest subscription databases, the History of International Law library.  This database features classic works on international law by Vattel, Grotius, Pufendorf, Bijnkershoek, Vitoria, and Gentili. 

Photo of Cornelis van Bijnkershoek sculpture at the Hoge Raad

Cornelis van Bijnkershoek (sculpture by Albert Termote; photo by Lyonette Louis-Jacques)

General resources can have legal history content.  For example, the Bibliothèque National de France’s Gallica digital library includes ebooks on the history of French law and justiceEarly Dutch Books Online has some law-related titles.  The Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes has constitution-related e-content.  Broad databases such as Gale’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) and Chadwyck-Healey’s Early English Books Online (EEBO)(1473-1700)  include old law books.  

Other collections of historical legal texts online are PixeLegis (Spain), Ius Lusitaniae – Fontes Históricas do Direito Português , the Biblioteca Jurídica Virtual (Mexico), and the Portal Iberoamericano de Historia del Derecho (PIHD).

To keep up with new resources and news, monitor the Legal History Blog , Yale Law Library’s Rare Books Blog, the Rechtsgeschiednis Blog, and check our guides and others such as Oxford’s Legal History:  Common Law Tradition and Texas Tarlton Law Library’s legal history research guides.  Berkeley’s Robbins Collection also includes educational exhibits and guides such as Roman Legal Tradition and the Compilation of Justinian.


New Resource for 50 State Legal Research

From the Georgia University School of Law Library comes this excellent survey of resources available on the web for state legal resarch: Fantastic Facts About the 50 States: Websites for State Legal Research, 

The gee-whizzy title belies the excellent content of this resource, which gathers in one place URLs for the major multistate resources (Justia, LII, LLRX) and links to state statutes and administrative codes on the web.  Just in time for summer clerkships, this resource will provide you with information as to what legal resources are freely available on the web for your jurisdiction.  Check it out!

HT to the Law Librarian Blog

Using HathiTrust for legal research

screenshot of LensThe HathiTrust Digital Library is a digital preservation repository and access platform for public domain and in copyright content from a variety of sources, including Google, the Internet Archive, Microsoft, and in-house partner institution initiatives. It currently includes 8,660,577 total volumes, with additional titles being added daily. For items in the public domain , users are free to copy, use, and redistribute the work in part or in whole.

HathiTrust includes many primary legal materials and government documents, which are available as full-text PDFs since they are in the public domain. Among the materials available via HathiTrust are court opinions, legislative journals (floor debates), administrative decisions from various government agencies, and other government publications such as the Uniform Crime Reports. Using HathiTrust, I have located several obscure government publications that are held by five or fewer libraries. Even a year ago, the only way to get access to these titles would be through interlibrary loan. Since University of Chicago is a member library, our users can download full PDFs of public domain works. You will just need to log in with your CNetID and password.

The easiest way to locate HathiTrust e-books is to search for the title in Lens.  If a book is available from HathiTrust, an icon will appear in the record like in the example above. You can also search HathiTrust directly. Their search interface allows Boolean searching (AND, OR, and NOT) in both the catalog and the full text of the entire library. While there is no full text access to material that is under copyright, the full text can still be searched, allowing users to see how many times and on what pages a certain word or phrase appears in a particular title. HathiTrust also gives users the option of creating their own “private collection,” the full text of which can be searched as a whole.

The metadata and display is not always perfect, but HathiTrust welcomes feedback from users who find problem pages or have other comments on the service.


In anticipation of tax day, TracFED (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse) has updated much of its data on the IRS.  Updates include new graphs on audits (individual and corporate) from 1992 to 2010, enforcement actions including levies, liens and seizure activities, and criminal enforcement cases.  The updates are available at TRAC’s IRS Data Tools and Applications page at  TracFed itself is an authoritative source of data and information about federal government enforcement activities, covering civil, criminal and administrative enforcement actions, and tracking federal funding, staffing and spending for these activities.  See TracFED’s homepage at  TracFED is available only to Law students, staff and faculty using Law School ethernet connections.