Getting help from or communicating with the LII
"Help" is a pretty broad term, covering everything from technical assistance in using some part of the LII site to assistance with complex, personal legal matters.
We should probably state right at the outset that the LII cannot offer you legal advice or assistance, and we do not offer personalized help with legal research or school projects. Our friends at Justia offer a lawyer directory for paid legal services, and the US Department of Justice offers a geographical directory of Pro Bono (free) legal service providers. (But read on, because there may be other ways in which we can help you.)
The reasons for this are both legal and practical. First, it is illegal for us to do anything that any state or jurisdiction might interpret as "practicing law" --and that includes giving advice or interpreting the law. Second, even if we could do so legally, we would quickly drown in the volume of requests. This site is visited by literally hundreds of thousands of people each week. We get many, many e-mailed requests for help, and we cannot answer even a small portion of them.What we can do is offer you some generic help on topics people commonly ask about, as a way of helping you get started.
Web accessibility help
For web accessibility help, please refer to the LII Web Accessibility page.
Broken links, missing data, or other problems with accessing content
Before you report a problem, you should make sure that it is in fact a problem with the LII site. People often report problems with sites we link to, problems that lie beyond our site and beyond our control. If it is an LII problem, the page containing the broken link or other problem should show words ".law.cornell.edu" in the part of your browser that tells you what page you're looking at. In reporting a problem, please tell us what page you were viewing when you encountered it. There are over 100,000 pages on the LII site, and it is difficult for us to find a particular broken link or other problem unless you tell us where it is.
Problems can be reported with the "problems" category in the contact form.
Different things may happen once you report the problem. Some broken links we fix immediately, because we recognize that they are heavily used and relied upon. Others we put on a list to be fixed as part of our regular maintenance activities during the summer months (we are very thinly staffed). Most problems with dysfunctional scripts or software are fixed right away, the exception being when we have a major overhaul of a software subsystem pending within a reasonable time.
Locating laws, cases, and rules
Legal research is a highly specialized and sometimes difficult topic that we can't hope to cover thoroughly here. We can, however, offer some tips based on our experience with what people commonly ask about. You may also want to look at our section on help with legal problems. Here, in no particular order, are some tips:
At this writing there is no really first-class guide to legal research for the lay person online; most are just lists of resources. Some you might try have been written by a branch of the New York Public Library and by Nolo Press. You might also try the Layperson's Law Lounge. Finally, don't ignore print sources; any good bookstore either on- or offline will stock a number of self-help legal guides.
More specialized "getting started" guides for legal research are available for government information , for courts, and for reports of jury verdicts and damages. For a good tutorial on Internet searching in general, see Web Search Strategies. The language is a little ornate but the advice is good.
Probably the most important thing to know when looking for "law about" something (say, alcoholic beverages) is whether the matter you're interested in is primarily a state or a federal matter. Much of the time it makes more sense to start with the states (if possible, your state); check our listing of state laws by topic.
Federal laws and rules can be found by looking at the Code of Federal Regulations and the United States Code. What's the difference? The CFR contains rules and regulations made by executive branch agencies; the Code is a collection of laws made by Congress. Both are subject to almost continual change. The LII version of the Code contains an update feature which will give you information about recent changes to the Code. Regulations too new for the online version of the CFR are often found in the Federal Register.
We provide overviews of important topical areas with links to online resources in our "Law about..." section. Often this will be your best starting point.
Collections of rules and regulations and of public laws change often. As a result citations can very quickly become outdated. If you come to us with a citation culled from a print source (and the older the source the greater the danger of this is) you may not find what you're looking for. In such cases the best bet is probably to simply use the search engine for the resource in question (US Code or CFR) to find relevant sections.
Many cases assigned for school projects are Supreme Court cases of some historic importance. We suggest you start with our list of Historic Decisions of the US Supreme Court if you are looking for a "famous case".
Our topical pages provide a good starting point for locating cases in particular areas of law.
Your chances of finding a case on the Net are substantially reduced if you don't know what court it came from. Again, if it's a famous case in the US we recommend starting with our Historic Decisions of the Supreme Court. If it's a recent case (or if you don't know) try searching our collections of recent Supreme Court opinions. We also provide a list of state courts that may have what you want.
Certain types of cases are very difficult to find on the Net. Except for Supreme Court decisions, almost no decisions from any court dating from before 1990 are available from any free source on the Net. Other hard-to-find categories are cases from the Federal District Courts, state courts other than the highest appellate court in the state, and all manner of county and municipal courts. There are exceptions, though, and new things are coming online constantly. One way to find them is to search on the name of the court in Google Scholar, Court Listener, or the Caselaw Access Project
News media are fond of saying that the Supreme Court "ruled" or "made a decision" in a case when in fact all the Court did was refuse to hear an appeal from a lower court ruling (in such cases the Court is said to have "denied certiorari"). The effect, of course, is to let the ruling of the lower court stand. Often this is reported as a decision by the Court, but the decision is simply to let things remain as the lower court left them.
Denials of certiorari are reported in the order lists handed down by the Court on most Mondays during the term, and are listed by case name. We have recently added a feature that allows you to search the order lists for particular cases.
As we mention in the introductory section of this page, the LII cannot and does not provide legal advice or interpretation of law; we cannot legally do so. A later section of this page talks about ways to find an attorney; you probably also want to look at the section on finding rules, regulations, statutes, and cases. Most communities have legal assistance available for people who cannot afford an attorney.
Some things people frequently ask about:
- Matrimonial law and child custody
- Bankruptcy law.
- Employment law (including discrimination, unemployment, worker's compensation, and collective bargaining
- Copyright law and procedures.
- Landlord-tenant problems.
- Again, we offer a topical guide. Much depends on the law of your state, and depending on the nature of the dispute, on county and municipal regulations as well. The TenantNet site is useful, but oriented toward New York City people and problems.
Check our Lawyer Directory to help locate a lawyer who can help you. The ABA maintains an extensive information about programs that provide legal services to people who cannot otherwise afford an attorney.
A good overview of how government agencies are organized is provided by the US Government Manual and USA.gov A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies.
In addition, most of the large Net directory services offer special sections on government. The offering from
Infospace is particularly nice.
We appreciate it when people take the trouble to notify us of newly available legal-information resources; use the "suggestions" category in the contact form.
Our listing of and linking to other legal resources is governed by our judgment about the usefulness and quality of the content they provide. We do not attempt to be comprehensive and we are not a listing service. As a public site for legal information we tend to give preference to information providers who offer their services at or below cost.
If you want to arrange special licensing or redistribution terms, please use the "permissions" category in the contact form
We grant permission to any site wishing to link to us for any purpose whatsoever; we simply ask that you not take steps to obscure or alter the apparent source of the information (as happens with some so-called framing practices) and that you give attribution to the LII as appropriate.
We also permit reproduction of our pages in non-electronic media (like training workbooks) provided they are not offered for sale commercially; we encourage you to send us copies, as we are always curious about what people do with the resources we supply. All others wishing to reproduce our content in print or non-print media should contact us; while much of the material underlying the site is public, we do assert copyright in some aspects. A more complete statement of our credits and conditions of use is available.