These tips focus on state law rather than federal law. While the following tips are designed with an emphasis on Delaware, secondary sources such as self-help law books, treatises, and form books may differ from Delaware law.
Some of the following materials are held by the three Delaware Law Libraries: the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center (LLWJC) Law Library and Self-Help Center in New Castle County, the Kent County (KC) Law Library, and the Sussex County (SC) Law Library. Information about the law libraries is available on the Judicial Law Libraries web page.
Finally, this information is not meant to be a replacement for professional legal advice. If you would like to find an attorney, please consult the court’s legal assistance information page.
Types of Legal Research
Legal research often involves the use of primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are the rules and laws that explain what people can and cannot do. They include statutes, court cases, court rules, and regulations.
Secondary sources, such as treatises, articles, and legal encyclopedias, do not have the force of law, but help to explain the law.
It is often better to tackle primary resources only after you have a good handle on the subject matter. You can obtain background information from secondary sources.
Catalogs that list the law libraries’ holdings can be found at:
Law and the Delaware Code
The laws passed by the General Assembly are statutes. They are published in the exact format as they were passed in the Laws of Delaware and are available online. The law libraries also have hard copies of the Laws of Delaware from 1700-2009.
To make it easier to find the law on a particular topic, the statutes are broken up into various subjects, and the new laws are placed in the appropriate section of the Delaware Code. The Delaware Code is divided into 31 titles, each of which deals with a different subject area, such as Crimes and Criminal Procedure (Title 11) or Motor Vehicles (Title 21). The Delaware Code Annotated is available in print at all three county Law Libraries as well as at some public libraries. A digital copy of the Delaware Code (without annotations) can be found online. The print version of the Delaware Code has an index volume, which is not available online.
Regulations are the rules created by state administrative agencies. Proposed rules, notices of rulemaking, and final rules are published chronologically in the Delaware Register of Regulations. Like statutes, rules are then organized by subject into the Delaware Administrative Code. The Delaware Administrative Code and the Register of Regulations are available online. Some issues of each are also available in print in the three county law libraries.
Westlaw and Lexis are subscription-based digital research tools. These services allow you to search for cases (also referred to as opinions, which are decisions made by courts) and secondary sources. The three county law libraries provide free access to both of these services for all patrons, as well as technical assistance in using them. All three law libraries also have some Delaware cases available in hardcopy in the Delaware Reporter and Atlantic Reporter.
Treatises are books written by legal experts that explain a particular area of law. Some areas of law have a treatise for those looking to get background information on that topic – for example, Automobile Injury and Insurance Claims: Delaware Law and Practice or Child Custody and Visitation: Law and Practice. All three law libraries have a collection of treatises in hard copy as well as digitally on Westlaw and Lexis.
These are sample forms, leases, agreements, and other legal documents that are frequently used in legal practice. These forms are not sources of law themselves, but may help you with preparing your own forms. The three law libraries have several sets of legal form books including American Jurisprudence Legal Forms and West Legal Forms. Delaware Court Forms are available online. The LLWJC Law Library and Self-Help Center also has select Delaware Court forms available in print.
Self-Help Law Books
These books are secondary sources that explain a legal topic in plain English for non-attorneys. The LLWJC and Sussex County Law Libraries each have a number of self-help law books covering a range of topics such as custody and divorce, landlord/tenant law, and Social Security issues. While these books are not Delaware-specific, they are a good place to start when trying to understand a complex legal topic.
Free Internet Sources
There are also a number of free legal research tools you can use on the internet.
The Cornell Legal Information Institute provides free access to primary sources (such as the U.S. Code, State Statutes, and Uniform Laws), a legal encyclopedia (Wex), and guides to some legal areas (such as Constitutional, Immigration, and Real Estate law). The website also contains a lawyer directory where you can search for an attorney.
Justia also includes a lawyer directory. Additionally, it has several guides on multiple areas of law, as well as a selection of sample court forms. It also has primary sources such as the U.S. and State Codes and some cases from both the Federal and State courts.
Nolo is a publisher of self-help legal books. A number of these books can be found in the LLWJC and Sussex County Law Libraries’ self-help collections. The company’s website also includes a free legal encyclopedia with articles covering a broad range of legal topics.
Google Scholar is a specialized search engine from Google that is made for searching academic and scholarly articles. It also has the ability to search for cases. Click on the button next to “Case Law” under the search bar, then select “Delaware Courts” or “Federal Courts.”
Legal Services Corporation of Delaware’s website provides legal tips, FAQs, and Delaware-specific guides for several legal topics.
IMPORTANT—Is it “Good Law”?
Because laws and regulations are often changed, repealed, or deemed unconstitutional by a court, it is important to make sure the law you are looking at is the most recent version currently in force. If you are working with print materials, check the spine and copyright pages for dates. Print resources may be updated by “pocket parts” in the back of the book or by a paperback supplement pamphlet shelved next to the hardbound volumes.
If you are relying on court opinions, statutes, or regulations, you need to make sure they are “good law” in the sense that they haven’t been overruled, repealed, or changed in a significant way. The digital research databases, Westlaw and Lexis, have online tools that you can use to check whether a law is still good. These tools are known as “Shepardizing” on Lexis and “KeyCite” on Westlaw. The law librarians cannot do this research for you, but they can offer technical assistance if you need it.