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Taking the Reference Desk on the Road

The following is a guest post by Matthew Braun, Senior Legal Research Specialist at the Law Library of Congress.

Over the past two years I have had the pleasure of presenting an educational program on how to conduct free legal research online at American Bar Association (ABA) annual, midyear, and section meetings. This program, which has been organized by the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress, has taken me to the wonderful cities of Boston, Toronto, New Orleans, Chicago, and Dallas and has allowed me to meet numerous lawyers, law school professors, and law librarians who have interesting and challenging research needs.

Since my first participation in this program at the ABA 2011 Business Law Section Spring Meeting in Boston, my presentations have focused on how to effectively use online legal information products managed by the Library of Congress.  These products include  Congress.gov, Thomas, the Guide to Law Online, Current Legal Topics, and the Global Legal Monitor as well as other free and trustworthy online products that are outstanding for legal research, such as the U.S. Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System (FDsys), the U.S. House of Representatives’ Office of the Law Revision Counsel’s site, Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute, and The American Presidency Project of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Based on the excellent feedback that I have received from the ABA members attending this program, I have increased my coverage of online tools to locate court decisions and regulations, such as FindLaw, Google Scholar, and Regulations.gov as well as tools for finding authoritative legal analysis, such as LexisWeb and HG.org.  I am also incorporating more subject-specific sites that track court decisions and legislation similar to many subscription databases, such as the Intellectual Property Owners Association’s Hot Topics site as well as highly substantive legal blogs such as Patently-O and China Law Blog.

I am happy to report that the two most recent editions of this program, at the ABA 2013 Midyear Meeting in Dallas in February and at a “home game” presentation at the Law Library of Congress in March, drew approximately 80 attendees. Such numbers can be attributed to the great publicizing work of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress as well as to an increased interest by legal professionals in free and low-cost online legal information products.

My presentation at the ABA 2013 Midyear Meeting may be viewed at the ABA Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress’s website.  I also did a short interview on this subject with the ABA Journal at the ABA 2012 Annual Meeting in Chicago.  Finally, if you are an ABA member, you may be interested in a webinar version of this program, which is being offered on May 20, 2013, for CLE credit.

Photograph by Kara Gillespie

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