A few years ago, my colleagues from the Jameson Law Library and I attended a law library conference out-of-state. One day in the middle of the conference, as we were riding up the escalator in the cavernous conference hall, we ran into the staff of the State Law Library of Montana coming down the adjacent escalator. I think it hit both groups at the same time– there are few law librarians in Montana and we were all on an out-of-state escalator– we had left Montana without a law librarian for the week.
But few law librarians does not equal few resources for researchers. In this blog we naturally most often highlight the Jameson Law Library, but both libraries are rich in resources and today I would like to take the opportunity to highlight a few things Montana legal researchers should know about at the State Law Library.
For researchers new to Montana legal research, the State Law Library has produced a series of research guides. These guides include a Guide to Montana Legal Research, Montana Legislative History Research Guide, a Guide to Free Legal Research and Free Case Law Online, and a Guide to Legal Information in Montana, among others.
The State Law Library also has a fantastic repository of online court forms, arranged by topic. For example, someone needing to file a claim in a Montana Small Claims Court can click on the Civil Court Forms link and get the forms and instructions he or she needs to file a case in a Justice Court. The Civil Court Forms page also has forms for District Court, Workers’ Compensation Court, and the Montana Supreme Court. (Another helpful resource for those representing themselves in a Montana court is the Self-Represented Litigants Civil Handbook and Forms.) Other topics (there are 56 topics listed) researchers can find forms for and information about include adoption, dissolution of marriage, landlord and tenant law, and protective orders. The link for each topic includes forms and instructions if they are available, links to the relevant Montana statutes, lists of other research materials in the library, and links to other relevant websites.
Montana legal researchers are fortunate to have a Court that has been a leader in recognizing the importance of publishing its opinions in a format accessible to all citizens. In 1998, the Court began publishing its opinions online in a database maintained by the State Law Library. New opinions are added within a day when they are issued and the State Law Library has also been systematically adding older cases so the database now includes coverage well beyond 1998. The database also includes briefs filed with Court. Opinions are searchable by docket number and party name, and by a variety of other factors using an advanced search template. Researchers can subscribe to an RSS feed of the State Law Library’s blog that will alert them to new Court opinions.
In 2009, the State Law Library undertook a project with the Montana Office of Public Instruction to make Montana tribal law available online. That projected resulted in the Montana Indian Law Portal. The portal is a link to tribal codes, ordinances, and cases from Montana’s seven reservations and the Little Shell Tribe. The portal also contains documents like treaties and tribal-state compacts.
But by far the best resource at the State Law Library is the aforementioned staff, who are always helpful and know much more about their resources than what I can highlight here. They offer an email Ask a Librarian service that researchers can use to get help with their research or ask reference questions (the staff cannot give legal advice).
Fair warning — some Montana law librarians will be heading out-of-state for a regional law library conference next week. This time, though, we will be leaving at least a couple law librarians in Montana.