Researching Across the Miles

Image Courtesy of Michael Marcol/
Image Courtesy of Michael Marcol/

Despite warnings of wind and snow and bad roads, I drove across Montana for a little while yesterday.  It turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day.  The roads were dry and  the snow that fell earlier in the season sparkled in the fields and on mountain peaks.  The highway winds through several small towns and I was reminded that much of Montana is small towns.  As one of two public law libraries in Montana, part of our mission is to provide law library services to attorneys and the public in Montana.  Most of Montana is too far away for us to provide service in-person but in the age of the internet, there is a great deal of research that can be done online, for free, and we’re around to help answer your research questions.

Here are a few good online resources to start with.

Cases:  Until the past few years, it was not easy to do case law research online.  Many courts had websites with their own cases, but research across jurisdictions meant visiting several different court websites and navigating the different search feathers of each.  Google Scholar’s case law search solves that problem.  The Google Scholar case law database is a comprehensive collection of state and federal case law that is searchable using Google’s familiar search features.  For Montana cases, the State Law Library of Montana maintains a database of Montana Supreme Court opinions.  The advanced search template allows searching by a variety of search terms including case name and subject key word.  The Court’s opinions are accompanied by the briefs filed in the case.

Montana Supreme Court Opinions

Statutes:  Most state statutes are posted on state legislative websites and are easy to locate using a Google search; for example, “oregon statutes” or “north carolina statutes.”  The most current version of the Montana Code Annotated is available on the Montana Legislature’s website.  The United States Code is available on the Government Printing Office’s fdsys website.  Unfortunately, these official versions of state and federal statutes are unannotated and do not contain the case law that interprets and applies the statutes.  However, Google Scholar used to get around this by using the statute’s numerical designation.  For example, if you are looking for cases that interpret/apply Montana Code Annotated section 27-1-710, search Montana cases using the search term 27-1-710.

Google Scholar

State Constitutions:  In most states, the state constitution is published with the statutory code and the text of the constitution can be located along with the statutes as discussed above.  The Montana Constitution follows this pattern.  Montana Constitutional law cases can be searched using Google Scholar.  In Montana we have an additional resource for researching the intent of the constitutional convention and the discussions the convention delegates had when they drafted the Montana Constitution in 1972 — the Transcripts of the Constitutional Convention minutes have been scanned and are online on the State Law Library’s website.  The 8-volume set includes an index and verbatim transcript of constitutional convention debates.

Analytical Sources:  Sources that analyze law, like law review articles are texts are published by commercial publishers and have been understandable difficult to find for free.  Google Scholar can help here too.  In addition to cases, Google Scholar’s database contains articles from law reviews and other journals.  Select articles and enter your search in the Google Scholar search bar.  Many, though not all articles are available for free; those that are not may be available through a local library or by calling the Jameson Law Library as noted below.

Google Scholar

Digital institutional repositories such as the Scholarly Forum @ Montana Law provide free access to scholarship produced by law school faculties.  Google Scholar will find articles contained in institutional repositories.  In addition, Digital Commons Network indexes articles posted in individual repositories.

Questions:  Although we cannot provide legal advice, which includes providing advice on a legal problem, interpreting legal materials and drafting legal documents, the librarians at the Jameson Law Library can help you help locate information, identify relevant resources, and develop search strategies.  We are happy to assist you over the telephone if you cannot come in.  Please feel free to contact us.

The highways of Montana may be long and the towns far away from Missoula, but that doesn’t mean researchers are far away from either the resources or research assistance they need.


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