Self-help law center

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Legal assistance–Finding legal information

Doing legal research, whether to prepare your case for court or to learn about the law, may require the use of both primary and secondary sources. Some primary and secondary sources are available free-of-charge on the web; however, most legal information is available only in print or from fee-based electronic resources.

Primary law

Primary law is the law itself. It is created by our three branches of government:

Statutory law (legislative branch)

Administrative law (executive branch)

Case law (judicial branch)

Secondary law

Secondary sources of law are materials that explain, analyze, index and update the law. These include dictionaries, encyclopedias, topical treatises and textbooks, practice guides, and law reviews and journals. Although most secondary sources are not available on the Web, please consult the Wisconsin State Law Library Index to Topics (State Law Library link) page for links to some useful secondary materials.

Locating primary & secondary source law

There are three comprehensive law collections in Wisconsin. Public and county law libraries may also have some legal materials.

Wisconsin State Law Library (State Law Library link)

  • Wisconsin primary law: current and previous statutes, administrative code, and all case law
  • Federal primary law: current and previous laws
  • Treatises (books) and journals about the law. Some of these include materials written for non-lawyers
  • Print and electronic resources to help you find laws related to your topic
  • Books containing many sample forms
  • Books explaining how to do legal research
  • Laws from other states
  • Reference staff to point you towards materials about your topic
  • Reference staff to show you how to use the materials

University of Wisconsin Law Library (external link)

Marquette University Law Library (external link)

Your local public or university library
Contact your local public library or visit their website to inquire as to availability of primary and secondary legal materials. Your local university library (external links) may also be able to assist you.

County law libraries
Some counties have a small collection of legal materials. Contact your county's clerk of court for details.

Additional resources

  • Law: An Introduction (State Law Library link) - General information about how courts work and the various steps in a trial
  • Index to Legal Topics (State Law Library link) - Guide to over 200 legal topics including Wisconsin and federal laws

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