January 28, 2009

Free Law Textbooks

The common law in Canada has developed from a painstaking process of parsing long court decisions and extracting key principles which are then applied in the next case. For self-represented litigants, finding these principles can seem like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Wouldn't it be nice if someone had already taken the trouble to assemble the basic principles on a legal issue and summarize them for you in a few pages? Legal textbooks do just that, and they are an excellent starting point for lawyers and non-lawyers.

The problem is that legal textbooks are hard to find, especially for you live in a rural area. Because law textbooks are so specialized, they are rarely found in public libraries and bookstores. They are also extremely expensive when they are offered for sale, often costing hundreds of dollars per book (just ask any disgruntled law student in her first week of classes).

However, thanks to Google, the legal textbook you need may be available for free online. Simon Fodden, a blogger at Slaw.ca, has created a library of Canadian law books at Google Books. A convenient feature of Google Books, which gives it an edge over "real" books, is that you can enter search terms to take you to the exact page you need. The downside is that some of the books have a limited preview which means that only a portion of the book is available. Still, if you only need a few pages on a particular topic, you may be in luck.

If the book you need is not available on Google Books, you have some other options. If you live in the Lower Mainland, the B.C. Courthouse Library has an excellent collection of textbooks which are available for use by the public in the library. The reference desk staff are extremely helpful and patient and you can photocopy the pages you need.

You can also buy legal textbooks at the UBC Bookstore or the UVic Bookstore. A better option may be Irwin Law, which publishes summaries of many legal topics in easy-to-read, plain language, relatively affordable softcover books available for purchase online.

However you find them, legal textbooks are an excellent starting point for understanding your legal issue and pointing you to the case which will hopefully help you win yours.

1 comment:

  1. Though Ontario focused, www.cleonet.ca is another great repository of legal information for self-represented litigants and social service providers.


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