Within some recent correspondence with other participants of this forum, I had occasion to share some links to online legal resources that my correspondents found to be interesting or useful. And, upon reflection, it struck me that those who are participating here, who neither lawyers nor otherwise skilled at legal research might benefit from a public posting of these same links.
Of course, this information can also be readily found doing a Google search on the Web and there are MANY excellent compilations of online legal resources available elsewhere. But to the extent that a person found their way to this message board, posting the information here makes it that much more convenient!
First, I would point out LEXIS-NEXIS and WestLaw each have extensive online fee-based legal research utlities. To do independent research and SEARCH for the law on a particular topic without going to a law library, these online resources are essential! But pulling up the individual documents found at fee-based services online can be VERY EXPENSIVE.
However, searching LEXIS using the LEXIS by Credit Card facility can be FREE. The cost usually arises when you follow the linked search results and actually pull up the document identified by your search.
LEXIS is generally available from this link:
LEXIS by Credit Card is accessible at this Link:
BE CAREFUL! You can spend a LOT of money very quickly on LEXIS. But the SEARCHING can be FREE.
Very often, you may obtain access to LEXIS at academic or law libraries WITHOUT HAVING TO PAY FOR THE SEARCH RESULTS. Sometimes, these library collections are limited to current students. But this is NOT universally the case. CHECK WITH YOUR LIBRARIAN. But also note some of the additional FREE case resources below.
Before spending a grat del of time searching, read some of the online HELP documentation. Understanding HOW to do good searches can vastly improve your research efficiency.
For example, take a look at this page:
Very often, one good case leads to another. And a case a bit off subject may nevertheless cite relevant cases. So sometimes getting to a library to COMBINE searching with READING the cases is particularly useful.
* * *
In addition to the FULL SERVICE LEXIS site, LEXIS maintains a FREE thin site for those on a budget called LexisOne:
The LexisOne site features a facility called "Find Cases for FREE":
The cases available on this facility are a small fraction of the cases found on the full fee-based site. The cases available for free generally include ALL U.S. Supreme Court decisions, as well as published state and federal court decisions for the past five years.
One of the reasons that LEXIS can offer this FREE thin service is that MANY if not MOST of the recent decisions are being compiled and posted elsewhere anyway. So it is somewhat more difficult for LEXIS to SELL the recent opinions.
The LEXIS full service search facility is far more robust than the search facility at LexisOne. So use LEXIS to search and LEXISOne to view the Supreme Court cases and recent state and federal appellate opinions.
* * *
Cornell UniversityLaw School's Legal Information Institute (LII)
Cornell University has one of the premier collections of online legal information available at a university nationally:
This is a particularly good source of information relating to national (federal) law, including the U.S. Constitution, United States Code, and federal court decisions.
When seeking a better understanding of federal law without leaving home, this is a great place to start! You will find that Cornell's LII has great FREE federal legal resources that generally extend further back than the LexisOne collection of FREE cases. See, for example:
Bear in mind that if BANKRUPTCY is one of the defenses you might want to investigate that this is a subject of federal law and the LII resources are likley to be helpful.
Cornell's Law School also has a helpful facility explaining the basics of legal research, which explains how to approach the problem with far great clarity than I can relate:
* * *
Most of what you probably need to learn about in terms of mortgage foreclosures is going to generally be found amongst the law relating to promissory notes and negotiable instruments which is generally covered by the Uniform Commercial Code, which is a matter of STATE LAW for your jurisdiction, as well as the law of real property for your jurisdiction.
The Uniform Commercial Code is, as its name implies, fairly uniform nationally (see, for example, the LII UCC pages beginning at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uniform/ucc.html . But CASES interpretting the UCC do VARY between and amongst the States.
And real property law varies greatly across the United States.
So as you focus in on the particulars of your case, you are going to need to acquaint yourself with both the statutes and the cases for your jurisdiction.
Your State's web site is going to be a good place to start to find the statutes. Most states now make their own laws publicly available at the state's web site. But the completeness and accessibility of these online resources vary greatly.
Very often, the web sites of leading law schools or law school libraries include online research resources. For example, I went to the University of Pennsylvania, which has both an excellent law school (the FIRST in the United States) and a great law library:
There is nothing magic about Penn Law as a starting place, but it would be a pretty good place to start if you lived in Pennsylvania.
If you do not already KNOW the names of the leading law schools in your state ask some other people you respect and trust or search online. Almost any leading law school is going to have some online resources which will serve to point you in the right direction. And if you are able to VISIT that library, you will find the librarians there to be very helpful!
* * *
I cannot emphasize enough that LIBRARIES are great sources of legal information. This includes public libraries in many major cities. Some state or county bar associations also maintain their own libraries.
The Library of Congress has an EXCELLENT Law Library, which also maintains a good guide to online law:
Bear in mind that lawyers will charge you by the hour. Librarians are salaried or waged employees who will help you find answers for FREE. But the librarians CANNOT give you legal advice. You need to go tothe library with specific research topics in mind:
* * *
Where can I find materials explaining promissory notes under the Uniform Commercial COde?
Where can I find texts, cases and materials on mortgage foreclosure?
Where can I find legal forms pertaining to foreclosure?
Where can I find the Court Rules on discovery?
I have left out a more thorough discussion of WestLaw, which is also a great fee-based source. But, frankly, I haven't used WestLaw as much as Lexis and feel less capable of describing the economic ways of making use of that online resource. Perhaps someone with more experience using WestLaw can post something generally useful to this forum.
* * *
Finally, I want to emphsize that I am NOT suggesting or recommending that you do your own legal research in lieu of obtaining the services of an attorney. To the contrary, I would encourage you to do independent research and read the law as a SUPPLEMENT to finding and hiring a capable attorney. Whether you are readily able to do this depends upon your intelligence and skill as well as your time. If you are reasonably well educated and having trouble because you are unemployed, doing some of your own research may make sense. If you are having financial problems because you are hospitalized or disabled or if you are illiterate or not fluent at English, doing yor own reserach might be impractical.
In any case, there exists a necessity to both obtain an understanding of the FACTS and an understanding of the LAW as it relates to those facts. When you hire an experienced lawyer, he or she ought to be generally acquainted with the LAW (though highly specialized attorneys may be either more or less familiar with foreclosure, depending upon their specialty).
You will have to PAY for the time for the attorney to become acquainted with the FACTS in YOUR CASE and the LAW as it applies to those facts. A capable, experienced attorney should know how to elicit the critical facts from you. But sometimes a disconnect occurs when you are aware of a FACT that might be important, but neglect to share it and the attorney neglects to ASK. Moreover, the attoney may be inclined to BELIEVE some of the representations of the LENDER which are, in fact, UNTRUE.
So it can be very HELPFUL if you are able to independently obtain a sufficient understanding of the law to be able to marshal and present your facts to your own attorney. And since some aspects of foreclosure -- such as foreclosures in the name of MERS -- are still fairly NEW to the mortgage arena, you may find it uneconomic to pay a lawyer to learn ALL of the law that might prove helpful or critical to your case.
It appears to me that several of the lay participants at this message board have developed a great deal of expertise in the mortgage servicing and foreclosure industry as well as foreclosure law at least as it pertains to their own jurisdictions. With concerted effort, you could develop your own expertise.
What I am basically saying is that YOUR OWN reading of the law can help you to better prepare for yor interactions with your attorney and help to frame the issues. But be careful as you do this to frame things in terms of questions for your attorney rather than substituting your lay reading of the cases for your lawyer's reading and understanding of those same cases (that is use what you learn to learn from your lawyer rather than substituting your conclusion for those of your lawyer).
Again, this is NOT intended to be LEGAL ADVICE. Rather, it is RESEARCH advice. I do my own legal research. I am comfortable with this. This approach might also work for you. But it involves a LOT of TIME to do well. And given the compressed time horizons of most foreclosure actions, you will have more than a little difficulty developing sufficient expertise to overcome three years of formal legal training and the years of litigation and courtroom experince your lawyer may have.
The key is BALANCE. There is a LOT about legal practice which never much appears in textbooks. The cases are not generally going to give you great insight into how a judge manages his docket and caseload or his manner in the courtroom. But unless your attorney routinely litigates mortgage foreclosure, consumer debt matters and/or bankruptcy, he or she may not be quite as up to speed on the LAW or foreclosure practice as the plaintiff's lawyer, who may handle foreclosures EXCLUSIVELY and therefore on a daily basis.
So you are sometimes hiring a generalist to defend you against a specialist. The deck is stacked AGAINST YOU. And you will have difficulty affording to PAY your attorney to develop the expertise you need. So if you are able to do SOME of your own research and SHARE what you find with your attorney, he or she may be able to READ the cases and materials you find and help you to make effective and focused use of those cases and materials.
I hope this is HELPFUL to someone on this board!
* * * *
I would encourage others to POST links to useful online legal resources as replies to this message! What online legal resources were helpful to YOU??