Online Legal Research

Legal Research
Online Legal and Law Resources

Private investigation work touches many different aspects of the law. Private investigators and police officers encounter situations related to legal issues such as personal rights, privacy laws, marital disputes, electronic surveillance, and many more. Having a clear understanding of the laws and regulations that govern different types of investigations will help you operate within the constraints of the law and keep yourself out of trouble.

In addition, many clients work directly with attorneys and lawyers in regard to process serving, background checks, surveillance and many other jobs. Therefore, it is important for private investigators to have a good working knowledge of the law.

Bar Associations

In general, a bar association is a professional body of lawyers. Some bar associations are responsible for the regulation of the legal profession in their jurisdiction. Other bar associations are professional organizations dedicated to serving their members. And in many cases, they serve as both.

In many jurisdictions, the “bar association” is comprised of lawyers who are qualified as barristers or advocates (collectively known as “the bar”, or members of the bar), while the “law society” comprises solicitors. These bodies are sometimes mutually exclusive. In other jurisdictions, the “bar” may refer to the entire community of persons engaged in the practice of law.

In general, they provide resources for attorneys such as networking opportunities, referral services, continuing education and training resources, specialized events, and more. In some cases, joining them may be voluntary, but in other cases it may be mandatory.

American Bar Association (ABA)

The American Bar Association (ABA) is a voluntary bar association of lawyers, attorneys and law students. The nationwide association is not specific to any jurisdiction in the United States. The organization’s official mission is “To serve equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession.” The American Bar Association’s most important activities are involved with the setting of academic standards for law schools, and the formulation of model ethical codes related to the legal and law profession.

As of this writing, the ABA has 410,000 members and has been growing steadily over the years. The American Bar Association’s national headquarters are located in Chicago, Illinois. The ABA also maintains a branch office in Washington, D.C. The Association publishes a monthly general magazine circulated to all of its members. The publication is called the American Bar Association Journal. It has been published since 1984 and was formerly known as the American Bar Association Journal, 1915-1983).

In general, the association is a great resource for learning about the law and legal matters. Larger investigative agencies may have investigators on staff that are also attorneys and lawyers. In that situation, it would be helpful for the agency to become a member of the organization to take advantage of its resources. This will also help speed the process of obtaining information when needed. For more information on the bar:

  • Visit the American Bar Association’s official website. The website provides information on various ABA groups, provides resources for lawyers, provides the latest new relevant to the legal industry and has information on careers.
  • Visit the ABA Journal website to get information on the latest legal headlines, sample articles, blogs and podcasts. The site is a great resource for learning about the law.
  • Legal Forms – A list of state-specific legal forms. Whether you are an attorney, small business or consumer, this is the best place to find the law and business forms you need.

State Bar Associations

A directory of State Bar Associations is available on the American Bar Association (ABA) website. To locate a particular association, click on the appropriate state on the map. A list of state associations will be provided, which includes the name, address, phone number, fax and email address (if available). This list also provides a link to the individual website to find more detailed information.

Private Investigators may find state bar associations useful for locating attorneys, as the associations maintain a directory of the attorneys for their state. Private Investigators often need to track down attorneys who were assigned to particular cases, or who may have knowledge about a witness or related case.

Also, they are a great place to check to see if an attorney has any ethical violations or if they have been disciplined for any reason.

Attorneys, Lawyers and Law Firms

An attorney, or lawyer, is a professional person authorized to practice law, conduct lawsuits, and give legal advice and/or represent others in legal matters or proceedings. A lawyer, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, is “a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person licensed to practice law.”

Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain stability, and deliver justice.

Working as a lawyer or attorney involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who retain (i.e., hire) lawyers to perform legal services.

The role of the lawyer or attorney varies significantly across legal jurisdictions.

Private detectives often form relationships with local attorneys as a source of business. Private detectives often perform legwork such as tracking down and interviewing witnesses, service of process, and uncovering information and data. Following are miscellaneous law and legal resources for private detectives and police officers:

Attorney Finder: Legal Directory – Attorney Finder helps you locate lawyers nationwide for help with your legal problems. The directory is organized by geographic area and by field of practice. Whether you’ve just moved to a new city or simply need help finding the right person, we can assist you. (This site is no longer available).

  • Attorney Pages – The Attorney Pages website helps you locate an attorney.
  • – Search for an attorney, get answers to your legal questions and download do-it-yourself legal forms.

Expert Witnesses

If you need an expert to interview or testify in your case, these sites make it easy to connect with the right person:

  • Expert Pages – Resource for hiring expert witnesses for legal cases.
  • Expert4Law – On-Line Referral Service for legal experts.

List of Criminal Competencies and Corresponding Court Cases

The following list of criminal competencies is a listing of the various types of legal competencies relevant to the defendant in criminal law in the United States. In the United States, the law has competency issues since a state may not subject an individual who is incompetent to stand trial on criminal charges. By insisting on this requirement, the law acts on the assumption that society recognizes only the actions of an individual. It is important for private investigators to understand these, as they may affect the outcome of the case.

Following is a list of the most relevant competencies that must be evaluated (if a question of incompetency is raised) to proceed. The list includes the name and the corresponding court case (or cases). These are in no particular order.

Competency to Consent to a Search or Seizure
Mapp versus Ohio
Katz vs. United States
Florida vs. Rodriguez

Competency to Stand Trial
Dusky vs. United States
Panetti vs. Quarterman

Competency to Waive Right to Competency
United States versus Morin

Competency to Consent to a Search or Seizure
Fourth Amendment

Competency to Confess
Brown vs. Mississippi
Miranda vs. Arizona
Colorado vs. Connelly

Competency to Plead Guilty
Seiling vs. Eyman
Godinez vs. Moran
Godinez, Warden vs. Moran

Competency to Waive the Right to Counsel
Godinez vs. Moran
McKaskle vs. Wiggins
Faretta vs. California

Competency to Refuse an Insanity Defense
Whalem vs. United States
Frendak vs. United States

Competency to Testify
Legal Requirements for Testimonial Competence
Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 601

Assessment of Witness Credibility
Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 508

Competency to Be Sentenced and Executed
Saddler vs. United States

Competency at the Sentencing Proceedings
Chavez vs. United States

Competency to Be Imprisoned or Executed
Ford vs. Wainwright
Penry vs. Lynaugh

Competency to Refuse Treatment
Perry vs. Louisiana

Legal Research Tools

If you’re just beginning to start researching legal topics, here is a helpful site, Cornell’s Legal Information Institute. The site provide brief summaries of law topics with links to key primary source material, other Internet resources, and useful off net references. They can be accessed through: the following set of broad topic categories (scroll down), through an alphabetical listing of topics, and through a searchable index.

Many private investigators, legal professionals and even journalists encounter situations where they need to tape a witness statement or record audio. In such situations, the website Can We Tape serves as a practical guide to taping phone calls and in-person conversations in the United States.

FindLaw is the highest-trafficked legal Web site, providing the most comprehensive set of legal resources on the Internet for legal professionals, businesses, students and individuals. These resources include Web search utilities, cases and codes, legal news, an online career center, and community-oriented tools, such as a secure document management utility, mailing lists, message boards and free e-mail.

Law Engine provides resources on a variety of law topics such as courts, cases, federal codes and rules, law libraries and legal products and services.

Law Guru was originally started in 1996 by a Los Angeles law firm and has evolved into one of the most popular legal web sites on the Internet. It is offered as a free service to the entire Internet Community. is recognized nationwide as a leader within the legal community, providing public access to pre-qualified, pre-screened attorneys, and to free legal resources. allows you to search for and hire an attorney in your local area. Search by city and state or by law specialty. is a site that we do not recommend. Their services are overpriced and do not provide a good value for the average consumer. We recommend using other sites.

Martindale-Hubble – Generations of lawyers have relied on Martindale-Hubbell as the authoritative resource for information on the worldwide legal profession. With a history spanning more than 133 years, the Martindale-Hubbell Legal Network is currently powered by a database of over one million lawyers and law firms in 160 countries.

The U.S. Federal Courts provides online access to federal court records, news, statistics and more.

Other Resources

What does a Private Eye need to know?

Private Investigators may need to interact with the American Bar Association in the course of an investigation. For example, a private eye may need to investigate the background of a particular lawyer or law student who is, or was, a member of the organization.


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