February 27, 2017

The Library of Congress: A Free Legal Research Resource

Sheila Hollis and Barbara Bavis discuss the Law Library of Congress and the many resources it offers.

Research may not be the most exciting part of law school, but there are ways to make it easier, more interesting, and (perhaps most importantly) free. In this episode of the ABA Law Student Podcast, hosts Sandy Gallant-Jones and Chris Morgan talk to Sheila Hollis and Barbara Bavis about the Law Library of Congress. While most law students know the Library of Congress exists, few know just how many resources it offers, like online access and a knowledgeable staff that’s ready to help. In their discussion, they also talk about legislative, judicial, and executive resources that law students can get online for free.

Barbara Bavis joined the staff of the Law Library of Congress in 2012 as a Legal Reference Librarian. She provides legal research services to patrons, both at the reference desk in the Law Library Reading Room and via the Law Library’s Ask a Librarian service.

Sheila Slocum Hollis is chair of the Washington, D.C. office of Duane Morris LLP. She just completed 12 years of service on the firm’s executive committee and partners’ board.

A transcript of this podcast is available at Legal Talk Network.

Mentioned in This Episode

Law Library of Congress

Featured Guests

Barbara Bavis

Barbara Bavis joined the staff of the Law Library of Congress in 2012 as a Legal Reference Librarian. She...

Sheila Hollis

Sheila Slocum Hollis is chair of the Washington, D.C. office of Duane Morris LLP. She just completed 12 years...

Your Hosts

Sandy Gallant-Jones

Sandy Gallant-Jones is the Seventh Circuit Governor for the American Bar Association Law Student Division, representing all law school...

Chris Morgan

Chris Morgan is the 12th Circuit Governor for the ABA Law Student Division. He is 3L at Gonzaga University...


ABA Law Student Podcast

The Library of Congress: A Free Legal Research Resource



Intro: Welcome to the official ABA Law Student Podcast where we talk about issues that affect law students and recent grads. From finals and graduation to the Bar exam and finding a job, this show is your trusted resource for the next big step. You are listening to the Legal Talk Network.


Sandy Gallant-Jones: Hello from the ABA Mid-Year Meeting 2017 in Miami, Florida. This is the ABA Law Student Podcast. I’m Sandy Gallant-Jones, Seventh Circuit Governor, representing the States of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

Chris Morgan: And I am Chris Morgan, Governor of the ABA Law Student Division’s 12th Circuit representing the schools in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: And today, we are talking about legal research, one of your favorite classes, right Chris?

Chris Morgan: That’s right, that’s right five semesters a legal research over at Gonzaga University, so pretty rigorous program.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Wow.

Chris Morgan: Love it.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: So you are a legal research ninja then.

Chris Morgan: I wish, I wish.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: So you could work with Barbara Bavis from the Library of Congress who joins us today. Also Sheila Hollis, welcome ladies.

Barbara Bavis: Thank you for having us.

Sheila Slocum Hollis: Thank you. Fun to be here.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: So, Barbara, you just did a fantastic presentation here at the Mid-Year Conference on How to Conduct Free Legal Research Online.

Barbara Bavis: Yeah.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: So tell me a little bit about what the Library of Congress is for our listeners who may not realize the resource that’s available either through a phone call or through an e-mail?

Barbara Bavis: Sure. Well the Law Library of Congress is the largest law library in the world. We have about 2.9 million volumes in our collection and we have a very extensive website that I think can really help people trying to do free legal research online.

We offer a lot of information there produced by our foreign law specialists and our public service librarians as well about both international comparative and domestic law.

I think it’s a great resource for people to start with if they’re starting out their research particularly in the legal field, because I think there is a lot there available for free that people just don’t realize is there.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: I know. When I was introduced to legal research in law school, the first three sites that or databases that were introduced to is Westlaw, LexisNexis, and also Bloomberg.

Barbara Bavis: Right.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: But, do you think that for law students they become over-dependent on these paid resources and don’t really understand the free tools that are online?

Barbara Bavis: I think definitely all three of those databases have a great place but when you’re trying to do research outside of law school, you might not be a part of a firm that has all three of those resources. It might only have one or it might not have any. So it’s good to know also what’s out there for free so you can balance the subscription resources with the free resources.

Chris Morgan: Sheila, would you mind telling us just a little bit about your involvement, kind of what you do with the Library of Congress?

Sheila Slocum Hollis: Certainly. I chair the Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress. It’s one of the oldest entities in the American Bar Association having been recognized from basically about 1930 that this was a key resource to the nation and to the lawyers of the nation, and it is something that we have supported, encouraged, and liaised with and provided both insights I hope on what lawyers need and also to be the voice of the Law Library of Congress and the Library of Congress in general to the legal profession as a whole, not just domestically but worldwide.

It is a treasure; it’s a treasure for law students; it’s a treasure for senior lawyers; it’s a treasure for the pro bono community; it’s a treasure for the NGOs to have access to information, and it is for the world. It’s one of the great treasures of America and it’s designed of course first originally to help the Congress itself and Thomas Jefferson’s books were donated to the Library of Congress.

So it is a key element in American history, it’s a key element in American legal history, and it’s something that every lawyer should be aware of and law student, anyone interested in law; writers, scholars from all over the world use it. Why not as a member of the ABA, why not as a law student use what the greatest minds in the world turn to and not only do you get the wonderful physical resources the books in the library, but of course online resources as well in addition you have the staff of the Library of Congress and the Law Library of Congress.


If you get in a difficult position of vis-à-vis your research where there is a real issue that you cannot resolve and you’ve read and you’ve looked, you can turn to the librarians of Congress, the law librarians and they will help you. I mean, it is a tremendous resource and it’s one, it is, I guess you would call it the “Pearl Without Price,” and it’s a tribute to first of all the American public, of course through taxpayer funds and also through donations to the Library of Congress and to the incredible staff that represented so beautifully.

The Library of Congress now has a new librarian of Congress. I just took office so — a couple months ago, Dr. Carla Hayden, she was the head of the Pratt library in Baltimore and previously with Chicago. She was very committed to opening up the library to the public in general to make it more accessible, and I think the Law Library is following suit directly. There’s a new Law Librarian of Congress too. Jane Sanchez, the previous Librarian of Congress, fantastic.

Barbara Bavis: You’re one of the first people to hear it when it just was announced.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Oh wow.

Sheila Slocum Hollis: It just was announced and the prior outgoing Law Librarian of Congress served in a number of capacities. She’s been Law Librarian and a previous acting Librarian of Congress, was the Head of the Law Library System of Congress too. So you have the best of the best that are involved in the law library, and it’s not going to rest on its laurels. And if you think about it, being able to see if you cannot make it physically there, to see the treasures that are there, they are ancient law books, ancient. What is the earliest book in collection?

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Oh goodness. You caught me on the spot. I’m not sure.

Sheila Slocum Hollis: We’re going back nearly a thousand years and the treasures beyond that are just incredible, plus recordings, decisions from throughout the world, I mean, how can you not love it.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Yeah — no.

Barbara Bavis: Well, I do, for sure, thank you.

Sheila Slocum Hollis: Barbara is representative of the fantastic, unbelievable staff that is on a limited budget produces such great things for America and the world and of course for the Congress. We want to make them happy too. So our goal in the Standing Committee — we’ve just done a magnificent experience, my predecessor work extremely hard in having the Magna Carta and we work hand-in-hand with the Library of Congress to make sure that everyone knew about the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Wow.

Sheila Slocum Hollis: So it was exhibited throughout the country and it is still moving around the country and exhibits throughout the country which explain how it interacts with American law and all of the basics of American law come in some part one way or another although that Magna Carta isn’t ancient and certainly in its own time of a very different document than anything we would look to now, but as far as historical significance and the Library of Congress and the Law Library of Congress also is working on other issues. The Carta de Foresta, that’s 800th anniversary of The Charter of the Forest, which is a companion piece came out two years after Magna Carta.

We also have a recognition of the role of law in World War I, just a magnificent, magnificent opportunity and you can go online and see, even if you’re not doing hardcore research all these wonderful things that are available and there’s videos, you can get — get online videos of these wonderful things, it’s a treasure.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: So I know there are students listening right now who are in fact doing hardcore research, right?

Barbara Bavis: Yes.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: And, who are preparing for their thesis papers as they work on their JDs. Your presentation this morning was fantastic. I have to tell you that.

Barbara Bavis: Oh, thank you.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Because, I knew coming into this presentation that there are certain primary sources available and secondary sources available online for free, but you did a fabulous job of breaking the primary sources down by the legislative resources, the judicial resources that are available online for free and then the executive resources that are available online for free.

So briefly let’s get a cursory overview of legislative resources that students can access online for free.

Barbara Bavis: Well, the first thing with legislative resources is we have to talk about congress.gov. Congress.gov is our legislative information resource and from there you can actually find out what happened to bills and resolutions introduced from 1973 to the present. You can find the bill text from 1989 to the present. Each version of the bill as it moved through. So if there were amendments made you get to see those amendments, and also you get to look at the Congressional Record. So what was said on the floor of Congress from about 1995 to the present.


So it’s an incredible resource that people don’t realize is there. We get a lot of calls at the desk where people ask us about a bill that’s currently being considered or a bill that was considered in the ’80s, and they want just more information about it, and congress.gov is right there waiting for them.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: So let’s say I am doing a paper though and I want to expand my research beyond American jurisprudence and look at the policy and the law beyond our borders.

Barbara Bavis: Sure.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Is that something that the library of Congress can help me out on?

Barbara Bavis: It definitely is, and Sheila talked about our unique collections and our unique resources. And I think one of our critical resources are our foreign law specialists.

We have a group of specialists that have legal research experience and legal experience from different countries around the world and they actually create reports and articles for Congress, for Federal agencies, and Congress and those Federal agencies allow us to release those reports on our website, which is law.gov, and you can search for different topics. If you know that a certain legal specialist deals with an area of the world that you’re interested in, you can narrow by specialists as well, and you can search we have something called the global legal monitor, that’s kind of like a newspaper almost for foreign legal materials and they will actually write like a newspaper article about a legal happening that’s happened around the world and they will cite to the primary sources.

So if you have to do a paper you can either be linked directly to it if it’s really available online or you get the citation so that you can go into your library and find the written version of that law.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: So moving on to judicial resources, I know that we can find some Court opinions online, but expanding that to say records and briefs, is that something I can find for free online?

Barbara Bavis: There are options for that online. Actually the ABA has a lot of great records and briefs resources from around 2005, 2007 to the present, and then you have some other resources that I have mentioned in the presentation as well. We are a depository library for the Supreme Court. So we do have records and briefs going back to the 1830s.

Unfortunately you would have to come into a library for that, but we can definitely — if you give us a call we can walk you through what’s available and let you know how to find that in a library near you or how to get a copy of that from us.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: You had mentioned during your presentation one website in particular,  HYPERLINK “http://www.casetext.com” casetext.com, and you had said that CARA was a feature of Casetext. Can you give us an understanding as to why CARA is a good feature for a new associate to use?

Barbara Bavis: Now I can’t endorse any third party —

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Right, understanding that, yeah.

Barbara Bavis: — as a government person, but from what I’ve seen now CARA is going to be — they are going to charge you after a trial period, but you can upload a memo or a brief, and it’s going to give you information about cases that haven’t been cited in your memo or brief, and then that’s going to let you know if you have missed some cases.

So for people who are starting out in their research they don’t think they have gotten everything, but they are not quite sure where else to look, that might be a good resource for them to figure out if they have missed something.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: You offered a really important caveat during your presentation in terms of using free resources as citators, and if you could just expand on that?

Barbara Bavis: Sure. So when we’re talking about citators we are talking about — generally, people usually say, oh, Shepardize that, or KeyCite that.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Right.

Barbara Bavis: Shepard’s and KeyCite are actually owned by Lexis and Westlaw, and they let you know whether or not the case you’re looking at is still good law, how other courts have interpreted that case or that code section for instance, there are some citator-like features available online, and I think they’re really useful for people starting out their research because it gives you an idea of how courts have cited to that case, but they’re not the end-all be-all. If you’re going to go into court or if you’re going to create a paper, for instance, as for grade, I would strongly suggest using one of those citators, KeyCite or Shepard’s or another subscription citator, because you want to be sure that you found everything. So I think these citators are more of a jumping-off point than an endpoint.

Sheila Slocum Hollis: Could I interject that this — that Barbara’s presentation is downloadable and go to our website and her PowerPoints and you will find like the Handyman’s Guide.


Barbara Bavis: Absolutely, yeah.

Sheila Slocum Hollis: The time live book on legal research, they are in thumbnail sketches that will drive you to the resources you need.

Barbara Bavis: And I have tried to put on there the content which I’ve actually pulled from all of these websites to let you know for a certain time period what can you find on these different websites.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: So the website, again, just tell us the website real quick where we can find this presentation?

Sheila Slocum Hollis: Standing Committee Law Library of Congress website, it’s on the ABA website, and you just type-in “Standing Committee Law Library of Congress”.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Yeah, and I will just say this because I am looking through the presentation right now. Print off this presentation, print off the slides, go get it bound and have it at your desk as a resource.

Sheila Slocum Hollis: Yes, absolutely.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Because I’m serious it really is chocked full of great research tips.

Barbara Bavis: Thank you.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: And last point, executive resources. Real quickly what are some executive resources?

Barbara Bavis: You have got a lot of great governmental and nonprofit sources for that. So the American Presidency project is something done by UC Santa Barbara and it actually has a large collection of proclamations, executive orders and public papers of the President. So that’s a great place to start your research regarding presidential documents.

For regulations, there’s actually two great governmental websites; there is  HYPERLINK “http://www.regulations.gov” regulations.gov, and you can actually use that to comment on currently considered regulations, and then  HYPERLINK “http://www.federalregister.gov” federalregister.gov. So if you want to actually print off a page from the Federal Register,  HYPERLINK “http://www.federalregister.gov” federalregister.gov is a great place. And I know for students you sometimes have to actually have your sources right there, that’s a great resource to actually print off Federal Register pages.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Well, I will tell you, and you mentioned students, the thing that scares me about going and venturing out into the real world is that I’ve become so dependent on having Bloomberg, Lexis and Westlaw and having full access, so I am able to see everything that these search engines offer, but for most students they don’t know how to search for things online for free. So you have really done a terrific job of just compiling all the websites.

Barbara Bavis: Thank you.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Last quick question about secondary sources, you had mentioned free access to the Wex Legal Encyclopedia, and you had said that that was the jewel of the Cornell Legal Information Institute.

Barbara Bavis: Yes, it’s pretty much the best legal encyclopedia you can find for free online. So I would strongly suggest if you’re starting your research and you have kind of what you think is a term of art and you don’t really know what it involves, the Wex Legal Encyclopedia is a great place to start with that, because it will link you to different items that discuss that topic.

Chris Morgan: Yeah, and going off of kind of what Sandy had mentioned with this as an added resource I think a lot of students have their favorites in terms of whether they’re going to use LexisNexis or Westlaw or Bloomberg, and I think a lot of legal writing teachers now are teaching students the value of checking multiple sites and sources because not every site is going to have everything, whether it’s in electronic or print form or whatnot. So just having a multitude of resources is so important when you’re trying to get a holistic overview of a topic or do more specific research.

So I have to ask you guys, if you have one in the library, do you have a favorite book, a favorite piece of work whether it be one of Thomas Jefferson’s collections or it could be anything. Is there something that you’re drawn to or something that’s your favorite?

Sheila Slocum Hollis: I think Jefferson’s Library when you actually realize there it is having been through the war of 1812 when the capital burning down and this sense of history is what really means so much to me, and also the very ancient documents to realize that law and its impact and the essential element of law in any society, it gives you a sense of constancy that we struggle with the same issues today that they were basically struggling with a thousand years ago.

Chris Morgan: And I think it’s a fascinating story how Thomas Jefferson’s books came to be, I would recommend if anyone’s ever in the DC area to go check out the library itself, amazing tour guides and they kind of — they will tell you the story and the history behind it all and it’s really fascinating.

Barbara Bavis: Yes, please come visit us.

Sheila Slocum Hollis: One brief comment and that is, with so many young lawyers going into solo practice or wanting to do basically NGO work where the access to the research that they may have grown addicted to in law school is no longer available. This is a solution to a lot of problems and a lot of challenges, and I think that’s something that should be recognized and embraced. The new Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and then the Law Librarian of Congress are very committed to making access available, and that’s what we are here to talk about today. And so, I hope that you take advantage of the resources and Barbara is a tremendous treasure in and of herself and her commitment is so good.


Barbara Bavis: Oh, thank you.

Sheila Slocum Hollis: You are welcome.

Chris Morgan: So if you can go back in time and talk to yourself as a first year law student what advice — what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

Barbara Bavis: I would definitely tell my one ownself to listen when they talk about legislative history research, not just because I do a lot of it for the law library, but also because I think it’s a great set of information to try and figure out why are laws written the way they are and what different members of Congress thought about different issues. I think it’s a great piece of research that I did not realize was important when I was in law school.

Sheila Slocum Hollis: Well, I think if I go back to that very interesting period I would tell my one ownself to go back to the library again and my other side would say — and if you could just fast forward and invent a computer so you could do online research, you would be a lot better off.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: I love it. It has been so much fun talking with you both about legal research and about the benefits of the Library of Congress. I really do hope students listening today will really take advantage of the Library of Congress and the free resources that are out there on the Internet.

Barbara Bavis: We hope so too.

Sandy Gallant-Jones: Ladies, thanks so much for joining us today.


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