Reference Services

Note: If you are a UW Law student, faculty, or staff please see this page for information about asking a reference question.

The Reference Office, located on floor L1 of William H. Gates Hall, is staffed by a team of professional librarians and student reference librarians. Our job is to help you identify, find, and use the print and online resources of the Law Library.

We are available many--but not all--hours the Law Library is open. Our phone number is (206) 543-6794. For more information about submitting by email, please go to the Ask Us! page.

We can:

* tell you where things are in the Law Library
* show you how to use library databases such as the library catalog and periodical indexes
* help you figure out legal citations (See also Bluebook Abbreviations of Law Reviews & Legal Periodicals Indexed in CILP and Bluebook 101)
* show you how to use sources in the Law Library
* suggest sources for you to use
* refer you to other libraries or institutions when our Library does not have what you need.

This page provides more information about reference services.


Telephone & Email Reference Services

When you call us (206/543-7672) or submit a question online via Ask Us , a reference librarian can:

* search the Library catalog to determine if the Library has particular books or journals you want
* locate phone numbers, addresses, and other directory information for bar associations, federal and state government agencies, courts, publishers, and other law-related organizations
* suggest books, databases, websites, and other resources appropriate for your research topic
* give you info about requesting copies of specific library documents for delivery through the Law Library's fee-based Copy & Send service (You may also fill out an online form to submit your request.)

Other local law libraries that accept reference questions by telephone and/or email include the Public Law Library of King County and the Washington State Law Library. Their reference policies may differ from those of the Gallagher Law Library.

If you have a question about Washington State law, you might want to visit WashingtonLawHelp–a wonderful, free website that provides useful Washington State-specific legal information on a number of topics. If your question concerns the law of another state, please visit LawHelp.org for links to “free legal aid programs, information and forms for your state or territory.”

Our goal is to provide you with useful information but is limited by our policies on legal research and legal advice and by staff availability. In many situations, you will need to visit Gallagher or another law library to conduct your own research. For ethical and practical reasons, we cannot:

* conduct legal research for you
* interpret the law for you or give you legal advice
* identify or read statutes, cases, court rules, or definitions specific to your issue

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Policies on Legal Research & Legal Advice

While we can help you use resources in the Law Library, we cannot conduct legal research for you.

Legal research usually involves multiple steps, including:

* using indexes to identify laws or regulations that might deal with your topic
* updating the laws or regulations to make sure that they are still in effect
* using annotated codes, citators, and other sources to identify appellate court cases that might affect how the relevant laws or regulations have been applied or interpreted
* updating the status of important cases to make sure that they can still be relied upon
* searching library catalogs and databases for relevant for books or articles that discuss or describe the law on your topic area and then browsing or reading them to glean bits of information important to your particular issue or question

You can learn about a few more of the basics of the legal research process at How to Research a Legal Problem: A Guide for Non-Lawyers, provided by the American Association of Law Libraries. If you need to find out what the law is, we encourage you to visit the Law Library when the Reference Office is open. The reference librarian will help you locate relevant material and show you how to use appropriate resources. But you are responsible for conducting your own research and interpreting the information you find.

If you find a law or case that is not clear to you, we will suggest law dictionaries or other sources that might help you understand it.

Why do we have this policy? There are several good reasons.

  1. Advising people what the law is and how it applies to their situation may be practicing law--it is what lawyers do. We are librarians. Our job is to help people use the Library and legal resources; it is not our job to conduct legal research for you or to interpret the law.
  2. Legal research is often complicated, even for what seems like a simple question. For example, you might ask, "What is the statute of limitations for a car accident in State X?" Depending on the state, it might make a difference whether the accident resulted in an injury or a fatality. It might also make a difference if the person who wants to sue was a minor at the time of the accident or was unable to start a lawsuit right away. And there might be other factors to consider. It makes sense for you to do your own research and see what factors might apply to your situation. You can then choose which cross-references to follow.
  3. Conducting legal research for everyone who contacts us would soon overwhelm our staff. It is fair to everyone to say: "You might consult these free online sources. If you need additional information, please visit the Law Library--we are open to the public. When you come in, a reference librarian will help you find and use sources relevant to your research."

If you need someone who will research and interpret the law for you, you should consider talking to an attorney. For information on identifying and locating attorneys, see Help! I Need a Lawyer. The WashingtonLawHelp website includes a directory of legal aid and other legal service providers for low-income people (click on "Find a Lawyer").

For similar reasons, it is our policy not to read legal materials over the telephone. If you cannot come to the Law Library, you might want to use our fee-based Copy & Send Service. Many federal and Washington State laws, cases, and regulations are available at free Internet websites; see our Free Law Online page for links to relevant websites.

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Assistance with Homework

Students who need legal materials for their homework are welcome to use the Law Library. Please feel free to ask reference staff for help locating and using Library materials.

Of course, the reference staff cannot do your homework for you. If an assignment is unclear to you, please contact your instructor to find out what she or he expects.

We also expect that students will done the relevant prepatory work before coming to the Law Library. That is, you should have attended your instructor's presentation on the type of research you will be doing and/or have read assigned material in your legal research text.


School of Law Clinics

Sometimes we are asked: Does the Law School have a clinic where I can get help with my legal problem?

The answer is: Maybe.

The University of Washington School of Law offers several clinics through which law students can obtain practical experience in delivering legal services. However, most of these clinics do not accept walk-in clients. Three clinics accept cases from members of the public without a referral from another agency or service provider:

Whether these clinics can help you will depend on your particular situation or problem, their current caseload, and the time of year (the clinics operate when School of Law classes are in session).

Contact one of these clinics if they deal with your issue before you visit William H. Gates Hall: 206/543-3434 or clinics@uw.edu. The clinic may not be accepting new clients. The clinic staff will also tell you how to find their offices if an appointment is available. The clinics are not located in the Gallagher Law Library nor does Library staff conduct screening of potential new clients for the clinics.

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