How to Find "the Law"

The Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library o...Image via Wikipedia

People often ask me how to find "the law." It can be tricky. If everybody could find it, they wouldn't be able to make people go to law school for three extra years. Maybe the difficulty is intentionally disguised as a full employment measure for lawyers? Seriously though those three years do impart certain basic concepts and foster a method of problem solving and I'm glad I did it! Long story short, sometimes you may not be able to find the law.

Special ed law is new law as we have said here before. For me, "new law" is roughly defined as whatever didn't come over on the boat from England. Because special ed law is of a mid-1970's vintage, it is very new law. Older lawyers don't like new law, especially law that combines social policy. They like property and contracts- areas of the law where you can look at a set of facts and provide reasonably reliable advice to a client. Special ed law is not like that.

Special ed law is also constantly changing. By the time we feel things are settled; the law gets reauthorized and it changes again. If ambiguity bothers you, special ed law may not be your thing. Many times multiple good lawyers can give different opinions on the same set of facts. the frustration is systemic.

Anyway, given all of the limitations above, you still can sometimes find the law. You can of course pay for the premium research services. I use these and they are good, but they cost. I try to provide citations in case a reader has access to the services.

But there are also free methods of finding the law. IDEA and the federal regulations are all available on the website. There is a link on the lefthand side of the blog. State special ed regulations are often available on the state department of education website- although many of them are hard to navigate.

Decisions by the U. S Supreme Court are available on its website. The United States Courts of Appeal decisions are available on their websites. Many if not all of the decisions of state high courts are available on their websites.

Trial court decisions are iffy. They are often hard to track down. There are sources. For example if you live near a good law library (law schools generally have a good one as do some large municipalities) (there used to be a great on on top of the Civic Center in Chicago. Is it still there?) The best place on earth to do research is the Library of Congress - although you must register first.

Another good way to find the law is to type the name of a case or a concept (be very specific) or a federal reg into a search engine. That's right fire up the google! You may not get an entire decision, but you will likely get a news article or some other useful information.

And don't forget the other resources on the lefthand side of the blog. In addition to the statute and regs there are links to other useful websites and to a number of other excellent blogs. There are also links to the special ed law groups for Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning, Twitter and Plaxo; these groups often have lively discussions and debates on their pages and they are another good place to find resources.

Of course, this blog is still the best place to stay current on special ed law. Also on the lefthand side of the blog are an archive of this blog and a search button specific to this blog. How cool is that? If you subscribe to the blog, you will be sure to receive every post. If there are other resources that are neutral, please suggest them. Because of my hearing officer, mediator and consultant status, I never link to or suggest sites that seem to favor one side or the other. For the same reason, I don't accept invitations to join other groups, etc. But if you know of additional neutral resources, please let me know.