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Government Information: Judicial--Federal and State

This guide will help you find federal, state, and city of Boston information online and in print

Not All Legal Information is Online

Not everything you may need to do legal research is online, or free. Here is a good outline of what's online and what's not from the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries. If you think you may need print resources, please contact us and we will be happy to help you. 

Key resources in print at BPL include:

  • Annotated Laws of Massachusetts (ALM)
  • Massachusetts Digest
  • Massachusetts Practice Series (MPS)


Finding Laws

Getting Started


Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries is often the best place to look for laws. Its website has an A-Z overview of laws by topic and popular name, and also includes full text of the General Laws (MGL),  Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR), easy navigation to a lot of case law, links to forms. They have seventeen locations throughout Massachusetts, located at the trial courts, and also offer extensive legal reference help. They give free legal information. You can contact a law library by text at 617-674-1455 Monday-Friday, or in person at your local law library. 

Legal Forms via the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries

The Court Service Center gives free legal information and can help you fill out court forms. They cannot give you legal advice. The Court Service Center is on the 2nd floor of the Brooke Courthouse: 24 New Chardon Street, near the Haymarket T Station.

Self Help Law Center (Massachusetts Courts) provides basic information on such topics as family law, consumer protection issues, criminal law, restraining orders, housing, small claims, and wills and estates. The site also has a gateway to forms used in the court process.

 Massachusetts Legal Help also contains much helpful information on these topics, among others: domestic violence, family law, landlord-tenant and housing law, criminal law, employment and unemployment, immigration, health and mental health, income and benefits, disability, consumer, and school law. It also has a directory of legal aid agencies in the state.


 Legal Information Institute at Cornell University is a great starting place to search the full text of many federal, state, and regulatory sources such as the CFR, court rules, state and federal laws. Also includes a lawyer directory, legal dictionary, and a lot more.

 Wex is a legal encyclopedia compiled by the Legal Information Institute.


Law.Com logo lets you look up a term to find its definition, or find definitions that include a specific word.



FTC logo  Federal Trade Commission provides current information on consumer protection issues, including information on scams, identity theft, money and credit issues.


Massachusetts Attorney General's Office is an excellent source of help for consumers and also for people starting or operating small businesses.

The American Bar Association provides free full-text search and access to over 300 online law reviews and law journals, as well as document repositories hosting academic papers and related publications.

BBA logo Boston Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service


MassBar Lawyer Referral Service Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service

Here are more helpful guides:

Finally, remember that not everything you may need to do legal research is online, or free. Here is a good outline of what's online, what's not,  from the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries. If you think you may need print resources, please contact us and we will be happy to help you. 

State Law

State laws generally cover areas such matters as landlord and tenant and real estate, marriage and family, wills, inheritance, and probate, personal injury and medical malpractice, criminal law, workers compensation and selected other labor topics.

State laws are codified (arranged by subject) in the Massachusetts General Laws (MGL). Laws can be searched by citation (chapter and/or section number), keyword, and in some instances by popular name (i.e.,the popular state law on sale of used cars known as the Lemon Law).

Another arrangement of state laws is roughly chronological, or by legislative session. These are referred to as "session laws". Session laws are also known as the Massachusetts Acts and Resolves. (Earlier volumes (pre-1900) have interesting supplemental material, including governor’s addresses, list of those who had a change of name and lists of state governmental officials). Volumes dating back to 1692 and are available here:

Massachusetts Acts and Resolves (session laws from 1692 to 2009); Best for searching for an act. Each act is in its own file for faster searching and retrieval. 

Session laws (aka Massachusetts Acts and Resolves, 1997 to present) from the Massachusetts General Court. 

Internet Archive (session laws from 1692 to 1959): Best for searching for a resolve or looking at supplementary material.



Federal Law

Federal law is passed by the United States Congress or is created by federal case law. Federal law applies in all fifty states and covers areas such as civil rights and discrimination, veterans, social security and other benefits, some criminal law, bankruptcy and immigration. 

Just as Massachusetts state law is codified in the General Laws, federal law is codified in the United States Code. The USC is organized into fifty titles (broad topics). The USC is available online and is updated almost in real time. The USC is also issued in print volumes but is not current as changes and new laws are not added until annual supplements are published. 

The chronological arrangement of federal laws start in 1789 and have been continued thus far through 2007 in the United States Statutes at Large, Laws passed 1995 and after are also available in the Public and Private Laws section of the website.  (Private laws affect an individual, family, or small group, and are enacted to assist citizens that have been injured by government programs or who are appealing an executive agency ruling such as deportation).

Law Library of Congress

The Law Library of Congress has a great guide to federal law, with links to the US Code, Statutes at Large, and Public Laws, as well as tools to help you search all three databases.

Court and Case Law


Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) is an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information online from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts, and the PACER Case Locator. PACER is provided by the Federal Judiciary in keeping with its commitment to providing public access to court information via a centralized service. You must register to use it. Registration and searching are free; however, if you want to download documents, you will be charged.

RECAP is a free extension for Chrome or Firefox for PACER users. RECAP will tell you whether a free version of a document you want is already freely available at the RECAP Archive.  As you browse PACER, RECAP will upload docket files and PACER-downloaded PDFs to the Internet Archive for others to download. This happens transparently and adds nothing to your PACER fees. You will see a small notification box after each upload, which you can turn off if you wish. By simply installing RECAP, you are contributing to this growing public domain legal library.


Why is case law important?

In the American justice system, we rely on the courts to test the laws established by the legislature, agencies, and decisions of other courts. Our system works on a system of precedent; prior decisions of the same court, or a higher court, which a judge must follow in deciding a subsequent case presenting similar facts and the same legal problem, even though different parties are involved and many years may have elapsed. The use of precedent establishes a consistency throughout the court system.

How are the state and federal courts organized?

Massachusetts State Courts
Supreme Judicial Court  Court of Last Resort
Appeals Court  Intermediate Appellate Court
Trial Court of the  Court of General  Commonwealth Jurisdiction








Federal Courts
Supreme Court of the United States  Court of  Last Resort
United States Court of Appeals  Intermediate Appellate Court
United States District Court  Trial Court/ Court of General Jurisdiction

According to Nolo's Plain English Law Dictionary, case law is law based on judicial opinions (including interpretation of statutes), as opposed to law based on statutes, regulations, or other sources. 

Google Scholar includes opinions from all states, federal, and US Supreme Court decisions, as well as some links to full text relevant materials such as law review articles. Coverage includes all US Supreme Court cases, higher level state cases starting in 1950, and federal and district court cases since 1923. Cases cited in decisions are hyperlinked. 

CourtListener (from the Free Law Project) is another database of state and federal court decisions, searchable by keyword or citation. It also includes downloadable audio of oral arguments for some cases.


The creation of laws usually involves a legislative body (i.e., both houses of the U.S. Congress, or a state legislature). Regulations are written by executive agencies at the federal or state level, to help carry out the intent of a law.

 For example, the Environmental Protection Agency was charged with writing regulations to spell out in detail what pollutant levels were acceptable under the Clean Air Act when it was passed in the 1970s. Regulations also usually require a public hearing process before the final regulations are put into effect. In many cases, though, public participation in the development of regulations is minimal.  is intended to make the regulatory process more straightforward and transparent to citizens, and to encourage increased public participation in the regulatory process. Final regulations can be searched in the Code of Federal Regulations (1994 to the present). Proposed and final regulations from 1994 to the present are also searchable in the Federal Register.

On the state level, Massachusetts publishes its current regulations in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR). Proposed regulations, new regulations, and changes to standing regulations are published in the Massachusetts Register. BPL also subscribes to print copies of the Code of Massachsetts Regulations and the Massachusetts Register. 

The National Archives has a good guide to the CFR, as well as a helpful The Federal Register and How to Use It tutorial.

In Library Resources


Law materials available in print at the BPL Research Services Department include:

Annotated Laws of Massachusetts provides annotated coverage of the Massachusetts General Laws, selected special laws, court rules, and the constitutions of Massachusetts and the United States, special laws passed by the legislature, with annotations to relevant law review articles. 

Massachusetts Digest is a multivolume subject index to Massachusetts case law, further subdivided into 404 subtopics. Look here to find cases on specific topics and points of law. (at Social Sciences Reference Desk)

Massachusetts Practice Series is a restatement of state law written by legal experts. It is updated annually with supplements. Intended for practicing attorneys, it provides detailed overviews of topics and points of law, with annotations to relevant cases and law review articles.

Also available are print copies of some state regulatory materials (Code of Massachusetts Regulations and the Massachusetts Register).