Public Library Toolkit - Contents
1. Getting Started: Legal Information vs. Legal Advice
10. Local Law
11. State Judicial Law (Courts), including forms information
12. State Regulatory Law
(Executive Branch and Agencies)
The Public Library Toolkit is a project of the Legal Information Services to the Public (LISP) Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). For legal information guides for other states, please see the full Toolkit.
The Maryland Toolkit is a project of the Conference of Maryland Court Law Library Directors.
Compiled June 2015 by Catherine McGuire, Maryland State Law Library, and Kate Martin, Montgomery County Circuit Court Law Library
Last rev 9/2017
Maryland Public Library ToolkitThe Maryland toolkit is designed for public library reference staff as a reference guide to Maryland primary and secondary legal resources, with emphasis on resources available online. For legal information needs beyond the resources in this toolkit, contact a Maryland law librarian for further assistance (see 2. Public Law Libraries, below).
To supplement and expand upon the resources here, see the Maryland State Law Library's Law on the Frontlines: Legal Reference for Public Libraries.
Distinguishing Between Information and Advice. For additional insight:
- Can We Help You?, Maryland Access to Justice Commission
- Locating the Law, 5th ed., Chapter 4: Legal Reference vs. Legal Advice. (2009), Southern California Association of Law Libraries (SCALL)
Maryland has a State Law Library as well as multiple Circuit Court law libraries, open to the public and staffed with helpful law librarians. Contacting a law librarian is often the quickest way to get to your goal. Many of the resources below can be found at a public law library. Most Maryland public law libraries also have free access to fee-based databases like Westlaw and Lexis.
A. General Information
The Maryland People's Law Library, a legal information site managed by the Maryland State Law Library, provides Marylanders with information and summaries about the law, links to primary and secondary legal sources, and referrals to legal services.
For extensive information on the procedural aspects of a case, see the Maryland People’s Law Library page “How Do I…”
The Maryland District Court has a number of Self Help Information Brochures on topics including landlord/tenant, garnishing wages, collecting a judgment, expungement and more. Brochures are available in several languages.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals' publication, A Guide for Self-Representation, is helpful for those pursuing an appeal.
B. Legal Clinics and Self-Help Centers
There are a number of legal clinics and self-help centers around the State. Both kinds of assistance refer generally to a service where a person can get legal assistance or advice from a legal professional. The distinction between the two types is blurry. Generally, a legal clinic is a calendared event (regularly or sporadically), sometimes (but not always) requiring an appointment, and often providing more in-depth assistance; and a self-help center is a location open during consistent hours, most often not requiring an appointment. Thus, a Lawyer in the Library program is more a legal clinic than self-help center, as these are scheduled for designated but limited hours; and the Maryland Courts Self-Help Center, which provides assistance via telephone every weekday for almost twelve hours daily, is a self-help center. But you'll see the terms used often interchangably. Each clinic or center will have designated hours, and will indicate whether they handle walk-ins or if appointments need to be pre-arranged.
People's Law Library Legal Services Directory
The Directory can be sorted by keyword, county, and category (for example, Disability Law; Family Law; Foreclosure; Landlord/Tenant; etc.).
People's Law Library Legal Clinic Calendar
The Calendar can be sorted by county and date.
Maryland Courts Self-Help Centers
The Courts have multiple self-help centers that provide a range of services:
Courts Self-Help Center, with phone and chat access, for civil matters;
District Court Self Help Resource Centers, with walk-in assistance in several locations; and
Family Services Programs & Self Help Centers, in every Circuit Court, with assistance for family-related matters (divorce, custody, visitation, etc.).
- Maryland Legal Aid runs regular Lawyer in the Library programs at public library branches across the state. The number of participating locations is ever-expanding. The Legal Aid website lists upcoming clinics (scroll down on the home page).
- Anne Arundel County Public Law Library Lawyer in the Library Program
- Howard County Law Library Civil Law Self-Help Clinic
A. Bar Associations
Maryland State Bar Association
B. Locating an attorney
Lawyer Referral Services (LRS), offered through the local county bar association, can point people to local attorneys practicing in particular topic areas. Contact information for county LRS programs is available on the State Bar Association’s website.
Maryland People’s Law Library's “Get Help” has extensive information on locating legal assistance, from self-help programs, to free legal help, reduced-fee services, and regular fee-based services.
If the attorney's name is known but contact information is needed, the Client Protection Fund of the Bar of Maryland maintains a contact list of all attorneys currently admitted to practice in the state.
C. Attorney Rules of Conduct
The Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct guide the conduct of Maryland attorneys. The text of the MLRPC is contained in Maryland Rule 16-812, found where the Maryland Rules are published, both print and online (see Section 11.B. Court Rules).
D. Problems with an attorney
The conduct of practitioners of law in Maryland is overseen by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission (AGC). Complaints against an attorney are filed with the Commission.
- Maryland at a Glance: State Government (Maryland State Archives)
- Maryland Manual Online (Maryland State Archives)
- Maryland State Government (Maryland.gov)
The first step in locating legal information is often understanding what the citation in front of you means. To help decipher Maryland legal citations, look at the handy guide:
Recognizing and Reading [Maryland] Legal Citations, 2.2/3 Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing 70 (Winter/Spring 1994)
Cornell's Legal Information Institute also offers helpful material to decipher legal citations in Introduction to Basic Legal Citation, by Peter W. Martin (2014). The BLC offers information on both standard legal citation guides, the Bluebook and ALWD.
For the best collection of reliable online Maryland primary law sources (Code, cases, and regulations), see the Maryland State Law Library's Gateway to Maryland Law. Resources are also separately enumerated below.
Watch the Maryland Courts' video, What is the Law? for a good visual of the different kinds of law.
The current Maryland state constitution is available in print in the Constitutions volume of the Maryland Code.
The text of the Maryland state constitution is available from the Maryland State Archives; with the full text of the current Maryland Code and Rules on the Gateway to Maryland Law; and as a downloadable pdf, on the General Assembly's Legislative Services website. Use the link to the current Code and Rules to locate the Constitutions volume.
The Maryland General Assembly passes bills during annual sessions which run from January to April each year. When passed, bills are called “session laws” or “chapter laws”. Once passed, the legislative language is added to (or amends) the Maryland Code, which is the text of all Maryland laws currently in effect organized (“codified”) by topic. The Maryland Department of Legislative Services publishes helpful legislative research resources, including:
A. State Code
When conducting research related to the Maryland Code, it can be helpful to have a good grounding in how the Code was developed. Many useful links on this topic are grouped on the Maryland State Law Library’s web page, Maryland Code Research Sources. The Code itself is widely available:
There are two print publications of the Maryland Code. One is published by Lexis (Michie's), the other by West. Both are designated as official by the Maryland General Assembly.
The Maryland Code is online available on the State Law Library's Gateway to Maryland Law.
B. State Session Laws
Bills passed into law by the General Assembly are called “session laws” or “chapter laws.” These are printed in the order of passage annually in the Laws of Maryland.
Digital versions are available on the Maryland General Assembly's website.
C. State Bills
The text of state legislation is available back to 1996 through the Maryland General Assembly's website.
Earlier bills are available in print at some larger law libraries, and through subscription databases such has HeinOnline and LLMC Digital.
E. Legislative History
Legislative history can be complex, and anyone approaching a legislative history should strongly consider contacting a Maryland law librarian for guidance and assistance. To help a researcher get started, see the Maryland State Law Library's Checklist for Maryland Legislative History Research. The Checklist page outlines basic steps in the legislative history process, and includes links to the in-depth article, Ghosthunting: Searching for Maryland Legislative History, and a Checklist Worksheet to help work through each step.
Maryland is divided into 24 county or county-equivalents (Baltimore City is an independent city, and functions in most respects as the counties do). Within the 23 counties, there are a number of municipalities with their own governing structure (Annapolis, Kensington, St Michael’s, and many others). Each county and most municipalities pass ordinances or bills, which are organized into county and municipal codes much as the State’s bills are organized into the State Code. Many counties and municipalities have ceased publishing their codes in print, and instead provide links from their websites. The Maryland State Law Library has compiled these links:
General Local Law Research
County and municipal governments in Maryland are not all structured in the same way. The University of Maryland Law School's Thurgood Marshall Law Library has an excellent research guide, Researching Maryland Local Law, to help explain these differences.
Maryland has a four-tiered court system, with two trial level courts (District and Circuit), a mid-level appellate court (Court of Special Appeals), and highest court (Court of Appeals). In addition to these, there are also an Orphans' Court, which handles probate matters, and a Tax Court, which is actually an independent agency and not part of the Judiciary. For a better understanding of the court system, take a look at the Maryland Court System.
When someone asks for "a case", they are generally looking for the written opinion - the explanation of the court's decision. Such opinions are issued, generally, only in appellate level cases. State trial court cases, those from District and Circuit Court in Maryland, most often do not have written opinions (there are rare exceptions).
Sometimes, someone will ask for "a case" if they want to see the docket listing for a case in one of the trial courts. The docket list provides basic case information - parties, dates, issues (crimes charged or civil matter), the attorneys representing the parties, actions that have taken place, and final resolution, if there is one. This information is available through the Maryland Judiciary's Case Search system (dates and types of cases vary from court to court). Case Search is a public system, available via the internet anywhere.
While just about all Maryland state appellate cases have opinions, not all opinions are reported, meaning not all can be used as precedent in making other decisions. Unreported opinions are not binding on parties other than those in the case; they are not law in this sense, the way reported cases are. The Maryland courts began making unreported opinions available on their website in 2015.
The official version of Maryland cases (court opinions) are published in the Maryland Reports (Court of Appeals) and Maryland Appellate Reports (Court of Special Appeals). The print volumes can be found in all law libraries. Maryland decisions are also published in West’s Atlantic Reporter. The Maryland Digest acts as a print index to Maryland case law, and is available in major law libraries.
Court opinions can be found (free) online at:
B. Court Rules
Annotated Maryland Court Rules are published by both Thomson Reuters (West) and LexisNexis as a paperbound supplement to the Maryland Code, and can generally be found shelved with the Code in most libraries.
A free online version is available located with the Maryland Code.
Maryland Rules history, like legislative history, can be complicated, and generally it is best to speak with a Maryland law librarian when approaching research. However, there are materials that can help a researcher get started:
- Researching the Legislative History of Maryland Rules, John Cannan, 40-Dec Maryland Bar Journal 48 (2007)
- No Local Rules in Maryland...Sort Of, John Cannan, 52.1 Law Library Lights 15 (2008)
C. Jury Instructions
The State Law Library has a research guide on jury instructions for more complicated research questions. The quick & dirty on jury instructions is:
There are two sets of jury instructions for Maryland, one published by the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) and one by LexisNexis.
- MSBA: Maryland Criminal Pattern Jury Instructions and Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions
- LexisNexis: Maryland Criminal Jury Instructions and Commentary and Maryland Civil Jury Instructions and Commentary
Maryland jury instructions are not available for free online. They may be available via a Lexis or Westlaw subscription.
D. Forms - Official
Maryland has a small number of official court forms, mainly for District Court matters and Circuit Court family law and guardianship matters. The courts post official forms, when available, on the Judiciary website forms page.
The Maryland People's Law Library groups these links, and links to other, non-court but legal, forms, on the PLL Find Court and Legal Forms page.
For a better understanding of legal forms and the process of locating a form, review the discussion on forms on our Legal Reference for Public Libraries page.
E. Forms - Model/Sample
There are extensive sources for model or sample forms to use when constructing a filing in a Maryland legal matter. These are mainly available in print and CD-Rom format, and are located at local public law libraries. The best starting places include:
Maryland Civil Procedure Forms (LexisNexis)
Maryland Practice Forms (MSBA)
- Maryland Litigation Forms & Analysis (Thomson Reuters)
A number of public libraries subscribe to the Maryland Legal Forms database from Gale/Cengage, which contains a wide variety of Maryland-specific sample legal forms and filings. Check your library's database collection for access to the collection.
Sample forms for Maryland appellate actions are available in the Guide for Self-Representation (see 3.A. Self-Help, General Information above).
For a better understanding of legal forms and the process of locating a form, review the discussion on forms on our Legal Reference for Public Libraries page.
A. Administrative Code and Register
The Maryland Division of State Documents (DSD) prints the Maryland Register, a bi-weekly journal publication in which new regulations are first printed, and COMAR, the Code of Maryland Regulations, which contains the full text of all regulations currently in effect. COMAR in print is a multi-volume looseleaf set, and can be found in larger law libraries such as the Maryland State Law Library. The Maryland Register similarly can be found in larger law libraries in print.
Researching the history of a regulation, like legislative history, can be complex, and anyone approaching a regualtory history should strongly consider contacting a Maryland law librarian for guidance and assistance. The Division of State Documents has a reliable in-depth guide, digitally available on the State Law Library's website, for anyone wishing to try it solo.
B. Executive Orders
Executive Orders from the Governor are published in the Maryland Register. Orders currently in force are in found in COMAR, Title 01, Subtitle 01.
Orders during the current administration are available on the website of the Office of the Governor.
C. Attorney General Opinions
Maryland AG Opinions are printed annually in single volumes, and are available in print at most law libraries.
The full text of AG Opinions from 1993+ are available on the Maryland Attorney General's website. Opinions from pre-1993 are available through subscription databases such as HeinOnline and LLMC Digital.
A. Maryland People's Law Library
The Maryland People’s Law Library is a legal information and self-help website maintained by the Maryland State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, and supported by Maryland’s non-profit legal services providers, pro bono attorneys and the legal academic community. PLL content is primarily in the area of civil, state (Maryland) matters, though there is some material on criminal and federal matters as well.
B. Legal Encyclopedias
The Maryland Law Encyclopedia (MLE) contains narrative descriptions of legal topics with citations to primary law sources such as cases and statutes. The text of the MLE is not available for free on the internet; however, most law libraries will have a set, and some county public libraries keep a print set in their reference collections (check with your local branch). The full text may also be available electronically on Westlaw, depending on the subscription.
The legal materials publisher Nolo includes a brief but helpful "encyclopedia" on its website, under Legal Articles. Many entries are general, rather than state-specific, but the summaries can be helpful in explaining a legal topic to a non-lawyer.
C. Titles by Topic
The Conference of Maryland Court Law Library Directors maintains an online list of Core Collection Recommended Titles for Circuit Court law libraries. The list provides a quick reference tool for those seeking a title in an area of law appropriate to ongoing research.
The Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) publishes a number of titles on Maryland law. Their texts, referred to generally as CLE (Continuing Legal Education) Publications, are listed on the MSBA website; many are found in public law libraries.
D. Legal Glossaries and Vocabulary
There are a number of good resources for understanding legal terminology. In print, Black's Law Dictionary and other legal dictionaries are helpful. Online, for general term use, the Cornell Legal Information Institute's Wex and Nolo's Free Dictionary of Law Terms are both handy. For more specific jurisdictional usage, there are legal glossaries available from the Maryland Judiciary and the U.S. Courts.
Maryland State Law Library
361 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401
Thurgood Marshall Law Library, University of Maryland School of Law
500 West Baltimore Street (street entrance)
Baltimore, MD 21201
University of Baltimore Law Library
1401 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
A full list of federal depository libraries in Maryland is available on the U.S. Government Publishing Office website.
Maryland People’s Law Library
The site itself is one huge online guide to legal information. Information is arranged topically under umbrella headings such as Consumer, Employment, Family Law, Senior Citizens, etc.
MSBA Legal Info Brochures
The State Bar Association has helpful online brochures on a number of topics, including Alternatives to Nursing Home Placement, Being a Witness, Buying a Home, and more.
Maryland State Law Library
The State Law Library's website contains research guides to help more specialized legal research.
AALL Public Library Toolkit
The Toolkit includes general guides such as:
- How to Research a Legal Problem
- How to Find Legal Material if You Already Have a Citation
- Public Library Collection Guidelines for a Legal Research Collection
- Knowing When to Refer
Thurgood Marshall Law Library (TMLL), University of Maryland School of Law
TMLL Guide to Legal Research
The TMLL Guide includes online chapters for areas of law (Statutory Law Research, Legislative Law Research, etc.), as well as levels of law (Maryland Law, Federal Law, Foreign and International Law). There is also a very useful chapter on Electronic Research Techniques.