How do I do my own legal research as a self-represented litigant?

Last reviewed June 2024 by the Clicklaw editors

Legal research can be intimidating, but there are many good tools to help people without legal training find legal information.

What’s a self-represented litigant?

If you don’t have a lawyer and are representing yourself, then you’re a self-represented litigant. This means you must prepare your case, do your own legal research, learn about the court system, learn what documents to file, find the specific laws that apply to your case, and so on.

What’s legal research?

Legal research usually means finding out how courts work (the court process) and finding material to support your case (case law). Case law is past court decisions or legislation. When a court form asks you for a “legal basis,” this is usually the sort of information you’d enter.

Where can I do my legal research?

Legal research can be tough, but there are tools to make it easier. This page helps you find answers in trustworthy places.

Information about the court process

Learning how courts work is important to your case. The courts in BC host how-to guides to most of their processes on their websites, explaining what to expect at each step and where to find related forms.

Information about case law

Case law is sometimes referred to as court decisions, or “authorities.” You use these to show the judge why they should decide in your favour. You don’t always need to bring these to court, but you should be ready to provide them if requested. It’s usually best to record the citations (the year and number given to a decision) since these are unique and will help you find them later.

The best place to begin case law research is CanLII. It’s a free database of decisions from across Canada, and you don’t need a subscription. CanLII is also a good source of legislation, hosting all of BC’s current laws. 

For more in-depth information, you can watch the free Online Legal Research Course from Courthouse Libraries BC. 

Helpful resources

  • The CanLII Primer (National Self-Represented Litigants Project): This primer helps you understand and navigate CanLII.
  • CanLII Search Help (National Self-Represented Litigants Project): This tutorial explains how to use the CanLII search form.

Helpful services