Evaluating Legal Websites

How can you tell a reputable legal information site from one published with inaccurate or untrustworthy information? To help you decide if a website is reliable, look for these 10 signs of excellence in a legal website:

Clear and Complete Identity Information

Who sponsors the site? You should be able to quickly find full and accurate information on the identity of the site sponsors and contributors as well as details on how to contact them. Physical address and phone numbers can be reassuring to check. (However, some non-profits may not publish a physical address because they cannot handle all the potential visitors.)

People's Law Library - Information about the sponsors of this website is at the bottom of each page.

Visible Material Revision Dates

When was the material last reviewed for legal accuracy? The website should conspicuously post the last date each page of the legal content was revised. This should be different from the date that editing or technical changes were made to the page. One update for the entire site is not particularly useful.

People's Law Library - On this website, the bottom of every legal content page contains information about the last date the material was updated for any reason.

Information About Legal Jurisdiction

Does the information relate to your legal situation? Most laws about common problems (such as divorce, custody, small claims) vary from state to state. If a website displays general legal information, the site should clearly state that the legal content may not apply in your location. It should indicate the jurisdiction (federal, state or county) of the laws discussed.

People's Law Library - Except where noted that federal law applies, all of the legal content on this website is based on Maryland law. Where there are local county or city variations, these are indicated.

Legal Advice Disclaimer

The site should provide a conspicuous notice that the legal information on the website is not legal advice, unless it is a law firm’s web site. A law firm site should clearly state the terms and conditions under which legal advice is provided.

People's Law Library - See the statement at the bottom of each page.

Descriptive Links to Other Websites

Each link to other websites should include a description of where the link goes, what kind of content is on the website and its relevance to your problem.

People's Law Library - The policy of the People's Law Library is to visit each site that we link to, and to indicate the purpose of the link and any cautions in its use.

The Source of the Law is Noted, where appropriate and available.

The website should have links to relevant case law and legislation and should include information about the source of the law (the “citation”).  

People's Law Library - Numerous legal citations appear throughout the site.

Attorney and Legal Help Referrals are Listed

Where appropriate, the website should include information on how and where to obtain legal advice or additional information.

People's Law Library - You can find attorney referrals by navigating the "Get Help" section that is listed on the left side of each page.

Permissions to Publish Other Material is Displayed

If the website contains material from books, magazines, or other websites (that is, any material created by someone else), it should show that it obtained permission to publish the content.

Many pages on the People's Law Library contain a source statement at the bottom of the page.  (For example, note below that this page is posted with the permission of the ABA eLawyering task force.)

Commercial Activities

A for-profit website should tell you how it is supported.  If the site charges a fee for any of its services or to access its information the terms and conditions of use should be clearly stated. A “Terms and Conditions” or “Terms of Service” document (which defines under what terms you are authorized to use the website or to purchase products or services from the website) should be obviously displayed and clearly inform you about terms of services, refund policies, and methods of dispute resolution.

People's Law Library is a non-profit website supported by grant funds to serve the public interest. No services or products are offered for sale by the Peoples Law Library and use of this site is unrestricted.

Privacy Statements Regarding Personal Information

If the website requires you to enter information about yourself, the site should clearly state its privacy policy and its policy on the security of communications. Does it sell your contact information? Does it provide the information to other affiliated companies? Can you opt out? If you send private data such as a credit card number, is the data encrypted? (Look for 128-bit SSL Secure Socket Layer)

People's Law Library does not ask members of the general public to submit personal information. Sections like the Divorce Quizzes do not store the information you enter and cannot associate it with you.

Based upon the practices of the Maryland Legal Assistance Network (MLAN) and Draft Guidelines issued for comment in June of 2001 by the eLawyering Task Force of the ABA Law Practice Management Section and ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services.
Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – www.peoples-law.org. © Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, 2020.”