The research works by retrieving cases in response to specific legal questions. Ask the question and you get a wrong answer. What many people do not know is that many lawyers simply cannot research online adequately. Thats why lots of law firms still have law libraries even tho the space those libraries occupy can be costly.
Many courthouses have law libraries which are open to the public. Any reference material that is online will also be available in the library. The only thing you will not be able to get are unpublished opinions by judges.
Rather than read casebooks, try to review articles by legal commentators. AmJur (American Jurisprudence), Colliers, Matthew Bender, Corpus Juris are all multi-volume sets which offer commentary on various issues in the fields of law. The down side is that these reference books discuss the law in general terms and footnote citations to applicable for specific states so you still have to go back to the legal opinions for your particular state.
In addition, some bar associations publish periodical(s) on a semi-regular discussing trends in that state’s law. Again, the law librarian can help you identify that periodical and you can ascertain if it publishes any articles that may be of interest to your case.
Personally, I believe that a lay person should read the commentators’ review of the general state of the law BEFORE delving into statutes and cases – it helps you understand what you should look for in general terms before you attempt to answer specific questions. For example, if you want the state of the law in your state on move away issues, go to Am Jur first and read up on the general trends. That way, you have a general understanding of the law. Then check the footnotes for citations to your state’s law and try to find the statutes (if there are laws on the books) and the cases dealing with the issue. If there are neither, you can still argue the general trend of the law when you make your request.
Finally, if you are proceeding pro se, you should purchase or be familiar with the local rules of civil procedure. You can’t even begin to play the game if you do not know the rules the court is playing by. Remember, law is not always fair. Know the rules and don’t rely upon your own sense of fairness – if you do, you will live to regret it.