Legal research is expensive, but there are a number of free alternatives available. Aside from running over to the law library at the local courthouse or law school, or hiring law students with subscription access to Westlaw and Lexis, your options can sometimes be limiting. However, the trend is moving away from traditional hard copy books towards electronic formats. Unless you have your own law library, you’re probably looking for a low-to-no-cost solution for your research needs.
I’ve listed some free resources available for primary and secondary sources and also some places that provide quick and easy background information about the law.
- Lexis Web: This is a great place to start here for everything legal. Use the filters to find exactly what you need.
- Casemaker X: A great tool for attorneys practicing in Texas, or any other jurisdiction for that matter (bar membership comes with free access). This is a free legal research database that allows you to access statutes, regulations, and case law. Although Casemaker X is not as comprehensive as the paid subscription services, it does provide a wealth of information at no cost.
- Fastcase: This is another database that offers free access for bar members. Similar to Casemaker X, the site provides statutes, regulations, and case law. Plus, their mobile app is free, which is great when you aren’t in front of a computer.
- Google Scholar: Google also provides free case law searching, which can be filtered by jurisdiction.
- United States Code: The entire U.S.C. in a searchable and easy to use format.
- State statutes: every state legislature provides free access to its Constitutions and statutes. Each of these state codes are searchable and easy to use
- Code of Federal Regulations: This is an e-format of the Code of Federal Regulations.
- Nolo: This site is informative and thorough, relaying a tremendous amount of legal information without all the legalese.
- Legal Information Institute: A helpful site that provides a wealth of information, particularly the legal encyclopedia.
- Justia: Another free legal encyclopedia that, in addition helpful law information, also provides on point case law footnotes.
- Local attorney websites: Check attorney websites for contact information, the types of law services offered, and sometimes, free information pertaining to the law in their jurisdiction. This free information can be very useful to attorneys who may need to familiarize themselves with an area of the law.
- Find Law: Similar to Nolo, this is another easy to use source for background information.
- Local government agencies: Many local government agencies have relevant legal information available on their websites. For example, in Texas, if you need specific employment law information, the Texas Workforce Commission is very comprehensive.
Of course these sites might not have everything you need, but they should get you started. If you’re a solo practitioner or small firm and legal research costs are a priority, bookmark these sites. Often times, it’s better to familiarize yourself with a new area of law by doing some background reading. Not only will this cut down on the amount of time it takes to find what you need, but when it comes time to switch over to your paid subscription service you already have your search terms. With paid subscription databases where each search and each click costs money, fewer searches means less cost to you and your client.
Jason Long is a 2015 graduate of the Oklahoma City University School of Law.