Free Internet US Legal Research in the United States
- 1 Free Internet US Legal Research in the United States
- 1.1 DATABASES OF PRIMARY AND SECONDARY RESOURCES
- 1.2 GOVERNMENT RESOURCES
- 1.3 PERIODICAL INDEXES
- 1.4 Evaluation Website for Law Research
- 1.5 Resources
The following guide describes selected online resources useful for researching U.S. federal and some State (such California) law. For resources that are, at low cost, available via the Internet, see here.
This research entry is divided into four sections. The first section describes databases of primary and secondary resources. Included in this section are databases that link to primary source materials, such as statutes, regulations, and cases. Additionally, many of the databases identified in this section contain secondary materials, such as articles and links to legal treatises and journals.
The second section, government resources, includes links to some federal and California web sites useful for legal research.
The third section, periodical indexes, identifies some law journal databases available. In addition to the indexes referenced in this section, the first section of this research guide
identifies other databases that include periodical indexes.
The final section, additional secondary sources, identifies other useful sites, such as an online legal research encyclopedia and legal news library.
DATABASES OF PRIMARY AND SECONDARY RESOURCES
Resources that Include Full-Text Primary Source Materials and Additional Secondary Information
- Legal Information Institute (LII) at law.cornell.edu/. The Legal Information Institute (LII) is maintained by the Cornell Law School. (1) (2)
- FindLaw at findlaw.com/. FindLaw has two portals, one for legal professionals and another for the public. The legal professionals portal provides access to primary source materials, including federal and state statutes, regulations and court cases. That portal also includes a
“practice area and industry” library, organized topically. Each topic includes links
to subject-specific news articles, primary source materials, government resources,
and web sites. The legal professionals portal also includes a legal news library and a
section titled “Research Tools,” which can assist researchers with locating information
in FindLaw. The public portal is organized topically. For each topic, articles with general
information are provided, and the articles typically include references to other
resources for further information.
Indexes to Primary and Secondary Sources
- Hieros Gamos athg.org/. Hieros Gamos provides links to a wide array of primary and secondary source materials and sites regarding federal and state law. Hieros Gamos can be searched by a particular government entity, i.e. U.S. Executive Branch, or topically, by area
of law. Typically, for each subject, primary and secondary resources and organizations
and associations related to the topic are identified.
- WashLaw (outdated): WashLaw is maintained by the Washburn School of Law. WashLaw provides links to primary and secondary federal and state resources. WashLaw’s interface is easy to use, and the homepage includes a number of subdirectories such as state law; federal law; search for people; libraries, books and reference; news; legal documents; legal
forms; and legal subject index. The subject index is far down on the home page.
Accordingly, to search by topic, users must scroll towards the bottom of the home
- Virtual Chase at virtualchase.com/resources/. The Virtual Chase is maintained by the law firm, Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP. Like the sites discussed above, Virtual Chase provides links to primary and secondary legal resources. The headings in Virtual Chase, such as “State Law” or “Regulatory Law,” tend not to be broken down into subheadings. Thus, Virtual Chase is less useful for quickly locating discrete information than some of the other
sites mentioned in this research guide. However, Virtual Chase does provide an extensive list of online references pertaining to each topic covered, making it very useful for more general research on legal subjects.
- Megalaw.com: Legal Research at megalaw.com/research.php. Megalaw.com’s legal research page, like the sites discussed above, can be used to locate primary and secondary legal resources. Its topical library is particularly useful. There are more than 200 legal topics separately identified in Megalaw, and for each, Megalaw has compiled a page with links to notable cases, statutes, regulations, organizations and other web sites. For fourteen of the topics, Megalaw has research “centers,” with more detailed information and more subdivisions indexing the information.
- CataLaw (Outdated): According to its home page, CataLaw “is the catalog of catalogs of worldwide law on the Internet. It aids legal research by arranging all indexes of law and government into a uniform, universal and unique metaindex.” CataLaw’s interface is easy to use. Users can search by topic or region, and for each selection, related web sites offering primary and secondary information are identified. While useful, CataLaw does not appear to be as comprehensive as represented in its home page.
- Los Angeles County Law Library: California Materials at lalaw.lib.ca.us/california.html and Self Help Resources at lalaw.lib.ca.us/selfhelp.html. The Los Angeles County Law Library is open to the public and provides a wealth of information. The Library’s California materials web page provides one of the most extensive compilations of links to online California primary source materials, including the Constitution, legislative and executive materials, court cases and other court information and Los Angeles county and city information. The County Library’s self help resources web page provides links to web sites useful for non-attorneys in understanding the law and legal processes.
LLRX.com is an online journal emphasizing legal research. Included in the site is a database of topic-specific research guides. In addition to identifying resources for further research, many of the research guides provide useful background information related to the subject. The research guides can be accessed through the “Browse Archives” feature appearing on the left hand side of the LLRX home page.
Additional Databases of Primary Source Materials
American Law Sources On-line at lawsource.com/also/. American Law Sources On-Line (ALSO) compiles links to federal and state primary source materials. In addition to cases, constitutions, statutes, legislative and executive materials, regulations and court rules, ALSO’s federal page includes links to uniform laws, and ALSO’s California page includes links to local laws and certain California specific secondary source material.
- FirstGov.gov: FirstGov.gov is the U.S. government’s official web portal. FirstGov is a gateway to online federal government information, and it includes links to other government
websites, such as legislative committee sites and agency sites. In addition, FirstGov links to the official web portals for each of the states.
- GPO Access at gpoaccess.gov/. GPO Access is the web site for the U.S. Government Printing Office and it provides online access to U.S. government publications. GPO Access can be searched in a number of ways, including by branch of government, by an A-Z list of available
publications and by topic.
- THOMAS at thomas.loc.gov/. THOMAS is maintained by the Library of Congress and includes legislative information. Bill texts, bill summaries, public laws, roll call votes, committee reports, the Congressional Record and other legislative information are available through THOMAS. LexisNexis Congressional, discussed above, has similar coverage and goes back further in time. However, many users may find THOMAS’ interface easier to use.
- Welcome to California at ca.gov/state/portal/myca_homepage.jsp. Welcome to California is the web portal for California government and is a gateway to online California government information. The link to “Government” on the left side of the home page allows users to link to other California government websites.
- Official California Legislative Information at leginfo.ca.gov/. This site provides information and documents relating to California’s legislature. The site includes the full text of bills, resolutions, and constitutional amendments, along with their status, history, votes, analyses, and veto messages. California statutory codes are also included as are other legislative information and publications.
- California Office of Administrative Law at oal.ca.gov/. The website for the California Office of Administrative Law provides links to the California Code of Regulations, to each of the California state agencies and to additional information regarding California regulations and rulemaking.
- California Courts at courtinfo.ca.gov/. The California Courts website provides court related information including court opinions, judicial forms, court rules and information specific to each of the courts. California has contracted with LexisNexis to provide online access to California court cases. Accordingly, when locating cases via the California Courts web site,
users can use LexisNexis search options such as full-text (using the advanced search
feature) and natural language searching.
For information about this resource, see the following:
- Periodical Index in the World Encyclopedia of Law, of use in law library research. Periodical indexes list articles which have appeared in journals
- Indexes to Legal Periodicals in the World Encyclopedia of Law examines several ways to find articles in legal periodicals.
- The entry about Periodical in the World Encyclopedia of Law.
Evaluation Website for Law Research
The Internet may be an extremely important source of law-related information in electronic format. Governments, courts, universities, law firms and law-related organizations are all good sources of law on the Internet.
One issue about conducting legal research on the Internet, however, is the unofficial nature of information on the Internet and the lack of editorial control over what information is published. You should develop evaluative skills in order to judge the reliability of information found on the Internet. Some of the criteria you should use to evaluate websites include:
- authorship: Who has written the content for the site? Is the author’s name given with his or her credentials and a contact address?
- publishing authority: Is the site affiliated with a known law-related organization at a domain specific URL?
- bias: Does the site show a particular or obvious bias that may affect the view point of the authors?
- links: Does the site provide links to related material? Do the links work? Are the links relevant?
- currency: Is information on the site kept current?
- LII includes a wealth of federal and state full-text primary source materials, including
constitutions, statutes, regulations, U.S. Supreme Court opinions, U.S. Court of
Appeals opinions, and state court opinions. LII also covers certain federal rules,
such as the Federal Rules of Evidence, and uniform codes, such as the Uniform
Commercial Code and Uniform Probate Code.
- In addition to primary source materials, LII includes a series of brief articles on a
wide variety of legal topics. These articles are meant as an introduction to each
topic, and are part of Wex, an online legal dictionary and encyclopedia, hosted by
LII. Each article includes references to other sources specific to the topic. When researching in these articles, often the “printable view” of the article should be reviewed to insure that the complete version of the article is displayed.