Brief Guide to Low/No Cost Online American Legal Research

Primary Authority

Actual Text of “The Law”
Generally available and reliable online if from government sources or well-known organizations such as academic institutions, or if in identical form at multiple sources.

Judicial (cases, dockets, rules of court)

[Note: Information about and access to these resources may be subject to frequent change.]

Name Notes/Links/Descriptions No Cost Low cost
AltLaw U.S. Supreme Court and Circuit Courts of Appeal searchable by date, keyword, phrase, name. [N.B. Per a November 19, 2009 notice, AltLaw was to shut down in early 2010.]  
Casemaker Exclusive partner with state bar associations for providing association members with access to primary legal research authorities, including case law, among other things.  
Casetext A searchable legal database that readers can annotate. The beta version opened to the public in the summer of 2013 and the site is building a community of annotators so that anyone reading a case see can related legal documents, articles, and commentary alongside the text.  
Fastcase Monthly charged, 50-state and federal cases.  
Federal Digital System (FDsys) Official U.S. Government information; an increasing number of U.S. federal courts now publish opinions on FDsys -- for explanation, please see here.  
FindACase State and federal case law, grouped by state.  
FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court, Circuit Courts of Appeal, and District Courts, among others, and state courts - searchable and browsable.  
Free Law Project Non-profit -- open access to U.S. case law -- project from the University of California, Berkeley School of Information.  
Google Scholar Google Scholar - Advanced Scholar Search - U.S. Supreme Court, Circuit Courts of Appeal, and District Courts, state courts - searchable.  
Justia U.S. Supreme Court, Circuit Courts of Appeal, and District Courts, state courts - searchable and browsable.  
Loislaw 50-state case; U.S. Supreme Court reports; Circuit Courts of Appeal; U.S. District Courts; U.S. Tax Court; others.  
OpenJurist U.S. Supreme Court and Circuit Courts of Appeal - searchable and browsable.  
PacerPro Free service for searching the U.S. federal PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records] system.  
PLOL Public Library of Law: Access to federal and state cases.  
Ravel Free search visualization, analytics, and annotation platform of United States Supreme Court and Circuit Court of Appeal cases.  
U.S. Court Opinions: Quick Links and Sources Free list and links compiled by the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, DC.  
VersusLaw Offering 3 different online legal research monthly plans covering: U.S. Supreme Court; Circuit Courts of Appeal; U.S. District Courts; other federal courts; United States Code (U.S.C.); state appellate courts; "other court content;" Native American tribal courts; and foreign courts.  

[Initially compiled by George D. Wilson in June 2009. Last modified October 2015.]

Court & related websites

[Note: Information about and access to these resources may be subject to frequent change.]

Name Notes/Links/Descriptions No Cost Low cost
U.S. Supreme Court Browsable "bound volumes" of the United States Reports from 1991 to the present, along with the latest slip opinions and other materials.  
U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal Map of circuit courts, leading to links to their individual websites.  
PACER Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER): an electronic public access service allowing users to obtain case and docket information from federal appellate, district and bankruptcy courts, and the "U.S. Party/Case Index" online, subject to a capped, per-page charge.  
SCOTUSblog Blog starting October 1, 2002, with briefs and other materials for all U.S. Supreme Court cases argued from 2007 to date.  
State and Local Government on the Net A directory of official state, county, and city government websites, leading to links to individual state judicial websites.  
Justia Dockets & Filings Searchable U.S. federal and state court dockets and filings from January 1, 2004 onward.  
Judgepedia Interactive online encyclopedia of courts and judges.  

[Initially compiled by George D. Wilson in June 2009. Last modified November 2013.]

Legislative (constitutions, statutes, ordinances, legislative history)

[Note: Information about and access to these resources may be subject to frequent change.]

Name Notes/Links/Descriptions No cost Low cost
American Memory Library of Congress' linked set of published 18th and 19th century U.S. congressional records. Bills and Resolutions.  
Casemaker Exclusive partner with state bar associations for providing association members with access to primary legal research authorities, including statutory law, among other things.  
Congress.gov The new, permanent, official site for U.S. Federal Government legislative information beginning 19 November 2013; for further information, please see THOMAS below.  
Fastcase Monthly-charged, 50-state and federal statutes.  
Federal Digital System (FDsys) Official U.S. Government information migrated from GPO Access (see below), occurring on a collection-by-collection basis.  
Founders' Constitution Anthology 18th and early 19th century documents arranged, among other things, by article, section, and clause of the U.S. Constitution, from the Preamble through Article Seven and continuing through the first 12 Amendments.  
GPO Access

Official versions of the U.S. Constitution and statutes, along with other legislative materials. [N.B. GPO Access will be "Archive ONLY" as of March 2011 -- use FDsys instead.]

 
Justia Federal and state statutes - searchable and browsable.  
Legal Information Institute

U.S. Constitution, U.S. Code (U.S.C.) collections on Cornell University Law School's respected research and electronic publishing site.

 
Loislaw 50-state statutes; U.S. Constitution; U.S.C.; Public Laws of the United States.  
(U.S. House of Reps.) Office of the Law Revision Counsel

Website of the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, which prepares and publishes the U.S.C.

 
PLOL Public Library of Law: Access to federal and state constitutions, statutes.  
State and Local Government on the Net A directory of official state, county, and city government websites, leading to links to individual state legislative websites.  
THOMAS Library of Congress' contemporary federal legislative portal, searchable back to the 101st Congress (1989-1991). THIS SITE WILL TRANSFER TO THE NEW PERMANENT, OFFICIAL, U.S. FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SITE Congress.gov AS OF 19 NOVEMBER 2013 (AND WILL BE RETIRED IN LATE 2014 -- PLEASE SEE HERE FOR EXPLANATION.  

[Initially compiled by George D. Wilson in June 2009. Last modified November 2013.]

Administrative (agency rules, regulations, decisions) materials

[Note: Information about and access to these resources may be subject to frequent change.]

Name Notes/Links/Descriptions No cost Low cost
Casemaker Exclusive partner with state bar associations for providing association members with access to primary legal research authorities, including and regulatory / administrative law, among other things.  
e-CFR Beta, unofficial version of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.).  
Fastcase Monthly charged, 50-state and federal regulations.  
Federal Digital System (FDsys) Official U.S. Government information migrated from GPO Access, occurring on a collection-by-collection basis.  
GPO Access

Official versions of the C.F.R. and Federal Register (FR), along with other regulatory/administrative materials. [N.B. GPO Access will be "Archive ONLY" in March 2011 -- use FDsys instead.]

 
Justia Federal and state regulations - searchable and browsable.  
Legal Information Institute

C.F.R. collections on Cornell University Law School's respected research and electronic publishing site.

 
Loislaw 50-state rules and regulations; C.F.R.; FR.  
PLOL Public Library of Law: Access to federal and state regulations.  
Regulations.gov Source for all regulations (or rulemakings) issued by U.S. Government agencies, including all proposed and final federal rules, as well as notices - as published in the FR - and additional supporting materials, public comments, and federal agency guidance and adjudications.  
State and Local Government on the Net A directory of official state, county, and city government websites, leading to links to individual state regulatory / administrative websites.  
University of Virginia Library A portal to federal administrative decisions grouped by agency.  

 

[Initially compiled by George D. Wilson in June 2009. Last modified November 2013.]

Secondary Authority

Explanations of “The Law”
Generally less available online because proprietary, with reliability dependent on the reputation of the content author/provider; however, various valuable secondary sources do exist online (often in the form of blogs, guides, portals, wikis, etc.).

Explanations of "The Law"

Generally less available online because proprietary, with reliability dependent on the reputation of the content author / provider; however, various valuable secondary sources do exist online (often in the form of blogs, guides, portals, wikis, etc. - several of which appear as links below).

Name Notes/Links/Descriptions No Cost Low cost
American Bar Association (ABA) Journal and Free Law Review/ Journal Search Free (since 2004) legal magazine from the ABA, the preeminent professional organization of lawyers in the United States. See also the Free Full-Text Online Law Review/Journal Search that is available for over 400 publications.  
Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation The 2,630-page, U.S. Senate Document No. 108-17, prepared by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, containing analysis of cases decided by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) to June 28, 2002 -- with a 2010 Supplement of SCOTUS cases to June 29, 2010.  
Google Scholar & Advanced Google & Google Proximity Search Google's foray into legal search, covering legal "journals" -- along with Google's "advanced" search features and proximity search capability.  

Guide to Law Online

The Law Library of Congress' valuable annotated guide to online sources of information on government and law, including selected links to reliable legal information sites.

 
Jurify Free corporate law, securities law and mergers & acquisitions law research service.  
LLRX Law Library Resource Xchange (LLRX) provides a collection of research guides submitted by law librarians from a variety of institutions.  
Legal Information Institute (LII) Cornell University Law School's respected research and electronic publishing site, including federal and state case law, statutes, and regulations, along with law organized by topic. See in particular WEX. This "multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia" and its specific "law portal" provide all sorts of valuable information (which, of course, before relying upon it, should generally be verified by reference to other resources).

[Initially compiled by George D. Wilson in June 2009. Last modified February 2014.]

Research Guides & Copyright-related
Name Notes/Links/Descriptions No Cost Low cost
Copyright Codex Free Digital Copyright Law Treatise Online work in progress intended "to make U.S. copyright law useful and accessible for designers, coders and lawyers."  
Free and Reduced Cost Legal Research: Options for Minnesota Lawyers Bench & Bar of Minnesota (official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association) article by Nick Farris, University of St. Thomas School of Law, Minneapolis, MN on "low-cost alternatives for legal research [that] can be a cost-effective" yet whose strengths and limitations users must cautiously bear in mind.  
Georgetown Law Library Research Guides Georgetown University Law Center's law library research guides by jurisdiction, conveniently covering, among other things, the 50 U.S. states.  
How to Research a Legal Problem American Association of Law Libraries' (AALL's) 7-page guide for non-lawyers, providing concise and valuable pointers on how to get started, where to go, what to look at, figuring out when to stop, and possibilities for more information.  
Legal Research Engine A specialized search engine from Cornell University Law Library for locating research guides on a wide variety of topics; searches guides from over one dozen law schools and LLRX.    
Locating the Law: A Handbook for Non-Law Librarians Southern California Association of Law Libraries' (SCALL's) revised, 273-page comprehensive resource on law reference and legal research, with particular emphasis on the California and U.S. federal systems.  
Zimmerman's Research Guide An Online Encyclopedia for Legal Researchers by Andrew Zimmerman via LexisNexis -- see here for explanation.    

[Initially compiled by George D. Wilson in June 2009. Last modified October 2014.]