The below is adapted from Carole Levitt’s book Internet Legal Research on a Budget co-authored with Judy K. Davis, ABA LPD 2014
Legal research and the Internet clearly go hand in hand — 96 percent of lawyers in the 2013 ABA Legal Technology Survey said they conduct legal research online. But despite the abundant free resources available on the Internet, most new lawyers spend their research hours piling up database charges. A 2012 Research Intelligence Group survey found that new associates (in practice five years or less) did an average of 14.5 hours of legal research per week — but only four of those hours were spent using free or low-cost online resources.
The same is likely true for a lot of experienced lawyers — sometimes it’s just easier to stick with the tools you’ve used over the years. Yet with cost-conscious clients scrutinizing your legal bills, how can you afford to keep depending on fee-based resources when free alternatives are available?
Here are five tips on how to get to what you need without that old-fashioned expense.
Full-Text Law Review and Journal Articles
When conducting legal research, lawyers are usually searching for primary law, such as court opinions, statutes and regulations. But sometimes it is easier and quicker to begin with secondary law — i.e., articles that explain and analyze primary law and also point you to it. The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center provides a Google-powered search engine to keyword search — for free — full-text articles from 400 online law reviews and law journals.
Apps for General Legal Research
There are a healthy number of mobile apps for general legal research, but you usually have to know the exact name of an app when you want to download one from an app webstore. Luckily, there are resources available to help you narrow your choices. A good one is the UCLA Law Library’s free Mobile Applications for Law Students and Lawyers, an annotated list of law apps organized alphabetically by title.
Federal Statutory Research
You may know you can research the U.S. Code at three different websites: FDsys, the Office of the Law Revision Counsel’s United States Code Online, and Cornell’s Legal Information Institute. Cornell’s site also serves as a bridge between the U.S. Code and the Code of Federal Regulations, making your combined statutory and administrative research a snap.
Federal Legislative and Congressional Materials
If you research federal legislative and congressional materials (such as public laws, bills, resolutions, hearings, congressional reports, and committee reports), one of the primary sites you should be relying on now is Congress.gov. It has replaced THOMAS.gov which launched in 1995.
Federal Executive and Administrative Law
Need to locate and research executive (also known as administrative) law? Then begin with FDsys. It is a useful starting point because it allows you to access all the executive branch’s collections in one place — from regulations found in the Federal Register to presidential materials found in the Compilation of Presidential Documents.
About the author:
Carole Levitt is a nationally recognized author and speaker on Internet legal and investigative research. She has over 30 years of extensive experience in the legal field as a law librarian, legal researcher and writing professor, Internet trainer, and California attorney. In addition to co-authoring Internet Legal Research on a Budget with Judy K. Davis, Levitt is the co-author, with Mark Rosch, of several books on using the Internet more effectively in the practice of law, including The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet, Find Info Like a Pro, Volumes 1 and 2, Google for Lawyers, and Google Gmail and Calendar in One Hour for Lawyers.
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