Superior legal research sources are a requirement for any law firm that wants to stay ahead of the opposition. Locating the right legal precedent or statute is often the defining factor in whether a case is won or lost. Unfortunately, a great amount of necessary legal information is available only at the price of a costly membership to a legal research platform.
For lawyers in search of free legal research that gives them an edge without breaking the budget, there's good news. Legal information is more accessible today than ever before. However, figuring out how to conduct legal research efficiently without the expense can be a headache.
Below, you'll find Grow Law Firm's top picks for the best free legal research sites. We've combed through research platforms, news sources, legal blogs, articles, and direct sources so you don't have to. Here's our roundup of the best legal research tools with free access available online.
Top 9 Free Legal Research Tools for Lawyers
Information is increasingly becoming digitized. That's excellent news for researchers from all fields. For lawyers, free access to legal documents increases accessibility and frees up resources that can be more wisely allocated elsewhere.
Many of the initial search options that appear online charge a membership fee for access. Many of these sites rely on payment, so they're willing to advertise to keep themselves first in the rankings. By digging a little deeper into internet search results, we've curated the following selection of legal search engines that offer free access. If you need a legal search engine without the overhead cost, look no further than these nine free legal research sites.
Fastcase is one of the world's biggest free online legal research sources. The company offers lawyers a wide range of technology and resources, which you can try out with a free trial. Fastcase also partners with over 80 bar associations to provide their services as a free member benefit, so you might already be eligible for their full services at no additional cost.
Regardless of whether your bar association covers Fastcase's full services or not, you can access legal information through the Fastcase free mobile app. Compatible with both Android and iOS, Fastcase's free legal research database provides access to law review articles, court rules, case law, statutes, constitutions, and both state and federal regulations.
CourtListener is one of the best free legal research tools for state and federal legal opinions. The site is updated daily and offers access to lower court opinions and supreme court opinions. CourtListener makes our list of the best sources for legal materials because of its legal research options as well as its organized and intuitive layout.
Unlike court websites, which can be difficult to navigate and don't always have the information you're looking for, CourtListener makes it easy for lawyers to find the legal information they're seeking. The site's millions of legal opinions can easily be searched by topic, case name, or citation, making your legal research fast and efficient.
3. Caselaw Access Project
The Caselaw Access Project exists as part of a project to digitize and publish online the entire history of U.S. case law. Many of the digitized case law documents available through the project were sourced from the Harvard Law Library.
The federal and state cases available through the site cover 360 years of published case law. This project is one of the best free legal search engines for comprehensive access to information related to U.S. case law.
If you're looking for the best free legal research tools for information related to the federal courts, look no further than FindLaw. Law firms and lawyers can use FindLaw for Legal Professionals to access a comprehensive collection of Supreme Court decisions dating back to 1760. You'll also find summaries of Supreme Court legal opinions that reach back to 2000.
FindLaw also offers access to case law documents, including statutes, case summaries, and legal news related to federal and state courts.
5. Casetext and ROSS
Casetext and ROSS aren't technically free, but they're such valuable legal research web sites that they made our list anyway. Both online resources offer a two-week free trial subscription. These legal research sites use artificial intelligence to identify similar topics, jurisdictions, legal issues, and other specifics to deliver legal research relevant to your case.
You can drag and drop your documents into Casetext, and its AI returns case law legal materials to help you access as many resources as possible. ROSS uses AI to identify relevant cases with similar circumstances that might help enhance your argument.
Anyone with the slightest bit of industry knowledge is familiar with Justia as a valuable compendium for:
- Case law
- The United States Code
- Supreme Court decisions
- Legal research
However, not everyone takes full advantage of the legal resources Justia has to offer.
Joining Justia's mailing list allows you the option of subscribing to a range of newsletters that deliver legal news, including daily opinion summaries from the state supreme courts and federal appellate courts and weekly opinion summaries by practice area.
PACER (Public Access to Electronic Court Records) allows free legal research, although the public access site requires a downloading fee if you find legal information that can help your case. The benefit of using PACER is that it gives you the ability to search for free through documents that can be otherwise difficult to access, including documents from bankruptcy courts, federal appellate courts, and district courts.
8. Westlaw Edge
Westlaw Edge is another one of the best AI-based online legal research tools, free during the trial subscription. However, it provides a unique research advantage that makes it worth trying. Subscribers have access to impressive technology that can aid the research and practice of law. The litigation analytics tool delivers a comprehensive body of legal research relevant to your case. Intelligent document analysis by Westlaw Edge AI offers direct feedback on your case, identifying potential issues or holes in your argument and offering solutions.
9. Legal Citation Generator
Legal Citation Generator handles your references for you. If you have any experience at all in writing or editing legal documents, you're aware that one of the most time-consuming aspects of this type of work is combing through court documents, legal journals, and other sources for appropriate citations.
Legal Citation Generator analyzes your text's references to case law, federal law, or state law and offers a list of peer-reviewed and government sources for the information you need to cite. The site also handles the editorial aspect of correctly formatting citations of United States code, so you don't have to spend hours fine-tuning the technical aspects of your texts.
Legal News and Blogs as Your Legal Research Tools
Legal news sources and legal blogs are two excellent ways of keeping up-to-date on current legal information. Reading legal blogs and journal articles can be an interesting and enjoyable way to stay knowledgeable on recent events.
Keeping abreast of current developments helps you maintain subject matter competency. When you make it a habit to regularly read about your area of practice, you build a knowledge base that makes you a better lawyer and even helps reduce your workload. Over time, you find that you'll need to do less research when you take on new cases because you've made an effort to stay informed.
1. ABA Journal
ABA Journal should be on every lawyer's regular reading list. This monthly trade magazine is the primary news outlet of the American Bar Association. In addition to the print magazine, ABA Journal offers a vibrant website, newsletters, podcasts, and apps. The publication offers news on current events, trending legal issues and news stories, career tips, essays, and more.
ABA Journal is nothing new; it's been in print for over 100 years, holds many awards, and is widely considered to be the leading source of legal news. It's estimated that around one million lawyers in the U.S. read the magazine each month.
JURIST is a leading source of news on international law. The non-profit online service is based out of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, but the publication is run by law students from around the world.
JURIST offers commentary from legal professionals, academics, and students, and it features regular dispatches from areas of key interest for international law, including Ukraine, Myanmar, and Afghanistan. The news service also closely follows current topics and their legal repercussions around social issues like COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Any lawyer interested in global developments or how the current legal landscape is impacted by current events should make a note to check in regularly with JURIST.
3. National Law Journal
The National Law Journal is concerned primarily with federal rules and regulations. It follows news and trends for laws and law firms. The publication is targeted specifically toward law firms to identify upcoming trends and changes. It highlights effective business strategies for those employed in the legal field.
The National Law Journal blends legal research with business to help law firms and lawyers gain perspective and insight into how the current economic and political landscapes are expected to impact the field of law and those whose livelihoods depend upon it.
4. Law Street Media
Law Street Media is a public access site that focuses on public policy and law. The site keeps a pulse on emerging litigation in the fields of health and technology as well as food, agriculture, and the environment. It's also a leading source of news for global mergers and acquisitions. Law Street Media is known for its cutting-edge research and analytics tools, which it leverages to offer insights into international trends and potential legal implications.
The site has gained acclaim for its role in engaging millennials in issues related to public policy. Its segments ranking crime by U.S. city and its mapping of current cannabis rules and regulations across the U.S. are two significant features that have helped it rise to popularity since its inception in 2013.
Law.com is a giant in the realm of legal news. The media platform services 18 different award-winning legal news sources, including familiar names like American Lawyer, National Law Journal, Legal Tech News, and the New York Law Journal. It covers U.S. and international news and global trends.
Law.com is known for its focus on the business side of law topics. Content addresses subjects like:
- Law firm management
- Legal practice management
- Intellectual property
A paid option is Law.com Pro, a membership program that helps legal professionals build revenue and profit growth.
Journal Articles as Your Free Legal Research Tools
Legal journals are another key tool for staying informed of the latest in legal research, news, trends, litigation, and more. As with online legal research tools and databases, it can be a challenge to find quality sources that don't charge hefty membership fees.
Below are our top picks for journal articles that keep you in the loop on current legal research without cutting into your firm's budget.
1. ABA Legal Technology Resource Center/Law Technology Today
Access to the American Bar Association Legal Technology Resource Center is provided through membership to the ABA. It provides access to a collection of publications, blogs, webinars, and other types of resources that connect lawyers to information on how technology can support their practice of law.
Law Technology Today is the name of the blog run by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Here, lawyers will find a wide variety of helpful advice, reviews, and more related to how technology can be used to achieve goals like reducing workload and maximizing a firm's budget.
2. Find It! Article Finder
Find It! Article Finder is a research tool offered by the Library of Congress. It offers comprehensive information on specified articles, including links to online full text when available, information on where to find an article in print, and a listing of all online databases and publications in which an article can be found.
When you're struggling to locate the full text of an article you need to read or cite, Find It! Article Finder is one of the best free legal research tools for the job.
3. Law Review Commons
No list of budget-friendly legal research tools for lawyers would be complete without mention of Law Review Commons. As the largest collection of free academic legal research, the site is no doubt well known to anyone who completed law school. However, it's a mistake to dismiss Law Review Commons as merely a student resource. Even veteran lawyers can benefit from taking advantage of the site's easy-to-navigate selection of law reviews going back to 1852.
4. Social Science Research Network
Social Science Research Network, or SSRN, is dedicated to the global sharing of specialized research from all fields. SSRN's Legal Scholarship Network offers free access to hundreds of thousands of articles from all fields of law. Its open-access preprint server allows new, groundbreaking work to be shared quickly.
While the Legal Scholarship Network is primarily the domain of legal scholars, it's the best source for cutting-edge legal research and an excellent way to access a broad range of legal research that might not yet be easily available through alternative sources.
Primary Resources for Free Legal Research
The huge selection of secondary sources for legal research can be overwhelming. There are so many legal blogs, journals, databases, and search engines that it would be impossible to read a fraction of the legal materials available online today. And that's without mentioning some of the better-known sources for legal research and news, like Google Scholar and Bloomberg Law.
However, it's important not to discount the wide selection of primary resources available for direct access online. Resources every lawyer should be aware of include:
- State government websites
- State court websites
- Supreme Court website
- White House press secretary
- The Federal Register
In addition to these go-to sources, some key primary sources aren't as well known, but they're definitely worth knowing about. Two primary sources worth pointing out include the U.S. Office of the Law Revision Counsel and the Bound Volumes of the Supreme Court.
Here's another beneficial research tip: Don't forget to consult regulatory decisions and rulings from administrative agencies as valuable sources for your legal research. Helpful regulatory and administrative sources include:
- Social Security Administration Rulings
- Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Rulings
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Decisions
With so many sources of legal research and news, it can be easy to choose the latest trending site, database, or technology while forgetting to go straight to the source. However, government sites can provide a wealth of information if you remember to check them.
Smarter Legal Research, Better Results
There's a reason the internet abounds with legal research at a cost. Many organizations and companies generate revenue by promising that they have the latest and greatest technology to make your work easier, faster, and better. However, a price tag doesn't always denote value.
Now that you know where to look, you can save time and money while continuing to produce quality legal research for your firm, your clients, and yourself.
This guide to the best free legal research tools was created by Grow Law Firm, a high-performance law firm digital marketing agency. For more information on how we can help your firm enhance its online practices, get in touch today.