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Free and Low Cost Legal Research Guide

Think beyond Lexis, Westlaw & Bloomberg Law. This guides identifies resources for free or low cost legal research.

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Free Sources of Legal Materials

There are several databases which provide access to primary source materials on their own sites, without any charge to the user. These sites vary in terms of the types of materials collected, the scope of their coverage, and their search options. We have created a table for each type of material which includes the major online sources and their coverage.

Because the availability of state legal materials varies so widely, we have only included descriptions of the federal materials available for free online.

CASE LAW

There is an abundance of free case law available online. Unfortunately, many of the editorial enhancements and finding aids that legal researchers are accustomed to are not available through these free sources. For example, these sources do not provide digests or headnotes, which organize cases by points of law. Instead, these sources utilize browsing and keyword searching as the principal means of finding relevant cases. Researchers should be aware of these limitations and understand that keyword searching and browsing are not necessarily the best methods to find cases.

For guidance on the significance of case law and methods for finding relevant cases, please see our Case Law Research Guide.

     U.S. Supreme Court Cases

Source Dates Notes
FindLaw         1893-present Browsable by year and U.S. Reports volume number, and searchable by citation, party name, and keyword.
Google Scholar          All Uses the Google search algorithm to find and rank cases. Click "Legal documents" and then "Select courts" to choose the jurisdiction(s) you want to search.
Justia All Browsable by year and U.S. Reports volume number.
Public Library of Law All Searchable by citation and keyword. Search can be limited by jurisdiction and date. 
Supreme Court      1991-present The most recent 6 years are listed. For earlier opinions, click the "Bound Volumes" link at the bottom of the page.

 

Federal Circuit Court Cases (Reported)

 

Source Dates Notes
Circuit Court Pages Varies by circuit Use the locator to find individual circuits.
FindLaw Varies by circuit but is generally from the mid-90s forward Browsable by year and reporter volume number, and searchable by citation, party name, and keyword. (Circuits have to be searched individually.)
Google Scholar 1923-present Uses the Google search algorithm to find and rank cases.
GovInfo Varies Browsable by circuit then by year.
Justia 1901-present Browsable by year and Federal Reporter volume number.
Public Library of Law 1950-present Searchable by citation and keyword. Search can be limited by jurisdiction and date.

Federal District Court Cases

Source Dates Notes
District Court Pages  Varies by district Use the locator to find individual districts.
Google Scholar 1923-present Uses the Google search algorithm to find and rank cases.
GovInfo Varies Browsable by district then by year.
Justia  1924-present Browsable by reporter, state, and year.

State Court Cases

Online access to state materials varies widely. Please consult our state research guides for information about individual jurisdictions.

STATUTES & CODES

The United States Code and most state codes are available for free online. These sources usually only provide the text of the statutes, however, and do not include annotations or case references. The online versions of codes also may not be current, which means they may not reflect the changes made by more recent legislation. Researchers therefore need to be careful to update these code sections with relevant case law and session laws.

For information about finding relevant statutes and statutory law generally, please see our Finding Statutes Guide.

United States Code

These sources contain the most recent official version of the U.S. Code, which is published every six years. As a result, some individual code sections will be out-of-date and these sources need to be updated with session laws. As noted in the table below, the version provided by Cornell's Legal Information Institute provides links to recent legislation so researchers can easily determine how a particular code section has changed since the last official publication.

GovInfo 1994-present Browsable and searchable by citation and keyword. To search the full text of the Code, use the advanced search interface.
Legal Information Institute Most recent official version (with links to recent changes). Browsable and searchable by citation and keyword. Each code section includes a "Current through" notation and an "Updates" tab, which provides a list of recent modifications.
U.S. House of Representatives Most recent official version (with tables indicating recent changes). Searchable by citation and keyword. Use the "Classification" link to find tables providing cross-references between code sections and recently enacted public laws.

U.S. Session Laws

Source Dates Notes
U.S. House of Representatives As indicated The Office of the Law Revision Counsel provides classification tables which indicate the updates made to each section of the Code since the last official publication.

State Codes & Session Laws

Online access to state materials varies widely. Please consult our state research guides for information about individual jurisdictions.

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Several types of legislative history documents are available for free online, although mostly only for recent Congresses. Like other free online legal materials, legislative history documents are not usually annotated or linked to cases or enacted statutes. Researchers typically have to rely on document numbers or keyword searching to find relevant documents. Please also note that many of these sources only provide selected documents, meaning they do not contain all documents for a particular time period.

For information about the significance of legislative history and the different types of documents involved, please see our Legislative History Research Guide.

Congressional Bills

Source Dates Notes
American Memory  House bills from 1799-1873 (6th-42nd Congresses) with the exception of the 12th Congress and Senate Bills from 1819-1873 (16th-42nd Congresses) Library of Congress, browsable by Congressional session and type of legislation. Searchable by keyword (full text).
GovInfo From 103rd Congress (1993-present Browsable by Congressional session and type of legislation. Searchable by bill number or keyword (full text). To search the full text of bills, use the advanced search interface.
Congress.gov Bills From 101st Congress (1989-present) Library of Congress, searchable by bill number or keyword (full text).

Congressional Hearings

Source Dates Notes
GovInfo Select hearings 99th, 100th and 102nd Congress (1995-present) (none from 101st) Browsable by Congressional session and searchable by keyword (full text). To search the full text of hearings, use the advanced search interface
Rutgers School of Law Selected hearings from 1970's to 1998 (approx. 9350 hearings available) Searchable by keyword (full text).

The Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C. provides a list of links to the hearings pages of Congressional committees, which contain transcripts of selected hearings.

Congressional Committee Reports

Source Date Notes
American Memory Select reports from 23d to 64th Congresses (1833-1917) Browsable by Congressional session and searchable by keyword (full text).
GovInfo 104th Congress (1995-present) Browsable by Congressional session and searchable by keyword (full text). To search the full text of reports, use the advanced search interface.
Congress.gov 104th Congress (1995-present) Browsable and searchable by report number and keyword (full text).

Congressional Debates (Congressional Record)

Source Date Notes
American Memory Annals of Congress (1789-1824, 1st-18th Congresses), Bound Edition; Register of Debates (1824-1837, 18th-25th Congresses), Bound Edition; Congressional Globe (1833-1873, 23rd-42d Congresses), Bound Edition Browsable by Congressional session and searchable by keyword (full text).
GovInfo  Bound Edition (December 1998-2002), Daily Edition (1994-present), Congressional Record Index (1983-present) Browsable by Congressional session and searchable by keyword (full text). To search the full text of the Congressional Record, use the advanced search interface.
Congress.gov From 104th Congress (1995-present), Daily Edition Browsable and searchable by keyword, date, and member of Congress.

State Legislative History

Online access to state materials varies widely. Please consult our state research guides for information about individual jurisdictions.

ADMINISTRATIVE REGULATIONS

Regulations are also available on the web, although typically only current and recent versions. Regulations are also not directly linked to relevant statutory authority, although some sources allow searching by code section. See help pages on individual sites for search techniques. For information about finding relevant regulations and administrative law generally, please see our Administrative Law Research Guide.

Code of Federal Regulations

Source Dates Notes
E-CFR  Unofficial version but updated daily  Browsable and searchable by keyword, as well as CFR citation and relevant U.S.Code section.
GovInfo  Official print versions from 1996-present. Browsable and searchable by keyword and CFR citation. To search the full text of the CFR, use the advanced search interface. Update using the List of Sections Affected.
Legal Information Institute Current print version with links to more recent amendments Browsable and searchable by citation.

Federal Register

Source Dates Notes
GovInfo From 1994-present Browsable and searchable by keyword. To search the full text of the Federal Register, use the advanced search interface
Regulations.gov Current proposed regulations open for comment Includes a form for submitting comments.

State Administrative Regulations

Online access to state materials varies widely. Please consult our state research guides for information about individual jurisdictions.

SECONDARY SOURCES

While most of the free legal material available online is primary law, there are a few sources of secondary materials, and we have identified and described some of the best sites we have found. While these sources may not be authoritative, they can be useful in providing analysis, opinion, or explanation of the law, as well as covering recent legal developments.

  • ABA Journal
    The ABA has made this legal news magazine available for free online. Site contains the current issue and archived issues since 2004.
     
  • Google Scholar
    This search engine employs the Google algorithm to find relevant scholarly articles using keyword searches. Google Scholar searches both full text articles and abstracts that are available for free online, so users should be aware that not all results will lead to full articles.
     
  • Law.com Dictionary
    While neither as extensive nor authoritative as Black's Law Dictionary, this site does provide basic definitions to thousands of legal terms and concepts. Users can search for terms or browse alphabetically.
     
  • Legal Information Institute (Cornell University Law School)
    In addition to a wealth of primary sources, the Legal Information Institute (LII) also contains some useful secondary materials, especially the Wex Legal Dictionary/Encyclopedia. Wex provides brief overviews of dozens of legal topics, arranged alphabetically. While not as extensive as a traditional legal encyclopedia, these overviews do offer introductions to some of the most important concepts in these areas of law, along with citations to principal sources of primary law.
     
  • Oyez.org
    This site collects information related to the U.S. Supreme Court. While it includes some information about past and present justices and the Court's cases, its most notable content is a collection of audio recordings of oral arguments. All arguments from 1981 to the present are included, as well as those from selected earlier cases.

CONSTITUTIONS

U.S. Constitution

For information about constitutional law research generally, please see our Constitutional Law Research Guide.

Source Dates Notes
Congress.gov Updated regularly The Constitution Annotated contains legal analysis and interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.
Founder's Constitution N/A A collection containing the Constitution and related original-source documents.
GPO Access Annotations updated through 2010 Annotated version (2002) of the Constitution prepared by the Congressional Research Service. (Scroll down on linked page.)
Legal Information Institute Annotations updated through 2000 Annotated version (1992) of the Constitution prepared by the Congressional Research Service.

State Constitutions

Online access to state constitutions varies widely. Please consult our state research guides for information about individual jurisdictions.