Although this guide focuses on free online sources for legal research, it is important to remember that a lot of research can be done for free by taking a trip to your nearest public law library. You can also contact the law librarians for assistance or to make sure that the library has what you need.
At some point in your legal career, you will need to do legal research without using Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg. You or your employer may not be able to afford those services, or you may have clients who will not pay for them. You may only have access to certain content from those services, but need information outside of your subscription. If you learn how to do legal research for free now, your future employers will thank you.
The location of free online legal resources often varies by what type of resource you are looking for and what jurisdiction you need. You will likely have to search in multiple places to find all of the pertinent information.
Shepardizing cases is difficult without using Lexis or Westlaw. Free case law searches, such as Google Scholar and Ravel, often have ways to at least look at other cases that have cited to the case you are trying to Shepardize, but this will not identify cases that may be overruled by implication or find cases on the same issue that are conflicting but do not cite each other.
The older the information that you need is, the harder it will be to find online. This is particularly true for federal materials prior to around 1995.
Many free online resources are not official sources, and so may contain errors.
Sometimes, searching for information online can lead you to some questionable websites. Whenever you are doing research online, make sure to evaluate the information you find. The following criteria can help you determine whether the information is reliable.
If you have any questions, ask a reference librarian!