Monday, March 29, 2010

Free & Low-Cost Legal Research

Last week’s Research Madness workshop provided an overview of several free & low-cost alternatives to using LexisNexis and Westlaw for legal research. Law students have access to a number of the most popular low-cost research alternatives, including LoisLaw (see Reference Desk for registration code which lasts up to 6 months after graduation) and Casemaker (available to current law students as CasemakerX). It’s worth test-driving these resources in law school, as they continue to gain prominence in the “real world” of law practice. Don’t be surprised if your firm even requires new associates to begin research at one of these lower-cost services before racking up larger research bills on the premium research sites!

But which low-cost service deserves the bulk of your attention? The answer may depend on where you plan to practice. Many of these low-cost services are provided free of charge through state bar associations; currently 48 state bar associations offer free access to at least one low-cost research service to current members. The popular 3 Geeks and a Law Blog has developed a helpful interactive map to illustrate which service is available in a particular state.

So New Yorkers may wish to get acquainted with LoisLaw before graduation, while residents of 28 other states might find Casemaker a worthier time investment. Other options include FastCase (16 states), InCite (offered in Pennsylvania), and VersusLaw (offered in Arkansas). Currently, only Montana and California offer no legal research databases to state bar members, but this situation could change in the future. Check with the state bar where you plan to practice for more information, and get a head-start with free access to LoisLaw and Casemaker during law school.