Friday, October 11, 2013

Free Legal Research for State Bar Association Members: A 50-State Survey

Many state bar associations provide their members with free access to a low-cost legal research system, such as Fastcase, Casemaker, or LoisLaw. These systems generally allow users to search or browse primary sources of law from the federal system and the various states. While the premium legal research services Westlaw, Lexis and Bloomberg may offer more bells and whistles (in the form of robust collections of secondary sources; case headnotes and other research aids; and superior citator tools for updating and validating legal materials), their fewer-frills cousins offer an unbeatable price point for searching the full text of case law and statutes. Some of the low-cost research services even offer unique content which is unavailable in their higher-priced counterparts. (For example, in North Carolina, the state's Pattern Jury Instructions are available exclusively on the research system available through the state bar, and cannot be found electronically in the premium legal research services. The low-cost research services also frequently include helpful local materials, such as municipal codes.)

Greg Lambert of 3 Geeks and a Law Blog created an interactive map in March 2010 to illustrate which research services were provided as member benefits of the various state bar associations. But at least eight state bar associations have changed their research subscriptions since that time. Goodson Law Library Head of Reference Services Jennifer L. Behrens has updated Lambert's original map with the current legal research member benefits offered by state bars and state bar associations. View the interactive map below, see the full-size map on TargetMap.com, or download a static version here.



As of October 2013, Casemaker and Fastcase have an even market share of 23 states (the District of Columbia bar also offers Fastcase). Pennsylvania’s bar association continues to provide its members with access to InCite, a research service powered by LexisNexis. Three states (California, Delaware and Montana) do not offer statewide access to a legal research service as a benefit to bar members. (However, several county and local bar associations in California do provide member access to either Fastcase or Casemaker.)

Chart view: Legal Research Services by State Bar Association, as of 10/10/2013

StateService Offered
AlabamaCasemaker
AlaskaCasemaker
ArizonaFastcase
ArkansasFastcase
CaliforniaNone (some county/local associations provide access)
ColoradoCasemaker
ConnecticutCasemaker
DelawareNone
District of ColumbiaFastcase
FloridaFastcase
GeorgiaFastcase
HawaiiFastcase
IdahoCasemaker
IllinoisFastcase
IndianaCasemaker
IowaFastcase
KansasCasemaker
KentuckyCasemaker
LouisianaFastcase
MaineCasemaker
MarylandFastcase
MassachusettsCasemaker
MichiganCasemaker
MinnesotaFastcase
MississippiCasemaker
MissouriFastcase
MontanaNone
NebraskaCasemaker
NevadaFastcase
New HampshireCasemaker
New JerseyFastcase
New MexicoFastcase
New YorkFastcase
North CarolinaFastcase
North DakotaCasemaker
OhioCasemaker
OklahomaFastcase
OregonFastcase
PennsylvaniaInCite
Rhode IslandCasemaker
South CarolinaCasemaker
South DakotaFastcase
TennesseeFastcase
TexasCasemaker
UtahCasemaker
VermontCasemaker
VirginiaFastcase
WashingtonCasemaker
West VirginiaFastcase
WisconsinFastcase
WyomingCasemaker

Currently, Duke Law students can sign up for free access to Casemaker through the CasemakerX educational platform. Although there is currently no direct access at Duke Law to Fastcase, currently-enrolled law students can join the North Carolina Bar Association for free to enjoy this membership benefit. In addition, Duke students will soon see limited access to Fastcase materials through a partnership with HeinOnline which was announced this summer. As part of this agreement, HeinOnline's research libraries will incorporate links to state and federal case law which are powered by Fastcase; Hein will also integrate Fastcase's Authority Check citation analysis tool, in order to locate additional relevant case law and make note of potentially negative treatment. Although even Fastcase's own documentation admits that Authority Check is no substitute for a premium service citator like Shepard's or KeyCite, this Fastcase enhancement to HeinOnline will undoubtedly aid legal researchers.

For more information about low-cost legal research alternatives, check out the Goodson Law Library guide to Legal Research on the Web or Ask a Librarian.

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