Thursday, November 30, 2017

Free & Low-Cost Legal Research Options

It's about that time of year when May graduates lose their extended access to Lexis Advance and Bloomberg Law. Both services allow recent Law School graduates to continue using their academic passwords for 6 months. (Westlaw's post-graduation access lasts a little longer; see Library Services for Recent Grads/Alumni for an overview.) No need to despair, though – several legal research options are available for no cost or low-cost.
  • First, check with your state or local bar association, which may offer free access to the low-cost legal research services Fastcase or Casemaker. Currently, the bar associations in 49 states and the District of Columbia include at least one of these research services as a membership benefit (California, the only holdout, contains many county and local bar associations which provide members with access to one or the other). The Goodson Law Library's map of Legal Research via State Bar Associations has been updated to reflect the latest changes in bar offerings at the state level. (Since the last update earlier in 2017, Delaware became the 29th state to offer Fastcase to its bar association members.) The Duke University community can check out Fastcase before heading into law practice; law students can also create an account on CasemakerX (an educational version of Casemaker).
  • Google Scholar is another starting place for research which is commonly used by practicing attorneys. The "Case law" radio button includes state appellate opinions since 1950, federal lower court opinions since 1923, and U.S. Supreme Court opinions since 1791. "Articles" includes scholarly and commercial law reviews, legal journals, and journals in other disciplines as well. (Users currently affiliated with Duke can add "Duke University Libraries – Get It @ Duke" to Settings > Library Links, in order to access restricted articles with a current NetID and password.)
  • In You're a Researcher without a Library: What Do You Do?, Jake Orlowitz at Medium recently outlined a number of options for scholars who encounter paywalls and affiliation requirements. Orlowitz's article contains helpful reminders of resources available through your public library, such as the databases and e-books available to all North Carolina residents via the NC LIVE consortium. Orlowitz also covers resources like the Unpaywall browser extension, the Internet Archive's massive library of public domain works, and WorldCat, all of which can help you locate the full text of a needed book or article.
Additional free and low-cost legal research options are listed in the library's guide to Legal Research on the Web. These include Cornell's Legal Information Institute and the free law website Justia. For additional help with locating free or low-cost research resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.