Research Tools

Casemaker – A free or low-cost legal research service that provides statutory law; state and federal codes with notations concerning future changes; federal, bankruptcy, and state case law (going back 100 years); case summaries; and case citation services. Research can be tracked by client. Casemaker’s CiteCheck allows users to upload a document to determine if the case citations are still good law. CaseCheck allows the user to click a link directly to the language of any negative treatment of the case used as a citation. CasemakerDigest provides summaries of recent cases  by email or RSS feed. Some states and local bar associations offer a combination of Casemaker’s services free to members; otherwise, services range from around $200 to $1,000 annually. A free mobile app of the Casemaker service can be downloaded for an iPhone, Android or tablet. 

Casetext – “We’re making all the world’s laws free and understandable.” Users of the site can contribute to the site by adding their own annotations, linking to other sources, and upvoting useful sources. Contributors are credited for their work, and they receive reputation points based on how many upvotes or downvotes they get. An especially useful feature of this site is the ability to “follow” cases of interest to you, in a simple format. The format all around is easy to navigate. UPDATE: In November 2014, Casetext added a briefs database where users can upload their legal briefs to share with others. The briefs you upload will be listed on your Casetext profile — a way to communicate your experience to colleagues and clients — and will automatically be linked to the cases and statutes you cite.

Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute – “A not-for-profit group that believes everyone should be able to read and understand the laws that govern them, without cost.” Publishes law online, available free, and creates materials to help people understand law.

CourtListener – Free database of federal and state court opinion; allows you to create case alerts to track developments on cases. It also has a searchable database of recordings of oral arguments at the Circuit Courts and SCOTUS.

ETHICSearch – A free legal ethics research service provided by the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility.

Fastcase – Library of primary law from all 50 states and federal law. Also provides access to legal forms, newspapers, and legal filings on PACER. Major selling point: sorts the best search results to the top of your list like Google. Free access to part of the library for members of certain state bar associations; low-cost all-around compared to traditional legal research subscription services.

FindLaw – Free research site. Includes a Cases and Codes section for state and federal laws. Its Legal Services Market Center provides a nationwide directory of expert witnesses, consultants, ADR professionals, and other practice support professionals.

Google Scholar – Free research site. – Global legal resources.

Judicata – “Judicata is mapping the legal genome—i.e. using highly specialized case law parsing and algorithmically assisted human review to turn unstructured court opinions into structured data,” according to their CrunchBase profile.

Justia – Free case law, codes, and regulations.

LawBox – Free mobile law library app providing access to federal rules of court, the U.S. Code, and several state codes.

Law Firm Search Engine – Allows you to search for legal information and law firm memos posted on law firm web sites.

Lex Machina – Tracks the identities, decisions, and track records of plaintiffs, defendants, districts, judges and lawyers in intellectual property cases and drills into that data so lawyers can better use it.

Lawpolis – A collaborative professional networking and legal research site by lawyers for lawyers. Lawyers can find and share practical how-to guides, forms, templates, examples, and more.

LexisONE – Free research site. – Free online legal research.

Loislaw – Federal and state materials. State materials include case law, codes, administrative codes, court rules, and some additional materials such as administrative decisions, attorney general’s opinions, and bar publications. Unpublished opinions available for some states (including WA). The Treatises Libraries include twenty-six subject areas. UCC filings and corporate public records available. Some databases only available through additional subscription.

MobileLaw – Free mobile law library app providing federal statutes and codes from New York, California, and Texas.

Mootus – A forum for posting and answering legal questions, Mootus shut down in March 2016 after three years in operation.

National Law Review – Free online database of articles analyzing legal trends and news, updated hourly.

OnLAW – “Web-based research tool that puts the renowned analysis and expertise of CEB [Continuing Education of the Bar] practice resources on your desktop.” Each book contains legal context, case analysis, direct links to relevant cases and codes, and fillable forms written by and for California judges and lawyers. Free one-year membership for new lawyers.

PlainSite – Aims to provide non-lawyers (and lawyers) easy-to-navigate access to the entire American legal system, including public records from agencies, patent applications, corporate profiles, and more public federal and state case dockets than any other site on the Internet. Users can access all public information on the site for free. For a modest subscription fee —  $9.99/month for non-lawyers and $99/month for lawyers — users can also access the site’s non-public analytic data. Nifty features include the ability to search for cases by case title in the Google-like search box; an enhanced view of each cases’s docket; statistics on law firms’ and lawyers’ historical activity; an attorney finder to help potential clients find lawyers based on their past caseloads; and Motion Sensor, which allows the user to see how a given judge or lawyer has behaved with regard to certain kinds of motions in the past.

Practicing Law Institute – Provides CLEs in a wide range of topic areas, including full-day CLEs available on-demand on the web that include videos, summaries of the law, legal forms, tips, etc. Non-profits can access the seminars and webinars for free. I use these webinars a lot to familiarize myself with a new area of law when I’m just diving in.

Ravel Law – What sets this legal research site apart is that it captures data (e.g., court, date, precedent) related to legal research documents and presents them in a visual graphic form that makes it easy to zero in on influential and outlier cases. In October 2015, Ravel and Harvard Law School announced that they were teaming up to provide a free searchable database of virtually all American case law. “The company hopes to make money by offering, for a fee, more advanced analytical tools it is developing, like allowing a lawyer to see how a particular judge has responded to certain kinds of motions in the past.”

VersusLaw – A low-cost research service targeted at solo and small-firm practitioners, VersusLaw offers a larger database of cases than the free research services, but a smaller one than Lexis and Westlaw. Its version of the U.S. Code is more up-to-date than that of the free research services, but unlike Lexis or Westlaw its version of the U.S. Code does not have references to related cases, regulations, or secondary sources. U.S. Supreme Court (from 1886), Courts of Appeals (from 1930 for most Circuits), District Courts (coverage varies), other federal courts, US Code, CFR, state appellate courts (coverage varies, WA from 1935), state codes and regulations, court rules, tribal courts, and Australian courts.

Visual Law Library – Collects all the best visualizations of the law to help lawyers and others understand the law. Easy-to-search database by field of law.

U.S. Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) – Free access to federal statutes and regulations, congressional and presidential documents, and more.

California-Specific Resources

Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB) – California – Large database of treatises, sample forms, and trainings on a variety of areas of California law.

Our SF – User-friendly site that helps lawyers and non-lawyers alike find quick answers to landlord-tenant questions in the SF area by answering a few short questions about the problem their facing. I’ve used this a bunch of times to quickly get a sense of the law before doing further research.

Massachusetts-Specific Resources

Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (MATA) – For the price of an annual membership, you can access databases with sample briefs, deposiitons, jury verdicts, and other litigation materials. You can also post questions to other members on the MATA listserv.

Massachusetts Court Forms – The web site for the Massachusetts court system.

Mass Legal Services Library – Online resource for Massachusetts poverty law advocates.

Massachusetts Trial Court Libraries publishes a useful database online, organized by subject area.

MCLE Online Pass – One annual fee provides access to a wide range of materials. Their Practice Portals organize materials by subject area, and provide step-by-step guidance, and sample forms, for handling a variety of legal matters. Another great resource when you are just diving into a new area of law.

Starting Out Solo (SOS) – Although they don’t provide research materials per se, sometimes the best research is just consulting with fellow attorneys. Starting Out Solo is open to Massachusetts lawyers who start their own solo practice right after (or soon after) graduating from law school, and provides a listserv where members can ask each other all kinds of law-related questions. SOS membership also comes with a discount to the MCLE Online Pass (above).


Sources: An Important First Step in Hanging Your Own Shingle

Last edited: April 1, 2016

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