Life After Law School – Free Online Access to Case Law?
What to do when the subscriptions expire? After graduation you may have occasion to search for law without access to Lexis or Westlaw, but fear not there are some free alternatives.
CaseMaker and FastCase are commercial services that are “free” if you belong to a state bar association that offers one or the other as a member benefit. (Washington offers Casemaker.) Both services allow you to search across multiple libraries and offer various search options (e.g. proximity searching, Boolean). There are hyperlinks for citations and methods to check the subsequent history of a case.
The services offer US Supreme Court, Federal Circuit Courts, the supreme and appellate courts for all states; state and federal statutes, regulations, constitutions, and court rules; cases for the federal district courts in the home state; and free tutorials.
The Public Library of Law, one of the Web’s largest free law libraries, sponsored by FastCase, PLoL provides access to cases from the U.S. Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals, cases from all 50 states back to 1997, federal statutory law and codes from all 50 states, regulations, court rules, and constitutions. The PLoL also includes links to paid content on Fastcase (currently offered at $65.00/month or $95.00 for full package, which includes bankruptcy decisions).
FindACase is a free service provided by Versus-law. It provides free access to the same federal and state cases in Versus-law, but without the usability. FindACase allows you to research state and federal case law, grouped by state. You can search, read, and print – all with no charge. But the downside is you can only search on a state-by-state basis. To look for another state you need to repeat the search. Another drawback is that the cases do not list citation or docket numbers. Only if you elect to purchase the document for $2.95 is this information available.
Justia has Supreme Court opinions, federal circuit court opinions since 1950, federal laws, and some U.S. district court opinions, state court opinions and codes. It includes full-text searching of all cases plus the ability to browse decisions by court and date. For those courts it does not have, it often provides links to external sources.
Institute Legal Information (LII) has older Supreme Court cases selected for their historical significance, all New York Court of Appeals decisions issued since 1990, codes, links to state law and more.
Public.Resource.Org provides information from FastCase and lots of codes (like plumbing codes, elevator codes). The site is only a data warehouse, without search functionality. But the site can be searched using Google’s site search (“site:bulk.resource.org” followed by the query.)
LexisONE provides free access to a limited range of cases from the LexisNexis database (Supreme Court cases since 1781, all federal and state cases decided within the last 10 years), search by keywords or citation. Free registration is required.
Findlaw has a library of court opinions published on the site (all Supreme Court opinions since 1893 and all federal circuits, with most circuits going back to 1995) and provides links to other sources of court opinions. It also has state appellate opinions dating back in most cases to 1996.
Tags: database, legal information, legal research