Free Internet Resources

This guide provides a list of legal materials that are available for free via the Internet. It includes statutes, regulations, case law, and court rules.

Should I use free legal research resources?

The availability of legal materials on the Internet has changed rapidly over the last 15 years.  As legal materials have been digitized, or produced in digital formats, their availability on the Internet has increased expotentially.  Many legal practicioners rely upon the availabily of electronic legal materials via major vendors such as Lexis and Westlaw.  These vendors have added editorial content, finding aids, and metadata to primary legal materials which have made them easier to find, use, and implement in practice.  The cost of these vendors, however, may be impractical or prohibitive depending upon the area of practice and the client's ability to pay.

In reponse, an effort has been made to make primary legal materials available for free online or at low-cost.  These materials will often lack the additional content added by major vendors and must be independently evaluated for their currentness, authority, and accuracy.  As they lack finding aids and extensive metadata, they are also more difficult to find.

When evaluating free, or low-cost, online legal materials a practicioner must carefully evaluate the following:

  • Credibility and authority
    • If a primary legal source, is the document authentic?  Is it from a government/legislative website?
    • If a secondary source, who is the author?  Is he/she considered an expert?  Who is the publisher?  Has the source been cited by a court or other authoritative sources?
  • Currency
    • Has the code section been modified?  Has the case been distinguished, questioned, overruled?  
    • What is the date of the source?  Have there been major developments in this area since publication?
  • Finding aids and functionality
    • How do I search?  Is there additional metadata?  Is this metadata automated or added by legal professionals?
    • Can I locate materials by citation?  By subject area?
  • Cost
    • What is the cost, if any, of the source?  Will using this source require additional time?  If so, is the value of my time more than the cost savings?

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