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Conducting Legal Research for Free – Some Cost-Effective Alternatives to Fee-Based Databases

May 04, 2009


Given today’s challenging economic climate, more attorneys are choosing to turn away from fee-based databases (e.g. Lexis and Westlaw) and are instead conducting basic legal research utilizing free (and reliable) internet resources. 

Although not appropriate for every situation, free legal research databases offer an an attractive and cost-effective alternative for many researchers who are simply searching for basic legislative, regulatory, and judicial information. 

One of the primary websites utilized by researchers and librarians alike for accessing free legal information is GPO Access.  Maintained by the Government Printing Office, GPO Access is a web portal that provides free electronic access to a wealth of important information products produced by the Federal Government, including judicial opinions, legislative materials and regulatory information.  Some of the more popular materials linked to from GPO Access include: U.S. Supreme Court Slip Opinions and Docket Information; the U.S. Code; the Congressional Record; the Code of Federal Regulations; and the Federal Register.

Another outstanding website for finding free and relaible legal information is the Legal Information Institute (LII).  Maintained by the Cornell Law School, the LII provides publishes a series of “topical” pages that serve as concise explanatory guides and Internet resource listings for roughly 100 areas of law.  Access to free State and International legal resources is also provided.

If you still cannot find the information you are looking for via GPO Access or LII, be sure to consult some of the excellent research guides produced by academic law libraries that delineate the myriad of free legal resources available.  Georgetown and Duke Law Library research guides on free and low cost legal research are two wonderful examples of these easy-to-use guides that are chock full of useful information.  

Penn Law students entering the workplace this summer would be well-served knowing the basics of finding and utilizing appropriate free and low cost research materials.  Good luck and happy researching!