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

April 25, 2011

(This is a modification of a 2009 legal research blog post that you may find useful)

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Going to California to clerk for the summer or to begin a full-time practice? Given today’s challenging economic climate, you may want to consider eschewing traditional fee-based databases (e.g. Lexis and Westlaw) and instead take advantage of free (and reliable) internet resources to conduct basic California research.

Although not appropriate for every situation, a number of free California legal research databases offer an attractive and cost-effective alternative for many researchers who are simply searching for basic legislative, regulatory, and judicial information. Some of the more useful sites follow:
Judicial Opinions
California Courts/Judicial Branch of California. This site contains slip opinions of the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal issued in the last 120 days. The site also contains: Judicial Council forms; links to Supreme Court, Appellate Courts and Trial Court websites; and links for CA Rules of Court as well as Local Court Rules.
Legislative Materials
Official California Legislative Information. This site is maintained by the Legislative Counsel of California and provides links to an array of useful legislative materials including: CA Constitution; Session Laws; Statutes; Legislative Bills from 1993 to present; and a New Laws Report.
Administrative Materials
Attorney General Opinions
California Office of the Attorney General. Legal opinions of the Attorney General issued since 1986 may be viewed on this website.  A Monthly Opinion Report as well as Yearly Index of the opinions are also available.
Directory Information
State of California website. Provides alphabetical listing of state agencies with links to the agencies, a State telephone directory, and links to the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branch websites.
If you still are unable to locate the information you are looking for, be sure to consult some of the excellent research guides produced by academic law libraries that delineate an array of free California legal resources. UCLA and UC Berkeley law libraries are two great examples of these easy-to-use California Legal Research guides that are chock full of useful information.
Penn Law students and recent alumni entering the California workplace this summer would be well-served knowing the basics of finding and utilizing these free research materials. Good luck and happy researching!