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Free Legal Resources: Introduction

What You Are Likely to Find Online for Free

  • More federal than state materials, and more state materials than local government information
  • More government information than privately generated content; generally more primary material than secondary material
  • More recent information (1990s to present) than older material
  • More case opinions than case dockets or filings
  • More "just the document" rather than items with additional editorial content
  • More unofficial (can't cite to it) information than official

Information You Probably Won't Find Free Online

  • Comprehensive site featuring all types of materials collected from all jurisdictions
  • Secondary sources that are excellent quality and from reliable publishers
  • Digests, headnotes, and other editorial content and finding aids
  • Citator with broad reach
    • Some free-to-bar members or lost-cost resources, like Fastcase, have citators but they are limited in scope

Potential Pitfalls of Free Legal Resources

  • Not Comprehensive
    • Cover only a narrow subject matter
    • Cover only a "snapshot" of time such as the most recent five years or may no longer be updated

When to Use Free Resources

  • At the beginning of your search--for background information
  • To look up a discrete piece of information
    • find a case/statute/regulation by citation
    • look up an article by title or author
    • locate a person by name
  • To pinpoint a citation for a case/statute/regulation to run through a citator on Bloomberg, Lexis, or Westlaw
  • To generate search term
  • To local news articles about a topic
  • To locate contact or other directory information for a person or business


Checklist for Evaluating Free Resources

  1. Authoritativeness/Accuracy
    1. Who is the publisher?
  2. Bias
    1. Is there an agenda?
  3. Comprehensiveness
  4. Timeliness
    1. When was it last updated?
  5. Interface design/user friendliness
    1. How can you search?
    2. Can you narrow or expand your results?
  6. Editorial features
    1. Commentary?
    2. Links to additional resources?

Associate Law Librarian for Administration & Public Service

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Sharon Bradley
Mercer University School of Law
Room 220 (behind Circulation)
Office Hours
• Tues 10:45 – 12:00
• Thurs 10:45 – 12:00
• Fri 9:30 – 10:30
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