Lawyers need access to legal research tools when representing clients. If you’re like most lawyers, legal research is one of those tasks that take up a lot of your time in each case.
Legal research is critical for outlining the case law, statutes, and precedents that influence your client’s case. The process of conducting legal research can be time-consuming without the right software.
Here are the best free and paid legal research tools available to lawyers today.
Free Legal Research Tools
There are plenty of free legal research tools available today. As a new lawyer with a limited caseload, you may not need the extra expense in your budget for a paid research tool.
These tools provide access to the data you need to find case law and statutes to support your work in briefs and motions.
There is a cost to these free programs, though. Many don’t come with integrations that fit the law firm tools you may already be using. Many of them are also missing advanced features to help you store your searches and track changes in real time.
1. Caselaw Access Project
With more than 6.9 million unique cases stored here, this is a great place to start your research process. This database was built with info from Harvard Law Library and stretches back a few hundred years.
Fastcase donates information annually to Caselaw, but the data pulled from the Harvard Law Library only runs through 2018.
Other limitations include their exclusion of non-published trial documents, non-officially published cases like lower court decisions, digitally published cases from IL, AR, NM, and NC, and parallel versions from regional reporters.
Keeping up with evolving court changes can be challenging for busy lawyers. With this free tool, you’ll find millions of legal opinions from both state and federal courts.
You can search their data based on topic, citation, or case name, and the information is updated every day.
The biggest benefit of using Justia’s free database of codes, case law, regulations, and statutes is that you can sign up for daily email digests.
Some of these consolidate daily or weekly activities in state supreme courts and federal appellate courts. This is helpful for a quick scan of what’s going on in the legal world.
4. Legal Information Institute
This tool gathers legal data from over 46 partner associations all over the globe. You can locate statutes, regulations, and case laws with this one.
The majority of U.S. laws are listed in this online program, including federal rules, U.S. Code, and the Supreme Court Bulletin. This service is provided by Cornell Law School.
Paid Legal Research Tools
Paid tools may offer more functionality or greater degrees of access to information than free ones. But not every lawyer needs the features of paid tools. It’s a tradeoff to determine if you’ll get much more out of the paid versions than free ones.
To determine if you need to pay for any of the tools below, consider the following:
- Are you consistently frustrated by a lacking feature in a free tool?
- Would using the paid tool help you or your staff work faster?
- Would using the paid tool make legal research substantially easier?
If the answer to any of the above questions is “yes,” you might need to invest in a paid tool.
FastCase is one of the biggest law libraries in the world. You’ll find court rules, case law, regulations, statutes, law review articles, and constitutions here.
This tool integrates directly with Clio. This integration may save some time adding this free tool to your tech suite. You can capture the time spent researching something for a case into your practice management tool without ever leaving the FastCase program.
The mobile app for this one is free, but you’ll need to pay if you want the desktop version. Check to see if your bar association offers deals on this subscription
Not a true case law database, this one is more helpful if you need to research people or assets. You can get a lot out of this tool if you frequently need info from public records databases like vehicle registrations, prisoner details, addresses, or utility records.
Tracers has no integrations with other tools. That’s a downside if you want to pull in the results of a people or asset search into your case management software. This company does not publish its pricing info, so you’d need to contact them for custom rates.
There’s a reason almost every lawyer knows about LexisNexis. It’s a comprehensive database that is trusted by many in the legal industry.
This one integrates with Microsoft Word and offers secondary sources and citation checks. LexisNexis puts natural language search, boolean search, citation checking, and case summaries at your fingertips.
However, with pricing starting at $85/user/month, it’s typically out of reach for new attorneys and small firms.
Linked to Thomson Reuters, there’s plenty of case law data inside WestLaw. You can find treatises, case law, and statutes. It’s somewhat costly, with plans starting at $89/month. But if you need access to a big database, WestLaw is a winner. You can conduct citation checks and view secondary sources in this one.
WestLaw has many of the in-demand features for legal research that LexisNexis does. This includes case summaries, natural language and boolean search, suggestions, research folders, and PDF or Word downloads.
This one gets mixed reviews from lawyers. It only integrates with limited tools like Microsoft Office and Practical Law. It also may be more than a solo lawyer or small firm needs, given the cost.
It comes with a free trial, so it might be worth checking out to see if you’d use it enough to justify the cost.
9. Law Insider Contract and Clause Search
If you need to look into existing contracts regularly, this is an excellent research tool. Over 300,000 legal professionals make use of this database.
There are millions of clauses and contracts inside, and you can narrow your search based on excluded terms, exact phrases, jurisdiction, filing year date, or agreement type.
The pricing is affordable, starting at $29/month, but you can also grab a day pass for $40 if you need something fast.
Artificial intelligence powers this paid tool that comes with regulations, statutes, and case law throughout the country’s state and federal courts.
One of the best features is SmartCite, which allows you to flag all cases associated with your fact pattern for the case at hand. It also calls out cases in which the opinion was overruled.
Casetext has features like boolean and natural language search, case summaries, folders, research history, and suggestions. It also integrates with Clio, Docketbird, FileVine, and Hire an Esquire.
The flat-tier pricing is attractive but costly if you want short-term access. A monthly subscription is $220, an annual is $110/month for a year, and a two-year plan is $100/month.
Features to Look for in a Legal Research Tool
Your specific needs should guide your decision about a legal research tool. Depending on the extent to which you rely on legal research, you might be willing to pay more for something that speeds up your process or makes it easier for you to find things.
Here are some of the best features available in legal research tools to look out for:
- Natural language search
- Stored research history
- Email alerts for new statutes or cases
- Mapping results into folders for quick reference
- Boolean search using terms like “AND” or “OR” to define your search parameters
- AI legal support
- Suggested search results
- Filtering search results for dates or jurisdictions
- PDF or Word downloads
- Citation checkers to see if the case law has been modified, repealed, or reversed
- Whether it integrates with any of your existing software
Some of these, such as citation checkers or natural language search, are must-haves. Others, like the AI legal support or email alerts for new statutes or cases, may be less relevant for you.
If you practice in a field where you’re referencing the same case law, an email alert for new cases or statutes might be a necessity.
Your key considerations for choosing a legal research tool include:
- How often you’ll be using the tool
- How much time you’ll save because of the tool’s features
- Whether others in your team could take more work off your plate by using this tool
Much like many other tools in a law firm, your preferences will guide your decision. Decide on something that’s useful and practical for the features provided. There’s no sense in upgrading to a complex tool with more than you need, which might only frustrate you and your staff.
Speed Up and Systematize Your Legal Research
Part of running a successful law firm comes down to choosing the tools that make life easier at your firm. Systems, software, processes, and procedures for the tasks you do every day can help unlock productivity for lawyers.
Choosing the right free or paid legal research tools is a part of that puzzle. But it’s only scratching the surface of tools to help streamline your law firm’s operations.
In addition to legal research tools, you may want to invest in marketing automation software or client intake, case management, and practice management tools that keep you on track to grow.
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