This guide contains selected free online legal research tools and resources related to United States federal and state materials. They can be a great way to get started with your research when you don’t have access to paid databases. Moreover, they can be useful to get an overview of a topic before getting started with potentially expensive searches. We’ve listed free primary and secondary resources available, online platforms and tools that provide detailed and relevant legal information:
Federal Law and Government Documents
The U.S. Government Publishing Office’s Govinfo website provides access to select federal court decisions from 2004 to the present. Moreover, GovInfo provides public access to official publications from all three branches of the Federal Government.
Federal Court Finder
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts provides a Federal Court Finder tool. It is used to locate the websites of individual federal courts. in addition, many of them include the text of recent decisions from that court.
Federal Data Sources
Statutes and Legislative Materials
This site offers access to a wide range of government documents and information. It includes annotated constitution, legislation, committee reports, congressional records, and treaty documents. Furthermore, Congress.gov is an excellent source for in-progress bills.
This website offers a wealth of federal government information. It includes links to the websites of departments, agencies and branches of government. Accordingly, these can be a good source for statutory and legislative materials.
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court website includes the full text of certain materials, including many opinions. In addition, it suggests resources for finding briefs. U.S. Supreme Court provides access to recent decisions and bound volumes of the U.S. Reports from 1992 to the present.
Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases
State Case Law and Court Documents
Caselaw Access Project
The Caselaw Access Project (“CAP”) expands public access to U.S. law by making all published U.S. court decisions freely available online, in a consistent format, digitized from the collection of the Harvard Law Library.
This is a database of federal district and bankruptcy court documents from PACER. It has been contributed to the RECAP Archives for free access. However, not all documents that are on PACER will be available here.
Congress.gov Treaty Documents
Treaty documents are available on Congress.gov for all treaties submitted to the Senate since the 94th Congress. Treaties submitted prior to the 94th Congress are included if they were pending in 1975.
Law Library of Congress Guides and Resources
The Codification of Presidential Proclamations and Executive Orders is an online version of an out-of-print publication. That publication ran from April 13, 1945. to January 20, 1989. The Public Papers of the Presidents collected links to the online versions of these compilations starting with President Reagan.
The American Presidency Project
This website from the University of California Santa Barbara collects data, documents and media. These are related to the American Presidency, including inaugural addresses, executive orders, proclamations and more.
American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center Journal Search
JSTOR Open Access Content
Most of the articles on JSTOR are only available to individuals at institutions with a JSTOR subscription. However, JSTOR partnered with leading presses on a project to add open access ebooks to their collection. Thousands of titles are now available from various publishers. For instance, University of California Press, Cornell University Press, NYU Press, and University of Michigan Press and more.
Google News Archive
Google’s News Archive allows users to search historical newspapers and retrieve scanned images of their pages. Although it is not specific to legal newspapers, it is worth a try. Especially if you are searching for a PDF of a newspaper article.
If you’re a solo practitioner or small firm, bookmark this blog and save these online legal research tools to get started. They will help you familiarize yourself with a new area of law and save you the amount of time it takes to find what you need. In addition, when it comes time to switch over to paid subscription service you already have your search terms. If you want to learn more about this or similar topics, we recommend reading Top Legal Directories in 2021.