My Top Ten General Legal Research Sites for U.S. Law
By Kristopher A. Nelson
in July 2007
700 words / 3 min.
- Wikipedia A collaborative electronic encyclopedia, editable (in theory) by anyone. Sounds like a recipe for disaster? Perhaps, but Wikipedia entries do an excellent job explaining many legal principles in an approachable way. Better for initial research to understand an area of the law, rather than as an in-depth, reliable source. Personally, I would never […]
Note: this post is from 2007. Evaluate with care and in light of later events.
A collaborative electronic encyclopedia, editable (in theory) by anyone. Sounds like a recipe for disaster? Perhaps, but Wikipedia entries do an excellent job explaining many legal principles in an approachable way. Better for initial research to understand an area of the law, rather than as an in-depth, reliable source. Personally, I would never cite to Wikipedia or view its entries as authoritative, but it’s a great place to start.
A great place for non-lawyers (or lawyers unfamiliar with a specific area of law) to start legal research. Again, like Wikipedia, I would be unlikely to cite to Nolo, but it provides great information and resources, especially on common legal problems.
7. GPO Access
A service of the U.S. Government Printing Office that provides free electronic access to a wealth of important information products produced by the Federal Government, including budget information, Code of Federal Regulations and Federal Register, Commerce Business Daily and congressional bills, calendars, directories, hearings, prints, reports, the Congressional Record, Supreme Court decisions, and much more.
- Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute
Provides the U.S. Code, Supreme Court opinions, and Law about… A good source for actual materials (as opposed to secondary sources or analysis). Also contains a useful law dictionary and law encyclopedia, information on electronic citation, and much more. This resource is more appropriate for law students or legal professionals, but parts should be useful to anyone.
5. THOMAS, from the Library of Congress
A collection of legislative resources, including bills, bill status, committee reports, the Congressional Record, treaties, and other legislative-focused material.
A multimedia archive devoted to the Supreme Court of the United States and its work. It aims to be a complete and authoritative source for all audio recorded in the Court since the installation of a recording system in October 1955.
A Web-based legal news and real-time legal research service. From their site: “In US media terms, JURIST might be described as an online fusion of PBS and C-SPAN for legal news. In international terms, JURIST’s objective news philosophy and its global agenda are modeled on the BBC World Service.” Excellent for current legal research and analysis of topical legal issues.
A free site with tools for both the general public doing legal research as well as legal professionals. Includes free access to many cases, especially Supreme Court cases, and both state and federal codes and regulations. One of the best free legal research tools for in-depth search and legal research.
I always consult Google, even on the most obscure legal question. It’s amazing what it can find, and with much less effort than manually hunting through every legal research site. But remember Google isn’t exhaustive, and that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Web… that’s why Real Lawyersâ„¢ always look to “professional” sources, like Westlaw or LexisNexis.
Westlaw and LexisNexis
I’ve combined these two because debate about which one is better often rises to religious proportions! Both offer the kind of legal research tools for which law firms and attorneys are willing to pay, such as the full-text of most published U.S. cases, abstracts and summaries of cases, full-text access to legal treatises, full-text access to many law reviews and journals, citation checking, and much more. No professional legal research is complete without a search of these two behemoths.
The above 10 sites provide the tools I regularly use for general legal research. Obviously, when narrowing in, other sites (like EFF, the CDT, and many others) provide more focused, topic-specific information. But you’ve got to start somewhere in any research project. And of course, research into other countries’ laws or international law is a whole other thing entirely…
Have other favorite, general legal research tools, or your own blog post on this topic? Let me know via email or in the comments!