This guide contains selected, free, online United States federal and state legal research materials.
Many lawyers have access to paid databases. Yet, combining paid and free resources, can help them to avoid potentially expensive searches. According to a 2020 Legal Technology Survey Report, nearly 60% of lawyers “say they regularly use free online resources to conduct legal research.”
For researchers without access to paid databases, the following resources may be essential. Legal research is often more effective when using a local law library. To learn more about law libraries throughout the United States, visit:
Statutes and legislative materials are becoming available freely online, with increasing frequency. Free resources can be a great starting place for statutory research. However, always make sure you confirm your findings in an authoritative version of the law.
Federal case law and court documents are often available freely online, particularly recently decided cases. Check the website of the deciding court for digital copies of their cases. In addition, the following resources provide free case law.
Case involves ensuring that cases have not been overruled or negatively impacted by later caselaw. Case searching and retrieval through free databases is increasingly achievable. However, paid services are still most often used to validate cases. Tools that facilitate this case validation process are called citators. The best way to access free citators is through state and local public law libraries. To find a state or local law library visit:
Many states and localities publish some or all of their legislative materials on their website. Consider starting with the website of the state or locality in question. Remember, materials on official government websites, may not be the “official copy.” The National Conference of State Legislators provides a list of State Legislative Websites.
The sources below provide alternatives for hard-to-find state materials.
Courts are increasingly making their materials freely available online, frequently via the court website. This is particularly true for state Supreme Courts. When looking for state case law, consider starting with the website of the deciding court. The National Center for State Courts provides a list of state court websites.
Several government-sponsored websites provide the full-text of U.S. treaties on the web. Refer to the list below for date ranges for each sources.
For free resources on foreign and international law, see our foreign and international law guide:
Google Scholar offers access to many legal documents including patents, legal opinions and journals. Use the search box below and select the appropriate options from the dropdown menu at the top left of your screen.
While many journals are only available through paid databases, high-quality, open access journals are increasingly common. The following sources collect freely available journal articles.
Secondary sources are also increasingly available online for free.
Many government data sources are made available to the public for free online. Check the websites of relevant agencies or organizations to look for additional data.
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