This guide contains selected free online legal research resources related to United States federal and state materials. These resources can be a great way to get started with your research when you don't have access to paid databases or if you want to get an overview of a topic before getting started with potentially expensive searches. Legal research is often more effective when using a local law library. To learn more about law libraries throughout the United States, visit:
Many statutes and legislative materials are available for free online and this is only increasing over time. While you should always be careful to ensure that you confirm your findings with an authoritative version of the law, free resources can be a great starting place for statutory research.
Federal case law and court documents are often available online for free, particularly if the case was decided recently. Generally, check the website of the deciding court to see if they provide digital copies of their cases. In addition, the following resources provide free case law.
While case searching and retrieval through free databases is increasingly achievable, paid services are still most often used to ensure that cases have not been overruled or negatively impacted by later case law. Tools that facilitate this case validation process are called citators. At present, the best way to access citators for free, is mediated 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, so your first stop this type of research should generally be the website of the the state or locality in question. Remember, even if these materials are on official government websites, that does not mean that these are official copies of the materials in question. The National Conference of State Legislators provides a list of
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. At the state level, this is particularly true for state Supreme Courts. When looking for state case law, it is often best to start at the website of the deciding court if you have a citation. 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, please 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 on paid databases, open access journals and other freely avaiablle articles are increasingly available. 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 any relevant agencies or organizations to see if you can find additional data beyond that found in the databases below.
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