Westlaw, LexisNexis and Bloomberg Law are the best known legal research databases. However, alternatives are emerging all the time. Often bar associations will provide members with free access to less common legal databases. These free and low-cost alternatives can help to reduce research costs. For new lawyers without access to more expensive platforms, these resources may be a lifeline. This guide will introduce you to some of these alternatives.
Fastcase was established in 1999 and has continued to expand over the years. Among the resources are all federal and state case law dating back to 1950.
For a quick introduction to Fastcase's features watch the following:
Running Time: 2 minutes, 14 seconds.
To learn how to use Fastcase check out this video tutorial series:
Fastcase contains a citator called Authority Check. Watch the following to learn more:
Running Time: 1 minute, 27 seconds.
Every state bar association in the U.S. provides Fastcase access, as do many local bar associations:
Casetext was founded in 2013 by a team of litigators. The platform contains all federal cases and statutes. It also includes all state cases and statutes above the trial court level.
To learn more about CaseText check out this video:
Running Time: 4 minutes, 21 seconds.
Casetext has a citator called SmartCite. Red flags indicate cases that are no longer good law. It also links to cases that cite to the case currently being read. The Black Letter Law database contains points of law that have been well-settled.
Casetext incorporates an artificial intelligence program called CARA. Researchers can upload documents, such as briefs or complaints, and obtain results tailored to their research.
The Caselaw Access Project (CAP) offers free, public access to over 6.5 million decisions. This includes all state courts, federal courts, and territorial courts for American Samoa, Dakota Territory, Guam, Native American Courts, Navajo Nation, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The earliest case is from 1658, and CAP currently include all volumes published through 2020. New data releases on a rolling basis at the beginning of each year.
For more information about the Caselaw Access Project see:
You can access the CAP materials both through a search engine as well as through an API:
Google Scholar offers access to case opinions, including:
To get started with Google Scholar visit:
You can access caselaw on Google Scholar by visiting the link above. Select the Case Law Radio button beneath the search bar. From there you can limit your jurisdiction using the Select Courts link.
The Library of Congress provides instructions on how to use Google Scholar for legal research:
CourtListener contains over three-million legal opinions from federal and state courts, for free. For court documents CourtListener hosts a RECAP archive. CourtListener also provides oral argument audio recordings from the Supreme Court, many federal courts, and an increasing number of state courts.
CourtListener Coverage of case opinions Includes:
To learn more about what's available through CourtListener visit:
The Library of Congress provides instructions on how to use Court Listener for legal research:
CourtListener has a tool called CiteGeist which identifies opinions that are cited many times by other important opinions, which cases have not been cited or that have only been cited by unimportant opinions, and uses this information to generate a CiteGeist score. A combination of CiteGeist and keyword matching is used to determine relevance ranking. To learn more about CiteGeist visit:
There are additional free and low cost legal tools that may also be worth exploring depending on the scope of your research. These tools may have less coverage than some of those previously mentioned, but are expanding their collections. Make sure to check the dates and jurisdictions covered to choose the best research tool for you:
You might also visit our research guides on Free Legal Research Resources:
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