In a recent issue of the Law Technology News I saw a link to an article in the Texas Lawyer entitled “Legal Research on the Cheap.” This article described ways to perform legal research for free. The author talked about his inability to construct first search successful Boolean queries using Lexis or Westlaw and suggested the use of free resources to get a better handle on the legal research question. These sources were also recommended as a way to reduce client legal research costs.
Google Scholar is recommended because of its user-friendly interface and the large coverage of the database that includes caselaw and journals. Still, he found limitations and would not recommend using this tool instead of Westlaw or Lexis. Using Internet searches as a means of getting basic, general information about a research issue is another recommendation. He cites legal blogs as good resources on legal topics. The third recommended resource is the Cornell University Legal Information Institute as a user-friendly site with links to state and federal statutes and rules. LexisOne Free Case Law Research is recommended as well, again with limitations.
When I read the post I was compelled to reply. What is missing from this list is the best free resource I know, the law library and law librarian. Attorneys who are fortunate enough to work in a firm with a comprehensive library and professional librarians should be aware that the librarian is expert at formulating queries for use in Lexis and Westlaw. A librarian can also suggest resources, in print or online, that would provide the overview needed for the research to begin. Secondary sources such as topical treatises and encyclopedias are a great way to get a handle on a new research project.
Attorneys without a firm library or librarian might be able to take advantage of the local county, court or state law library. The website of the State, Court and County Law Libraries Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries contains a listing of law libraries on the web and an interactive map for locating law libraries across the country. Links to information on Maryland law libraries can be found on the Maryland’s Peoples Law Library.
Public law libraries often provide free access to the legal research databases such as Westlaw, Lexis, HeinOnline and BNA as we do here in the AACPLL. Librarians can suggest other sources and assist with query formulation. All for free and much more personalized. A visit to the law library can be a much more efficient use of attorney time than multiple, unsuccessful searches on Westlaw, Lexis or the Internet in general.