picture of Lyonette Louis-Jacques

Lyonette Louis-Jacques

Legal Research Using the Internet

Updated 28 April 2005.
Midwestern People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference, St. Louis, Missouri, March 30, 1996
Virtual Presentation by Ms. Lyonette Louis-Jacques
Foreign and International Law
Librarian and Lecturer in Law
University of Chicago Law School


In the past few years, many new resources have been put up on the Internet that facilitate legal research work. The sheer number and variety of resources can sometimes make it difficult to determine where to start, how to choose among similar resources, and how to keep up-to-date on available resources. The present guide is intended to explain why the Internet is useful for legal research, and describe some of the major resources available on the Internet for researching the law of the United States and other countries, comparative law, and international law. It will conclude with some tips for the net-traveling researcher.

Why Use the Internet for Legal Research?

The Internet is a cheap alternative to the use of commercial databases such as LEXIS and WESTLAW for finding primary legal materials such as U.S. federal and state statutes, bills, cases, and regulations. Sometimes these materials are available more quickly on the Internet than on LEXIS and WESTLAW (especially if they relate to the Law of Cyberspace/The Internet, Computer Law, Immigration Law, the First Amendment and censorship, Communications Law,Intellectual Property, major criminal and other famous trials, Antitrust Law, elections, or other hot topics). And sometimes, the Internet is the only place where you will find some primary materials, for instance, legislation and case law from foreign countries, treaties involving non-U.S. countries, e-mail addresses and other directory information for legal professionals worldwide, and materials in areas of law that have been traditionally underrepresented in print and electronic legal publications (women and the law, human rights, the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people, law and literature (for instance, e-texts of Jane Austen's writings), Roman law, law and popular culture, etc.), and non-legal materials that are important to law work or interdisciplinary research.

The Internet can augment an average law library's resources by providing alternate copies of print materials, and information that cannot be found in the law library in print or electronic format. For instance, here are some examples of the types of resources that are on the Internet: census information, uniform and model acts; news; publishers' catalogs; worldwide library catalogs; tables of contents of journals; full text of articles from electronic law and non-law journals; books (such as the Classics); bookstores (Barrister Books (academic textbooks), Amazon, etc.), poetry; Shakespeare's works; Classical music; Bartlett's Quotations; song lyrics; comic strips; tax forms; sports information (such as professional baseball and basketball players salaries and other basketball information); travel information; legal documents (transcripts of hearings, reports, briefs, memoranda, complaints, indictments, oral arguments, etc.). The Internet is strongest for non-legal materials, and for legal materials that are usually not found or will not be available as quickly on LEXIS and WESTLAW and print publications in your law library.

Where to Start Your Internet Legal Research

If this is your first time on the Internet, it is good to hunt down a legal research guide. The guides below are good to check before embarking on legal research on the Internet. They describe and link to legal resources generally available on the Internet such as web, gopher, ftp sites, and listservs, or list existing Internet legal research guides.

Jim Milles

Andrew Zimmermann
Genie Tyburski
G. Burgess Allison
Lyonette Louis-Jacques
The Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG): Law
Argus Clearinghouse (was called "Clearinghouse for Subject-Oriented Internet Resource Guides"; includes research guides on all sorts of topics, including law, many with hypertext links)

Or you can browse through some of the major Internet sites for law. If you become familiar with the sites below, you can do research on the Internet for legal questions more effectively. These web sites normally arrange information by legal subject (Antitrust Law, Civil Rights, Immigration Law, etc.), by type of document (Constitutions, Court Cases, Statutes, Treaties, etc.), by source (Governmental agency, International Organization, Law Firm, Law School, Publisher), and/or by intended audience (Law Students, Law Librarians, etc.).

LexisONE.com (full text of all U.S. Supreme Court cases, last 5 years of federal and state appellate court cases, legal forms, and an Internet legal research guide; free, but must register; intended to be useful for small businesses and solo practitioners)

FindLaw (great, well-organized starting point for legal research - has links to just about everything related to law on the Internet!)

Indiana University Law School (maintains the World Wide World Virtual Library for Law)
Cornell University Law School (Legal Information Institute (LII); includes links by legal subjects ("Law About") and "Law by Source"; see also the Library's "Cornell Legal Research Encyclopedia")
Emory University Law School (look under "Electronic Reference Desk" and "Federal Courts Finder")
University of Chicago Law School

Library of Congress

Washburn University Law School (wonderful site! Includes AALS information, and much, much more law-related information)
Hieros Gamos (Lex Mundi)(aims towards being a comprehensive law site)
American Bar Association (includes "LAWlink: ABA Legal Research Starting Points" page)
Internet Legal Resource Guide (ILRG)
American Law Sources Online (ALSO)
FirstGov (links to U.S. federal and state legal resources)
Yahoo (Law Links)(subject catalog of the Internet - includes many key links)

Note that, for the full text of recent court decisions and rulings and other documents related to cases such as complaints, briefs, etc., some useful web sites include CourtTV's Legal Documents, FindLaw, and LexisONE. Some fee-based services include the Westlaw by Credit Card case service (was WestDoc), VersusLaw, and LOIS (but they are not as comprehensive as the LexisNexis and WESTLAW legal databases).

Or you can do a keyword search through World Wide Web and other Internet sites by using one of the many Internet indexes. Some of my favorite search engines are below (note that they are extremely useful when looking for non-law information also):

General descriptions of and links to these and other Internet search engines are available at the following sites:

University of Chicago

Or you can browse or do a word search through the several public listserv and e-journal archives that exist to find answers to your question or to see if your topic has been discussed before:

Or you can ask for help in finding useful Internet resources by posting a message to one of the many law-related lists that exist. You can identify a relevant list by searching "Lyo's Law Lists" at http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/law-lists. Some lists of interest include the following:

AALSMIN-L (discussion list of the Section on Minority Groups of the Association of American Law Schools)
Send the following message to LISTSERV@UBE.UBALT.EDU:
subscribe aalsmin-l Your Name institution

COC-L (Clinicians of Color in Law Schools)
Send the following message to listserv@ube.ubalt.edu:
subscribe coc-l Your Name (school)

LATINO-LAW-PROFS (Latino Law Professors Communication List)
Send the following message to LISTPROC@UCDAVIS.EDU:
subscribe latino-law-profs Your Name

MINLAW-L (Law School Experiences of Minorities)
Send the following message to listserv@listserv.uark.edu:
subscribe minlaw-l Your Name

TRIBALLAW (Tribal Law; forum for discussion of laws and policy affecting Native Americans in North America; was on listserv@thecity.sfsu.edu)
Send the following message to LISTSERV@NIEC.NET:
subscribe triballaw Your Name

YLOPEARL (Asian Pacific American Law Professors Discussion Group)
Send the following message to listserv@listserv.syr.edu:
subscribe ylopearl Your Name

IMMPROF (Immigration Law Professors List)
Send the following message to listserv@unc.edu:
subscribe immprof

MIDWSTPOCCONF (Midwestern People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference; subscription is subject to approval of listowner)
Subscribe via http://lists.washlaw.edu/mailman/listinfo/midwstpocconf/

NATIVEAMERICANLAW (Native American Law list; see also National Tribal Justice Resource Center mailing lists)
Subscribe via http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nativeamericanlaw/

NECORR (Northeast Corridor Collective of Black Women Law Professors, perhaps began in 1986 at the AALS Workshop on Civil Rights held in Chicago)

NNALSA (National Native American Law Students Association?)
Subscribe via NNALSA page or send the following message to listserv@listserv.arizona.edu:
subscribe nnalsa Your Name

RPOCLSC (Regional People of Color Legal Scholarship Conferences list; restricted to people of color in legal education, particularly those who attended a legal scholarship conference; subscribe by contacting Professor Vernellia Randall)

LAWPROF (Law Professors and Lecturers)
Send the following message to LISTSERV@CHICAGOKENT.KENTLAW.EDU:
subscribe lawprof Your Name

AFFAM-L (Affirmative Action list)
Send the following message to listserv@cmsa.berkeley.edu:
subscribe affam-l Your Name

AFAM-INTL (forum for African Americans in academia and business and law to discuss international issues)
Send the following message to listproc@u.washington.edu:
subscribe afam-intl Your Name

CHINALAW (Chinese Law Discussion List; was CLNET or Chinese Law Net)
Subscribe (join) the list via http://hermes.circ.gwu.edu/archives/chinalaw.html

ASIA-LAW (Canada-based Asian Law List)
Send the following message to majordomo@unixg.ubc.ca:
subscribe asia-law

AALLC (discussion forum of the Asian American Law Librarians Caucus of the American Association of Law Libraries)
Subscribe via http://www.aallnet.org/caucus/aallc/forum.asp

AFAMC (discussion forum of the African-American Law Librarians Caucus; may replace BLACK-LIB, the e-mail list of the Black Law Librarians Caucus (BCAALL) of the American Association of Law Libraries which was on listserv@listserv.law.howard.edu)

LAW-LIB (Law Librarians (mainly U.S.))
Send the following message to LISTPROC@UCDAVIS.EDU:
subscribe law-lib Your Name

INT-LAW (Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Librarians; was on listserv@tc.umn.edu)
Send the following message to MAJORDOMO@LISTHOST.CIESIN.ORG:
subscribe int-law

EURO-LEX (All EUROpean Legal Information EXchange)
Subscribe/join the list via http://www.listserv.dfn.de/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=euro-lex&A=1 or send the following as the only text in the body of an e-mail message to LISTSERV@LISTSERV.DFN.DE:
subscribe euro-lex Your Name

Electronic News Sources and Usenet Newsgroups