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.
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.
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.
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!)
Library of Congress
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):
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 firstname.lastname@example.org:
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 email@example.com:
subscribe minlaw-l Your Name
TRIBALLAW (Tribal Law; forum for discussion of laws
and policy affecting Native Americans in North America; was on
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 firstname.lastname@example.org:
subscribe ylopearl Your Name
IMMPROF (Immigration Law Professors List)
Send the following message to email@example.com:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org:
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 email@example.com:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org:
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 email@example.com:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
Send the following message to MAJORDOMO@LISTHOST.CIESIN.ORG:
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
The sources below can be used to find out about new Internet resources related to law:
TVC Alert (The Virtual Chase electronic research news alert service)
InSITE-L (Cornell University Law Library electronic newsletter for announcements of key law-related Internet resources)
SITE-TATION (American Bar Association legal resources announcements list)
1. Always consult local resources first. This could be your institution's own Internet resources, librarian, catalog, expert in the area you're researching, etc. Resources in your city, your state, etc. Finding answers in resources nearby can save you time and money. It can be more efficient than Internet research - as sometimes what you are looking for might not be available on or from Internet resources. This tip is particularly valuable when using Internet listservs - you do not want to post to a list a request for information without asking people locally first if they have the information - it might make your institution or your colleagues look bad or look like they are not up to snuff. And there might actually be a resource locally that could help.
2. Try to develop an approach to research using the Internet. Become familiar with a few sites and search engines - it is always good to know what web site you'd like to begin your search with, and if that site doesn't hold an answer to your question, what search engine to use to find relevant sites. And if you don't know how to approach getting an answer to your research question, ask your librarian for help.
3. Never rely totally on Internet resources. They are useful complements to print and electronic resources, and can sometimes be the only place to find a needed document, but the Internet does not have all needed law resources. There are still some gaps in what is available on the Internet for legal research, and there may continue to be gaps. Have alternative plans for finding the information you need, just in case - especially if you are in urgent need of the information.
The following web pages contain useful information on researching the
law using Internet resources:
"Gonna find me an angel,
to fly away with me...
Gonna find me an angel,
in my life..." - Aretha Franklin
This page was last updated on 28 April 2005.