Low-Cost or Free Online Legal Research Resources

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General Counsel Consulting Career Feature

Low-Cost or Free Online Legal Research Resources

Often in small firms, corporate counsels have to handle a multitude of tasks and not all businesses can afford
the costs of WestLaw or Lexis-Nexis. Such a situation leaves corporate counsel constrained to do research at
their own cost and fumbling to manage. Many a time, only a single account is arranged by the company making
it difficult to allow concurrent access of online research to other staff and reducing productivity. Since the
responsibility of doing the legal research is ultimately that of the corporate counsel it is immensely helpful to be
aware of certain online resources that are truly useful and mostly free. This article mentions a few of the online
resources and tools we have found useful when unable to access commercial databases.

Google Patents: (http://www.google.com/                          PACER (http://www.pacer.gov/): The Public Access to
?tbm=pts&hl=en) For those in Intellectual property               Court Electronic Records has recently increased fees
law, Google Patents is an excellent resource for finding         to $.10 per page of access. Though this rate is many
information. To narrow down your search, try the                 times higher than the actual costs to run the system, it
Advanced Patent Search at http://www.google.com/                 is still many times lower than commercial alternatives.
                                                                 Resource.org: This non-profit works with other
The Federal Register (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/                  organizations and Princeton to make legal documents
browse/collection.action?collectionCode=FR): Run by              and court records available to the public. The website
the Office of the Federal Register, National Archives            also has services like streaming media access to the
and Records Administration (NARA), this is the official          House of Representatives, and other facilities that
publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices of            would charm you.
Federal agencies and organizations. The Federal Register
provides access to all executive orders and presidential         This list would hardly be complete without mention
documents on top of bare Acts and Statutes.                      of The Internet Archive which is a non-profit and the
                                                                 people who conceived The Wayback Machine. Unless
Google Scholar and Google Books: No need to                      you use it, you wouldn’t know what you had been
consider these resources separately, both the Google             missing.
Scholar and Google Books provide excellent search
facilities and access to documents and books of various          There is a great chance that you already know of
types on relevant subjects. You can find court cases             these resources, but there is a greater chance that as
just by entering the name of the lawsuit in most cases.          a corporate counsel, you have never felt the need to
                                                                 use free and independent resources. Giving them a
Cornell Legal Information Institute (http://www.                 try and learning your way around can sometimes yield
law.conell.edu): A treasure house on Federal law,                better results than relying solely on commercial law
including Federal Rules, Code of Federal Regulations,            databases. Anyway cross-verification of information
the U.S. Code, uniform model laws etcetera. There are            is written into the bones of every good lawyer and
topical sections and blogs on particular subjects as well        familiarity with alternative resources of information can
as scholarly documents. Cornell also provides state-             always come in handy.
specific information including state-wise judicial and
legislative documents.

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