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The Unexploded Cow’s Guide to Legal Research (a.k.a. Free & Low-Cost Alternatives to Lexi$ and We$tlaw) Duke Law Library Workshop April 5, 2007 Jennifer L. Behrens. “…The What Cow?!?”.

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The Unexploded Cow’s Guide to Legal Research(a.k.a. Free & Low-Cost Alternatives to Lexi$ and We$tlaw)Duke Law Library WorkshopApril 5, 2007Jennifer L. Behrens

the what cow
“…The What Cow?!?”

”…Two basic facts about games: they cost too much, and they are at some level all the same.

If you ignore the clever shapes they come in, the cheap little plastic pawns are an interchangeable part of most of the board games in your house. So are the dice, the money, the counters, the pencils…These generic bits and pieces can account for as much as 75% of a game's production cost, and that cost gets handed to you.” …sound familiar?

today s agenda
Today’s Agenda
  • Low-cost research services
    • Loislaw
    • Versuslaw
    • Casemaker
    • Other services
  • Free research sources & strategies
    • Cases & Briefs
    • Statutes, Regulations, Legislative History
    • Forms & Other Practice Material
  • Putting it all together
low cost research services
Low-Cost Research Services
  • In recent years, a number of smaller Lexis/Westlaw competitors have emerged.
  • These sources vary widely in their contents and costs.
  • Take advantage of the online tutorials and any student access you may receive during your time at Duke Law.

Students can register for a free account which lasts until 6 months after graduation (see librarian for access code).

Username generated by Loislaw will be e-mailed, along with a password that you choose during registration.


Case law includes opinions from all circuits and all 50 states.

Some unpublished opinions are available.

New cases are posted within 24-48 hours of publication.


In Loislaw, you may search across several different jurisdictions. Some other free & low-cost services do not allow a bridge between federal and state.


GlobalCite works similarly to Shepard’s and KeyCite, retrieving cases and secondary sources which cite the document in question.


Within a single database, you can search across multiple jurisdictions by using the check boxes and clicking “Continue”.

Loislaw includes “Acts” (session laws) as well as “Statutes” (codes).

Folders indicate that you can browse as well as search.


Secondary law includes many full-text subject treatises as well as CLE publications from selected states (including NY).


Publications include practice materials and subject treatises which are published by Aspen.

Examples: New York Lawyers’ Formbook; Tort Law Desk Reference: A Fifty-State Compendium; Commercial Real Estate Transactions Handbook…


For search commands and other tips, view “Help & Support”, linked from the bottom of every page.


Students can register for trial access to the case law databases; trial accounts must be reactivated each year.

Password generated by Versuslaw will be e-mailed, along with the username you select during the registration process.


More search commands are available on the “Search tips” link.

The commands are very similar on all of these services, but not quite the same– always check before you search!


Premium subscribers have access to a citation service called V.Cite.

Trial subscribers must check their citations with a full-text search across all Federal Circuits for the official U.S. Reports citation.

Remember that District Courts are not included in that search. (Separate database.)

versuslaw cont
Versuslaw, cont.
  • Student trials can access CASE databases only.
  • Versuslaw also contains statutes, regulations and court rules for most jurisdictions as part of the “Premium” and “Professional” plans.
  • Forms are also available as separate database.

Help page includes a “Research Manual”, with tips and tricks for database searching. The various commands for field searching are published here.

Help page includes a short “Research Manual”, which outlines search tricks for the databases.

  • Contains: Federal case law from U.S. Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals; U.S. Code; C.F.R. “State Libraries” provide case law and statutes/regs for consortium members.
  • State bar associations must purchase access; is then “free and unlimited” to current members of the bar.

Other tutorials are available on Casemaker’s home page, as well as on the sites of other state bars in the Casemaker consortium.

casemaker cont
Casemaker, cont.
  • Membership is free to currently-enrolled law students; includes access to Casemaker.
  • 2-3 business days to process membership; member # and password will be sent by e-mail.
  • Questions? Contact Whitney von Haam (
casemaker cont1
Casemaker, cont.

Consortium members include:

  • North Carolina
  • Georgia
  • Texas

Notable exclusions:

  • California
  • Florida
  • New York
two for the road
Two For The Road

1. FastCase

  • 24 hour trial available through site; interactive online demo.
  • Includes cases from federal district and U.S. Bankruptcy courts; as well as state appellate and supreme courts.

These non-case law resources link to publicly available web sites like government publishers and

Newspaper search goes to a version of the Duke database “America’s Newspapers”.


Fastcase’s main advantages are natural language searching and Authority Check, which searches for cases that cite to your case (but is NOT intended as a full replacement for Shepard’s/KeyCite).

two for the road1
Two For The Road

2. National Law Library

  • Federal & State case law libraries include “essential” court rules and “plain language forms”.
  • Can pay monthly or by search.
  • Quick online demo available.
free research online
Free Research Online
  • What kind of document am I looking for?
  • Who would normally be responsible for maintaining those documents in print?
  • Where does the document “live” online (i.e., official government vs. free site)?
  • When was the document posted and/or the site last updated?
free cases briefs
Free: Cases & Briefs
  • Opinions and court documents are usually posted on the web site of the court which issued the opinion.
  • Briefs and opinions (at least at federal appellate level) are also often posted on legal research mega-sites like Findlaw ( and Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (

Supreme Court actually includes bound U.S. Reports volumes in PDF (1991- ).

Most courts only provide opinions in HTML or .txt.


After selecting “Briefs”, you will choose your term (1999- ) and view an alphabetical list of cases.

almost free court docs
(almost) Free: Court docs
  • Court documents at the lower federal court level (e.g., complaints and replies in district court) are usually available through PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records).
  • PACER charges a per-page fee for document retrieval (currently $0.08).
almost free court docs1
(almost) Free: Court docs
  • Court documents at the state court level may be posted on the court’s web site.
  • You may also have to contact the court clerk or court library directly, and pay a fee for copying services.
  • Look for a library research guide from a law school within the state.
free statutes
Free: Statutes
  • Session laws are usually available on the web site of the jurisdiction’s legislature. Amount of years available will vary.
  • Federal (Public Laws): Available 1995-present via GPO Access,
  • State: Consult links on National Conference of State Legislature site:

Laws are arranged chronologically (Pub. L. No.) and are available in .txt and PDF.

Bound volumes of the compiled Statutes at Largeare currently only available for the 108th Congress through this site.

Statutes at Large is available (1789-2004) in PDF through HeinOnline, a low-cost database.

free statutes1
Free: Statutes
  • Codes are also often available online through the legislature.
  • Federal (U.S. Code):
  • States: National Conference of State Legislatures
free statutes2
Free: Statutes
  • Local (municipal) codes are sometimes posted on the county or city’s web site.
  • Private publishers also make them available online:
free legislative history
Free: Legislative History
  • Federal legislative history material is widely available online through the Government Printing Office (GPO) and the Library of Congress.
  • The Law Library maintains a research guide to these and other federal legislative history resources on our web site:

  • Full-text bills and bill summaries (1973- )
  • Includes links to available committee reports and Congressional Record debates (usually 1994- ).
  • Better search capability than GPO Access.

Links lead to the full text of the bill(s), report(s), debate(s), etc., which are available via GPO Access.

gpo access
GPO Access
  • Full-text congressional committee reports, committee prints, selected hearings, Congressional Record, and much more through the Legislative Resources.
  • Also includes executive branch materials (more on that later).
  • Many sources available in PDF.

You can search across multiple congresses, but it is much easier to retrieve documents by citation.

Just enter the cite in quotes into the search box.

free legislative history1
Free: Legislative History
  • State materials will vary widely in terms of online availability.
  • Generally, online resources will be somewhere on the state legislature’s web site.
  • Look for a library research guide from an in-state law school, or consult a state-specific research guide for more info.
free regulations
Free: Regulations
  • Federal regulations are available:
    • Federal Register (1994- ) through GPO Access,
    • Code of Federal Regulations (1996- ), through GPO Access,
    • Individual agency sites (coverage varies)

GPO Access works best as a source for document retrieval– the search engine is not as powerful or sophisticated as other databases.

For best results, know your citation and browse to it, rather than search.

free regulations1
Free: Regulations
  • State regulations are usually available through individual agency web sites; some administrative codes are also published online by the secretary of state’s office (
  • University of Michigan maintains a good directory of links to State Legal Sources on the Web,
free forms
Free: Forms
  • Forms required in a specific court are often available through the court’s own web site.
  • Findlaw ( provides forms for specific jurisdictions, as well as sample contracts and “forms dealing with specific issues” (i.e., fill-in-the-blank forms).

Links to other free form resources are also available here.

Remember to evaluate their authority before using…

free forms1
Free: Forms
  • LexisONE ( is a mini-LexisNexis, designed for small firms.
  • Portions of the site are free, but require registration.
  • Selected forms from Lexis’ library of Matthew Bender publications are available for free download.

Pay forms are automated (can be filled in online); free forms must be downloaded and printed.

Only selected forms are available on the free list.

free other practice material
Free: Other Practice Material

Public Records -- People

  • Public records about people (births, deaths, marriages, incarcerations, real estate transactions) are usually maintained at the county government level.

Provides a directory of free and pay public records resources.


Although the site won’t link you directly into these “free” sites without a paid account, you now have enough information about the database (i.e., whomaintains it) to find it quickly through a Web search.

free other practice material1
Free: Other Practice Material

Public Records – Business

  • Public records about corporations are usually maintained at the state level (with the exception of publicly-traded companies’ securities filings, available through the SEC).
  • Information about registered corporations can be found through the secretary of state where incorporated. See
putting it all together
Putting It All Together
  • How do you know when it’s safe to use a free source instead of Lexis/Westlaw?
  • Consider these factors:
    • Currencyof the source
    • Authority of the source’s creator
    • Easeof retrieving free vs. paid source
    • Proximity of project deadline
  • You used your firm’s subscription to Lexis in order to access the CIS Legislative Histories database. You searched for your Public Law number and retrieved a list of citations for committee reports and congressional debates. Some of the listed citations have links to the full text.
  • Is there a better way to retrieve these items?
quiz 2
Quiz 2
  • You are working at a firm in California. Your supervisor has asked you to provide him with an overview of the “lemon laws” from each state within the 9th Circuit, ASAP.
  • What source would be the most efficient as well as the most cost-effective?
final research refresher
Final Research Refresher

Monday 4/9: Putting it All Together (taking a research assignment from start to finish)

Pick up a copy of the discussion questions beforehand (on the library’s web site or at the Reference Desk).

Good luck this summer!