Comprehensive Free Legal Research Tutorial

Below is a comprehensive tutorial on a range of free legal research tools, presented by folks at The John Marshall Law School. While some of the tools discussed relate to Illinois law specifically, you can find excellent information about the following resources:

New Legal Research Platform with Crowdsourcing Feature: Casetext

There’s a new free legal research tool in town: Casetext. Currently in the beta stage, Casetext allows users to search a directory of “over one million federal and Delaware cases” using keywords or retrieve a case by citation. Most notable, however, is Casetext’s annotation feature, which allows users to provide comments and analysis.  Here are the type of annotations users can provide:

  • Use expertise in an area of law to add analysis of a document or of a paragraph within a document.
  • Add a link to an article you wrote or another related resource.
  • Help organize documents (by adding tags) or related cases (by categorizing them).
  • Upvote useful related resources.

I like the editable “Quick Facts” feature at the beginning of cases. And I’m particularly interested in the crowdsourced citator function, which allows users to participate in ordering related authorities based on usefulness. However, the pagination of cases is not reader-friendly yet, and until Casetext starts indexing more cases, you can only go so far when clicking internal citations.

Below a list of the cases indexed:

  • all U.S. Supreme Court cases,
  • federal circuit court cases from Volume 1 of F.2d,
  • federal district court cases published in F.Supp. and F.Supp.2d from 1980, and
  • Delaware cases published in A., A.2d, and A.3d from Volume 30 of A.

While the system isn’t lightning fast yet, Casetext has some brains behind the project (former editors of the Stanford Law Review and Harvard Law Review), and I’m interested to see where it goes. Here is an introductory tutorial by the founders:

Quick Facts: Citations to Wikipedia in Federal Cases (2013)

In 2013 so far, federal judges have looked to Wikipedia for assistance in defining terms or establishing facts in thirty-one (31) cases, either in footnotes or in the body of the opinions. Of these, the District of New Mexico has cited to Wikipedia the most, referring to the crowdsourcing website in five (5) separate opinions.

The majority of cases citing to Wikipedia use the source for definitional assistance. For example, the Seventh Circuit recently used the Wikipedia definition of the term “telephone directory.” Navarro v. Neal, 716 F.3d 425 FN1 (7th Cir. 2013). However, courts are increasingly looking to Wikipedia to supply background facts. For example, in one New Mexico case, the court used Wikipedia to establish the date a judge reached senior status. Martinez v. Martinez, 2013 WL 3270448 FN15 (D. New Mexico, June 3, 2013). In a Second Circuit case, the court reached to Wikipedia to establish the plot of “The Birdcage” film. Kelley-Brown v. Winfrey, 717 F.3d 295 (2nd Cir. 2013).

New Tutorial: How to Conduct FREE Legal Research Online

This new video tutorial from the ABA is surprisingly comprehensive and focuses primarily on resources in the Law Library of Congress, the “largest law library in the world.” For international legal research, the LLoC is where it’s at. The law library is also one of the biggest online portals to legal resources available. In addition to surveying the LLoC’s website, this video also offers tutorials on Lexis’ free services, FindLaw, Google Scholar, and government websites such as the GPO’s FedSys. The presentation materials can be located here.

Here’s a summary of the presentation from the ABA:

This free program focuses on the legal research services and resources available from the Law Library of Congress, as well as several other free online collections. Following a general overview of the Law Library and its services available to lawyers, librarians, and researchers around the world, there is an explanation of the organization and content of and THOMAS, the Library of Congress’s federal legislative information sites, which together contain the full texts of House and Senate bills and resolutions, the

Congressional Record, and much more, starting with the 101st Congress (1989-90).

Special emphasis will be given to, which was launched by the Library of Congress in September 2012, and is in an initial beta phase, with plans to transform the Library of Congress’s existing congressional information system into a modern, durable, and user-friendly resource. Eventually, it will incorporate all of the information available on THOMAS.

Learn about the Law Library’s global research services, its vast collections in 195 languages from over 220 jurisdictions worldwide, and its expert staff equipped to answer your legal research questions.

The program also highlights other free, yet trustworthy, online legal collections and search engines, such as the U.S. Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System (FDsys), Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute, the University of California, Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project,, FindLaw, Justia, LexisWeb, Google Scholar, and a number of others products.

Lexis Now Permits Unlimited Access to Lexis Advance for Summer Research

This is an update to my post last spring warning students about the potential repercussions of using Westlaw and Lexis passwords for summer employment. It appears that Lexis Advance has joined Bloomberg Law in permitting unlimited access to their research platforms for summer academic and employment purposes.

Since it has become clear that Lexis has its continued existence riding on the success of the Lexis Advance rollout, it makes sense that Lexis would make such an offer this year. So far, word of mouth is that the offer has worked well for Bloomberg.

Here’s the text of the email my students recently received:


Unlimited Access to Your Lexis Advance® ID this Summer

We are happy to announce that your law school Lexis Advance ID will remain active during the summer and that you will have unlimited access to the content available to you in law school to be used for your academic, as well as any summer associate or internship/clerkship purposes*. Whether working in a firm, government agency, any of the courts, or brushing up on your cost effective research skills, you will have unlimited access to Lexis Advance.

We understand that as a law student, your legal education does not stop during the summer. In fact, some of your most valuable and practical legal education occurs during your participation in summer associate and internship or clerkship programs. In recognition of this, for the months of June, July and August of this year, we are expanding the permissible uses of your law school Lexis Advance ID to include use by you in these programs, including all research or other work you perform for the firm, agency, or court. You simply need to be registered for Lexis Advance.

Registering for Summer Access

  • If you’re already a registered Lexis Advance user, you don’t need to do anything else to get Summer Access. Your current ID is all you need.
  • If you aren’t a registered Lexis Advance user yet (or aren’t sure), click here for assistance from your Account Executive.

Support throughout the Summer

Your school’s LexisNexis® Account Executive is available to you during the summer for training and support. Feel free to contact him or her early to let them know your summer research goals.
You also have access to 24/7 customer support for help with Lexis Advance, summer access or research questions at 1-800-45-LEXIS (53947).

Enjoy your “All Access Pass” to Lexis Advance this summer!

Instant Poll: Free Research Tools in Practice

Fantastic Free Legal Research Guide from George Mason

For anyone looking for a comprehensive directory of free legal legal research sites, Debbie Shrager at George Mason has put together a fantastic compilation of Free Legal Research sites. This guide pushes much further than popular free resources (e.g., Findlaw, Justia, Fastcase, and LII). Debbie has included law-specific search engines– and no … Google Scholar is not the only one listed. I’m also impressed by the depth of this guide with respect to federal statutory law, case law, administrative law, secondary resources, and legal news and blogs.

Indeed, this is one of the best curated guides I have come across. Check it out here.


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