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Free & Low-Cost Legal Research: Introduction

What Is Included in this Research Guide?

There are countless free (or low-cost) legal research resources available online. The trick is narrowing down the available information to find reliable and up-to-date information.

This guide provides links and suggestions for free and low-cost legal research resources, including:  free federal, California, and secondary resources; low-cost legal databases; and other resources and guides.  

Why Should I Learn About Free/Low Cost Resources?

While you are a student at Berkeley Law, you have access to a wealth of commercial legal research databases including Lexis and Westlaw. These are terrific resources, but there are reasons why you should understand how to also use free and low-cost legal research options, including:

  • The top research databases, including Lexis and Westlaw, can be prohibitively expensive to use in some circumstances.  
  • After graduation, your access to the paid databases will depend on what your employer provides.  
  • Starting with free or low-cost resources can be an effective legal research strategy.
    • Even if you have access to commercial databases after graduation, you may be concerned about the costs of your searches.  Understanding how to utilize these resources before jumping into potentially expensive searches can help.  

What Won't I Find Using Free, or Low-Cost, Legal Research Resources?

When using free and low-cost resources, it is important to keep the following limitations in mind:

  • Many of the finding aids and editorial enhancements that you may be accustomed to on Lexis and Westlaw are not available through these free resources. 
  • Paid case law databases have citators, which enable users to check whether a case has been overruled or negatively impacted by later cases. Reliable and free online citators are not yet available.
  • The date coverage on free websites varies and may not provide a complete picture of what you are researching
  • Many popular legal treatises and practice guides aren't available for free online. 

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