The Cord-Cutter’s Guide to Legal Research

Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers 2nd Edition (ABA Publishing, 2020) by Carole A. Levitt and Judy K. Davis. 352 pages.

Is it time to cut your legal research expenses? New alternatives make this an intriguing possibility, especially for small to medium-size firms. The newest version of “Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers” is the single best resource I know for lawyers interested in exploring this option.

The internet’s biggest economic effect has probably been disintermediation, cutting out (or replacing) the middleman. Amazon has largely displaced traditional bookstores as the middleman between publishers and retailers. Online ad opportunities have stolen traditional advertisers, endangering newspapers. Cord-cutters are bundling multiple streaming services to make inroads into cable TV company monopolies.

Is it time for the disintermediation of online legal research? Vast amounts of free or inexpensive legal information have become available on the internet, but barriers have so far largely protected the traditional providers of online legal research services. The barriers include the difficulty of:

  • Locating the best reliable free or inexpensive materials.
  • Cite-checking, perhaps the more difficult problem.

“Internet Legal Research on a Budget” addresses both barriers, to an extent that will surprise many lawyers.

Experienced lawyers and law librarians Carole A. Levitt and Judy K. Davis have updated their classic 2014 book, a volume treasured by those lucky enough to own it. The newest edition is even better.

Of the many improvements, the revisions to the PACER and RECAP chapters are welcome due to their extensive changes. The most valuable upgrades are probably the complete revisions of the Casemaker and Fastcase chapters, each of which have recently been upgraded. The authors enlisted Fastcase expert Brian Huddleston to handle that chapter.

The book uses a simple two-part strategy:

  1. Alert users to the locations of the best free internet resources.
  2. Make it easier for researchers to evaluate and use them.

Merely providing links to resources is valuable. Erik Heels established himself as a pioneer in lawyer use of the internet by publishing The Legal List way back in 1992, earning extravagant praise. However, this legal research book goes far beyond being a links list. It evaluates the references and provides tips on using them efficiently. Some resources are so transparent that merely providing the URL is enough. Other features, like cite-checking in Casemaker and Fastcase, benefit from the explanations this book provides.

The potential impact of these developments is significant, particularly since all state bar associations provide free or inexpensive subscriptions to either Casemaker or Fastcase databases. (The State Bar of Texas provides both.) Subscriptions are available to those in other jurisdictions at a price much lower than traditional research databases. Though not as good as Casemaker or Fastcase, note that Google Scholar is another free alternative for case law research and cite -checking. It is an option for lawyers who are not state bar members and can’t take advantage of free subscriptions to Casemaker or Fastcase.

“Internet Legal Research on a Budget” is the tool that can open these resources to all lawyers, including those with no law librarian handy to provide tutorials.

Get Your Hands on a Copy

The e-book and paperback versions of “Internet Legal Research on a Budget” both retail for $89.95 ($67.95 for ABA members). The e-book has the convenience of hypertext links, but some of us prefer the comforting feel of paper. My solution is to have it both ways: I received an electronic review copy. To give me the pleasure only a well-produced paper volume can provide, I’m getting a hard copy as well.

Still not sure if you are ready to invest in this fine legal research book? Check out these reviews from Nicole Black and Rachel E. Green.

Is love sweeter the second time around? A Frank Sinatra song addressed the question but, despite lots of discussion, the jury is still out on that issue. There’s less doubt about the answer to a related question:

Yes, books can definitely be better the second time around. This second edition proves it.

Editor’s Note: This article is republished with permission of the author, with first publication on Attorney at Work.

Posted in: Competitive Intelligence, Internet Resources, Internet Resources - Web Links, KM, Legal Research, Legal Technology, Search Strategies