In this presentation, “Google Scholar and Legal Research Tips,” Charity Anastasio, Director of Law Office Management Assistance at Maryland State Bar Association, provides a full hour of expert advice on many different free legal research tools. So if you’re looking for tips on reducing your law firm’s legal research costs, you’re in the right place!
What do lawyers want from legal research tools?
Charity started off by running through a list of what lawyers really want from legal research tools. Using a legal research tool, free or paid, can be helpful, but unless it includes the features you actually need, you probably won’t use it very much.
According to Charity, lawyers often require the following features when conducting legal research:
- Current data
- Easy access to case or legislative history and subsequent treatment
- Ability to easily transfer work product
- Intuitive search tools
- Fast search results.
After laying out these expectations, Charity dove into the heart of her presentation by covering three key, free legal research tools. Read on to learn if one of them might be a good fit for your firm.
Google Scholar for Free Legal Research
One of the most popular, free legal research tools is Google Scholar. It’s fast, easy to use, and is a great starting point if your paid legal research tools include a “search limit.” We’ve written at length on the MyCase blog about using Google Scholar for legal research and its impressive coverage of caselaw.
In addition to walking through Google Scholar for free legal research, Charity also explained how using Google Alerts can assist with legal research by making it easy for you to be automatically notified via email of updates and changes to areas of law that are of particular interest to you.
Casemaker for Free (and Paid) Legal Research
Depending on what state you practice in and what bar associations you belong to, you may have free or discounted access to Casemaker. Some of the notable features of Casemaker include case and citation history, which shows you subsequent treatment of the case and if it is considered “good law” or “bad law.” Casemaker groups the case treatment into 4 buckets:
- No negative treatment in subsequent cases
Casemaker’s citation history shows you how many times the case was cited in various courts, including “state,” “federal,” and “other” jurisdictions. Another favorite tool Charity highlighted is Casemaker’s CiteCheck.
CiteCheck allows you to upload an MS Word, TXT, or PDF file into Casemaker, and within 90 seconds you’ll receive a report that indicates whether cited cases are still good law. You can also run this for opposing counsel’s briefs. Keep in mind that the tools and features available to you will depend on your subscription and may not be included in the free version offered by your bar association.
Fastcase for Free (and Paid) Legal Research
Like Casemaker, you may have free or discounted access to Fastcase depending on what state you practice in and what bar associations you belong to. Charity explained that depending on the type of account you have, after executing a search, you’ll see a dollar sign indicating if the results are included in your free plan or whether you’ll need to pay for access. One of Charity’s favorite tools in Fastcase is their Interactive Timeline — so don’t miss that section of the presentation!
Additional Websites Offering Free Legal Research
Charity wrapped up the webinar by touching on other websites that offer free legal research tools, including:
Public Library of Law (PLoL) — The Public Library of Law (PLoL) is actually a free version of Fastcase and offers an RSS feed option for current law by state. This is great passive notification tool (much like Google Alerts) that will send you updates automatically.
FindLaw — Depending on your jurisdiction, FindLaw could be very useful resource for your legal research. Make sure you are using the “legal professional” version and then narrow down your searches by state. Then FindLaw will curate the information from multiple sources into one place.
Justia — Justia is mostly organized by practice area as opposed to jurisdiction and certain practice area sections include more resources than others. Even so, it’s another free resource that is definitely worth looking at!
Court Websites — Finally Charity reminded lawyers to not forget about court websites as resources for legal research. During her presentation, she shared a specific example from the Washington State Bar Association that is powered by LexisNexis. So be sure to check out the court websites in your jurisdiction for additional legal research tools!
Obviously, Charity covers all of these areas in more detail during her presentation, so be sure to take a look at the slides and watch the full recording of the webinar when you have time, so you can learn the ins and out of using Google Scholar along with many other free and low-cost legal research tools.
Finally, congratulations to Jessica Sanders, our Apple gift card winner! Enjoy the presentation and be sure to stay for the last 10-minute Q/A session. See you at the next MyCase legal webinar!