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Legal Research Basics for Summer Clerkships: Free and Low Cost Online Legal Research

Introduction to Free & Low Cost Online Legal Research

Most everyone is familiar with the expression, "You get what you pay for." This is largely true when it comes to accessing free and low-cost legal information resources. Free and low-cost materials generally do not offer the same level of sophistication in search algorithms and computer-indexing, but they can offer reliable access to primary law documents and standard government-issued and approved forms. On the federal level, the Government Publishing Office (GPO) is the official publishing office for the entire federal government. All congressional and many executive documents are officially published by the GPO at "govinfo.gov." Likewise, many states have developed excellent digital systems to publish their own primary laws.

Until recently, print versions of primary legal materials have been considered the official sources of the law. This was partly due to the permanence of the printed format of the materials. Over time, as access to online resources has improved and become more reliable and stable, and technologies have developed that can ensure that online documents are authentic, many states have come to designate the online versions of some of their documents as "official." In 2016 the Nebraska Supreme Court decided to discontinue print publication of their official opinions and instead designated the court's website as the official source of their opinions. Opinions published on the court's website contain an official date stamp and a dynamically generated digital mark that identifies it as an official opinion.

Below is a guide to many free and low-cost legal resources.

Legal Research on the Internet

This page describes many useful free and low-cost legal resources. However, there are many other resources available. The books listed here offer a more comprehensive list of such resources.  These books are located in the Schmid Law Library collection.

Research Databases

In addition to the major research platforms (Westlaw Edge, Lexis+, and Bloomberg), there are several free and low-cost alternatives.

Casemaker: The Nebraska State Bar offers all its members, including student members, access to Casemaker. Law students can sign up for free student membership on the Nebraska State Bar website

FastCase: Access to FastCase is available in two ways: If on-campus, FastCase is accessible via the Schmid Law Library A-Z Database list. Fastcase content is also available through HeinOnline

Google ScholarGoogle Scholar provides free access to full-text case law and citations to law review articles.

Legal Information Institute (LII): LII provides free access to primary law, a legal encyclopedia, and the U.S. Constitution Annotated.

Helpful Websites

Federal Law Resources
State Law Resources
Foreign Law Resource
Miscellaneous Resource