12 Great Websites for Legal Research
These legal research sites are comprehensive, authoritative, and, best of all, free.
Legal information, like medical information, occupies a singular place in the world of research. Many research projects are undertaken for education, amusement, or personal enrichment. These are worthy goals, of course, but if the search falters or the answer isn’t found, there aren’t likely to be serious consequences.
Not so for many legal researchers. A lot often rides on their results. People looking into the law may be trying to get a divorce. Stay out of prison. Win back custody of their kids. Keep from being evicted. They may be acting as their own attorney, fighting to grasp a subject area that is notoriously opaque. Where can they turn for help?
Below are a few of the best free legal information sites on the internet.
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These sites act as directories, breaking down the vast field of law and linking to high-quality sites in those subfields. They are great places to start when you don’t know where to start.
Owned by Thomson Reuters, which operates Westlaw, the leading legal research database on the market, FindLaw has tools for the public as well as practicing attorneys. From court cases to every state’s statutes to fillable forms, it should be every researcher’s first stop.
Legal Information Institute
A project of Cornell Law School, LII has a more academic bent than FindLaw, which means (1) no ads and (2) more explanation/analysis than you might find elsewhere. One of the best segments is Wex, a community-built, freely available legal dictionary and encyclopedia. LII also stays current through its Supreme Court Bulletin and its connections to the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan policy arm of Congress.
Guide to Law Online
This service by the US Library of Congress dives deep into the laws of all fifty states and many other nations. Unlike FindLaw and HG, which merely offer links, this guide is prepared by world-class librarians, meaning it contextualizes its resources with discussion and guidance.
Georgetown Law Library
This site lists dozens of research guides — i.e., collections of print and electronic resources with annotations — on various topics, including accounting research and company research, two areas that law librarians, in particular, are often asked to research. Especially useful are the tutorials that teach legal research techniques. (Another great site for tutorials is the Library of Congress’s Legal Research Institute.)
Gallagher Law Library
Nearly one hundred guides on legal subjects. Unlike Georgetown’s, you can arrange this list topically rather than alphabetically. Many are on newer areas of concern — social justice organizations, genetics, beginning-of-life issues, COVID-19 — and there are several on careers, an old concern dressed in new hardships. The best guide on the site? Judicial Humor. Go read it. Now. Go, go, go. You’ll thank me later.
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There are 4,543 words in the original US Constitution, including the forty signatures. The twenty-seven amendments add another four thousand words or so. This short document has powered our country for over two hundred years. Here are some of the best sites devoted to constitutional history and understanding.
THE most comprehensive and authoritative site on the Constitution. Each section is accompanied by a pages-long explanation of that section’s history and interpretation. Want to know every law that the Supreme Court has ever found unconstitutional? It’s here. Also, make sure to check out the LOC’s guide to the Constitution Annotated, a sort of companion site to this one.
This Yale Law School project has the full text of numerous historical documents in addition to the Constitution itself — documents such as the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers, and other stuff from the Constitutional Convention, including notes by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton (written notes, not musical ones).
National Constitution Center
No mere collection of historical documents (though it does have over 150 of the things), the NCC focuses on teaching about the Constitution. Its centerpiece is a 15-unit asynchronous course that “guides students to think like constitutional lawyers.”
Another good source for explanations and annotations of constitutional provisions. The Constitution for Kids section is especially good. Most interesting is the FAQ page, in which Steve Mount, who created the site, answers reader-submitted questions, some of which are pretty out there (“Was the Constitution originally written in German?”). The site hasn’t been updated in over ten years, which is a bummer. I’d love to know Mount’s take on the constitutionality of . . . I dunno . . . trying to overturn a presidential election.
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The law is ever-changing, which is why lawyers are required to complete 20+ hours of continuing legal education every year. Anyone interested in law, however, would do well to stay abreast of its developments by following law-related blogs such as these.
Legal History Blog
Georgetown Law professor Dan Ernst and Penn Law professor Karen Tani run this interesting blog covering the history of law. Check out their "Weekend Roundups" for a comprehensive list of the latest legal history news and webinars.
Irreverent yet useful site that focuses on unusual news stories. Also mixes legal analysis and pop culture, such as in the article “What Taylor Swift Gets Wrong About Inheritance and Estate Planning in ‘Anti-Hero.’”
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