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Book Review: Levitt & Davis: “Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers”

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Book Review: Levitt & Davis: “Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers”

  • Would you like a clear description of 3 free online versions of the U.S. Code?
  • Would you like useful tutorials on Fastcase and Casemaker?
  • Would you like to know about free and low-cost legal websites, legal research apps, and case law databases? How about cite-checking, dockets, federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal law, foreign, international, and comparative law free and low-cost research resource tips?

You will find those and more in “Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers,” by Carole A. Levitt and Judy K. Davis, ABA Law Practice Division, 2014.

It takes brave authors to write a book about online legal research. If badly executed, it will sink quietly to the bottom of the recycle bin. If done well, it will remain within close reach of the researcher. I keep this book nearby and I’ve already pressed it into the hands of other legal researchers.

What this book is not: This is not a book about how to search public records or to perform background checks or skip-tracing. (There are other books on those subjects: see, e.g. Note 1, below.)

What this book is and for whom:

New and experienced researchers will find tips and instructions that can save time, money, and frustration when using the free and low-cost online legal research resources described.

I reviewed the book through the lens of a public law librarian who teaches lawyers and other legal researchers on limited budgets how to research the law. I wanted a quick reference book for myself, to lend to a researcher looking at a new research site or tool, and for our motivated self-represented litigants who need free or low-cost legal research tools.

This book will be useful to lawyers, law library employees, paralegals, judicial assistants, public librarians, and self-represented litigants. It will also be a useful legal research text for students of all stripes, paralegal, library school, and law school.

It can be read from cover to cover, but it is well organized, with a useful table of contents and a good index, so the specific guidance you seek can be found without wasting time.

It includes chapters on researching legal forms, court rules, cases, dockets, citators, and much more, all with excellent advice (and caveats) regarding the strengths and limits of the reviewed resources.

The research and website evaluation tips will be familiar to law librarians and will improve the research skills of those we serve – or at least reinforce the lessons we try to teach the researchers in our midst:

  • Read the whole screen.
  • Understand the database’s (or website’s) strengths and limits.
  • Make no assumptions about database searching protocols. (They change faster than the latest secret to a long life nutrition fad: Quinoa! Kale! Pomegranate! Bacon?)

This book presents those lessons painlessly and gives readers a roadmap for exploring and evaluating all online legal research resources.

Standouts: Tips are practical and the book is highly readable with appropriate warnings about data quality and database reliability. One, among other, standout examples is the section comparing 3 U.S.C. websites (pp. 163-177).

You will want to mark up this book. That is a good thing. It is not good when after reading a legal research guide all you have to show for the effort are a couple of sticky notes that could just as well fall out, with no regret or loss.

I added lots of sticky notes for tips to try out myself and recommend to co-workers. I featured this book in a recent legal research class, where I will recommend this book among my other favorite legal research guides.

The book was well organized. I would like to have been a fly on the wall when the authors and editors met to decide which legal research resources to include in the book and how to organize them – and which ones to leave out (the toughest cuts of all). Not all of the taxonomy, legal research, and UX knowledge in the world could have made that task easy.

Index: The index is very good – and I’m not unappreciative of the fact that there is an index at all, a rare value-added feature nowadays. I did wish there was a Legislative History index term; it is a subject frequently researched. Also, you need to look under both Briefs and Legal Briefs to find all the Briefs index entries, and … no, I quibble. I was able to find just about everything I needed in the index.

Wish list: I wished for more coverage of state and local resources, however, the selection of high quality, publicly accessible state and local online legal research resources varies widely from one jurisdiction to another, so the authors didn’t leave out anything over which they had any control. Many of the state and local research resources we need just don’t exist in digital format – and state legislative history documents often top that list.

Bottom line: This book is Highly Recommended, for law libraries, public libraries, legal research instructors, paralegals, and lawyers.

Notes:

1) “The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet: Conducting Effective Investigative & Legal Research on the Internet,” by Carole Levitt, J.D., M.L.S. & Mark E. Rosch, is in its 12th edition as of today.

2) You can purchase today’s reviewed book, Levitt & Davis: “Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers” from:

Internet for Lawyers (Net for Lawyers)
Also: Internet Legal Research on a Budget
ABA Bookstore