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10 Free Online Legal Research Databases: But, Mind the Gap

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1) For an excellent lineup of free legal research databases, see Robert Ambrogi’s Legal.Online column: 10 Places to Get Free Cases: A Very Good Price, from the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, July 2009 issue. In 2 pages he gives links and pertinent information about each database’s coverage and caveats.

2) Another view of “free”: Can Free Information Make Us A Vendor-Free Library?, posted July 13, 2009, Paul Lomio, has some interesting ideas, excellent links, and thoughtful Comments.

3) See also my Oregon Legal Research blog sidebar, which links to guides to Free and Low-Cost Legal Research Resources.

BUYER (!) BEWARE:

The old saying You Get What You Pay For applies to Free Legal Research Databases too, so Mind the Gap.

Consider these:

1) More than one online legal digital publisher has said: the information itself (e.g. the cases, the statutes, the articles) will all be online free in the near future. It’s the value-added by the legal publishers that will bring in and keep customers. If you’ve used any legal research database, you know that is a correct analysis of the business. Take a look at Lexis, Westlaw, Casemaker, Fastcase, LoisLaw, etc.

2) To loosen up my thinking-cap on the subject of free-ness, I recently put Chris Anderson’s (editor of Wired Magazine not to be confused with the editor of Wired dot com) book, Free, the Future of a Radical Price, on hold at the library and will read Gladwell’s New Yorker review of Free.

3) Free is wonderful. Free is Grand. Free is Risky. Free is free, and not always reliable. Free may not free, if your health, welfare, and happiness depend on it. I wouldn’t want to go up against another lawyer if I’ve done only unsystematic “free internet legal research.” As I’ve said before, willy-nilly is not a legal research strategy.

I want judges to use the law library and the legal research databases provided by the court.
I want doctors to go to the library once in a while and do some research. (I dare you, ask your doctor, “when was the last time you used the medical library’s services to help you figure out a patient’s medical problem?”)

4) Mind the Gap: No matter how “free” your legal information is, it won’t do you a bit of good if it’s missing blocks of information. Systematic collections, digital or print, aren’t perfect, but you know where the information came from (e.g. which court) and from when to when (e.g. from 1970 to 1990).

The Web” is notoriously gap-ful and however many “free” sites you have access to, either you know how complete the information is or you spend an awful lot of (expensive) time piecing it together.