The internet contains no shortage of free law-related materials. The challenge is to locate accurate and authoritative sources of legal information. This guide attempts to aid you in that challenge.
Please keep in mind that you won't find everything you need for free on the Internet. For example, West's annotated codes and most legal treatises/practice guides (e.g. Rutter Group and Matthew Bender publications) are not freely available on the Web.
Also, keep in mind that it may be easier to start your research using print sources. This is especially true if you are having difficulty identifying search terms. Using a print source allows you to flip through pages and scan the index and table of contents. Hence, when applicable, there will be links to other research guides that describe the use of print resources.
The federal government and most of the states post copies of their statutes, regulations, and cases online. Additionally, some third-parties (such as the Cornell Legal Information Institute or CLII) gather freely available information and make it easier to browse and search. The following are reliable sources of primary law for the U.S. federal government and California. Note that California's online regulations and online case law are made available through portals provided by Westlaw and Lexis, respectively. This is a common practice for states, but these portals are missing many of the features of paid Westlaw and Lexis databases.
For a list of online primary resources from other states, please see the excellent State Online Legal Information, provided by the Digital Access to Legal Information committee of AALL. There, you can browse government sources of opinions, session laws, statutes, administrative registers, and administrative codes.
|U.S. Federal||California||Other States|
Current: U.S. Legislature
|California legislature||AALL Map|
|Westlaw (free access)||AALL Map|
Unofficial: Google Scholar
Unofficial: Court Listener
|Lexis (free access)||AALL Map|
The following are alternative providers of legal research services. Some are available as a benefit of state bar association membership, such as Fastcase (available with a California Lawyers Association membership) or Casemaker (available to members of participating bar associations). Others are available for a monthly rate (typically without requiring an annual contract).
These alternative services typically provide cases, statutes, and regulations (although there may be some gaps). Some also have secondary sources or news features, although not to the same extent as Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg. However, the most important difference to know is that these services have a more limited citator than Westlaw or Lexis. Please be aware and take other steps to check the validity of cases or statutes you find on these sources.
To start your research in print, check out our list of Secondary & Practice Guides, which lists resources available at the UCLA Law Library.
If you're not able to visit the UCLA Law Library, find another law library in your state using the below links.