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.
This guide covers both federal and California law sources as well as sources for locating the laws of local jurisdictions. As you consult some of the sources listed in this guide, keep in mind the following limitations with respect to free online legal research sources:
Links to other UCLA Law Library research guides containing information about print and/or subscription databases are included in other parts of this guide. There are a variety of subscription databases and plans available for researching the law. While the major legal databases, Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law can be quite expensive given the extensive amount of content and varied searching options they provide, individuals and small firms may be able to subscribe to more limited versions of these databases at a lower cost. Further, limited use of these and other subscription databases may be available for free at a local public law library, and many colleges and universities also offer access to limited versions of Lexis and Westlaw (Nexis Uni and Westlaw Campus Research) and other subscription databases.
Finally, in recent years, several lower cost databases have become available, including FastCase, CaseText, and CEB. For more information about these databases, consult the UCLA Law Library's Workshop series guide "Beyond the Big Two: Alternative Legal Research Tools."
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 chart below lists 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 "free" 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 website, provided by the Digital Access to Legal Information committee of the American Association of Law Libraries. There, you can browse government sources of opinions, session laws, statutory codes, administrative registers, and administrative codes for each state.
|U.S. Federal||California||Other States|
Current: U.S. Legislature
|California legislature||State Online Legal Information|
|Westlaw (free access)||State Online Legal Information|
Unofficial: Google Scholar (select "Case law" option)
Unofficial: Court Listener
|Lexis (free access)||State Online Legal Information|
When conducting legal research on a topic you are not very familiar with, it is often helpful to begin your research with a secondary source, such as a treatise, legal encyclopedia, or article, which can provide useful background information and analysis and point you in the right direction. While treatises, legal encyclopedias and certain other types of specialized legal secondary sources are typically only available through subscription databases or in print form, articles on law topics are widely available for free on the internet (see the Law Reviews & Journals and Legal News & Blogs pages of this guide for more information).
Reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) can also be helpful in providing a good overview of the law, particularly with respect to issues affected by federal legislation. The CRS website has fairly comprehensive coverage of CRS reports from 2018 to the present and selective coverage of reports prior to 2018. For additional older CRS reports, consult one of the archival CRS reports websites listed on the Federal Legislative Branch Resources page of this guide.
For additional background information and/or commentary on a particular legal topic, consult one or more of the following websites:
Finally, if you wish to locate print versions of secondary sources, check out our Secondary & Practice Guides library guide, which lists secondary sources available in print at the UCLA Law Library (in addition to those available through subscription databases).
If you're not able to visit the UCLA Law Library, find another law library in your state using the below links.