Introduction to Legal Research
on the World Wide Web

 Legal Research Guides

Updated June 27, 2000.
Prepared by Cheryl Nyberg for Bridge the Gap.

  1. Why use the Internet for legal research?
  2. What types of legal information are available for free on the Internet?
  3. But what about caselaw? Caution: the Internet is an incomplete resource for appellate court opinions.
    • U.S. Supreme Court cases, current and historic, are available, but no complete collection is available for free. Selected "historically significant cases" from 1803-1991 are available at the Legal Information Institute; the Government Printing Office offers cases from 1937-75 through GPO Access; and Cornell again provides decisions from 1990 to the present, with new cases available on the date of public release. The Supreme Court launched its own website in April 2000, http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/opinions.html
    • Cases from the U.S. Courts of Appeal are generally available from the mid-1990s.
    • 1st circuit: January 1995-date (Emory)
    • 2d circuit: January 1995-date (Touro)
    • 3d circuit: January 1994-date (Villanova)
    • 4th circuit: January 1995-date (Emory)
    • 5th circuit: June 1992-date (University of Texas)
    • 6th circuit: January 1995-date (Emory)
    • 7th circuit: January 1993-date (Chicago Kent)
    • 8th circuit: January 1995-date (Washington University)
    • 9th circuit: June 1995-date (the court)
    • 10th circuit: August 1995-October 1997 (Emory) and October 1997-date (Washburn)
    • 11th circuit: November 1994-date (Emory)
    • DC circuit: March 1995-date (Georgetown University)
    • District court cases are very spotty: see the Federal Court Locator.
    • State appellate court cases are likewise incomplete, with a range of dates and duration.
    • Washington Supreme Court and Court of Appeals cases are available at the courts' official site for only 90 days. But Findlaw is archiving those opinions, now offering cases since Dec. 1998.
    • Oklahoma courts offer the longest time span of opinions, from 1957.
  4. A wide range of secondary material is also available on the web. In fact, many of the other legal documents on the web are not routinely found in law or general libraries or on LEXIS-NEXIS or Westlaw.
  5. So, how do you find specific information on the web?
    • What do you already know about the information you seek?
    • Who would have written/issued/released/published the information you seek?
    • When would the information have been published?
    • In what form would the information appear?
  6. Start with legal directories.
    • Gallagher Law Library's Internet Legal Resources page.
    • Become familiar with several of the other popular legal directories and indexes.
  7. Use a general search engine when you are looking for general, background, or scarce information.
    • No search engine covers the entire Internet, so try you search in a meta-engine or run it several different search tools.
  8. Example 1
  9. Example 2
    • You've heard news reports about several cities suing gun manufacturers for the cost of caring for gunshot victims. Can you find any of the complaints filed in these cases?
    • Not much specific information available to you, so general search engines are good starting places.
    • Newspaper articles fill in some details (cities: New Orleans, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia), individuals (Richard M. Daley, Edward G. Rendell, Marc H. Morial).
    • After scanning, the complaints filed by Atlanta and Chicago were found.
  10. Caveat: Rely on Internet sources with caution.
    • Consider the source.
    • Is it up-to-date?
    • Is it acceptable authority?
    • Will the information be there again when you need it?