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March 16, 2008

"Tip of the Week" - Free On-Line Law Library?

Yes.  It was inevitable.  Before you spend hundreds on Lexis/Nexis or Westlaw check out Public Library of Law first:

Last month, Fastcase launched what it calls the largest free law library on the Internet with the debut of the Public Library of Law(PLoL), which consolidates more than two million pages of cases.

The 10-year-old Washington, D.C., company announced in November that it partnered with Public.Resource.Org to make 1.8 million pages of federal cases available in the public domain, including all Supreme Court opinions dating back to the 1757 and all U.S. appeals courts decisions dating back to 1950. That archive was made available in mid-February.

The PLoL, which launched days later, includes all of those cases plus an additional 10 years of case law from all 50 states.

Of course, not everything that's 'free' is free:

The site’s search function works like many popular search engines, by listing the most relevant results at the top. Case citations link to other decisions in Fastcase, which can be accessed through a free 24-hour subscription or a $95 per month agreement. Also available on the free site are statutes, regulations, court rules, constitutions and legal forms.

Claiming to be directed at non-lawyers and those who do not already use Lexis/Nexis and Westlaw, it is all about providing a starting point for legal research for the lay person, journalist and more. 

I can't tell you the number of new solos who jump into legal contracts with Lexis/Nexis and Westlaw for hundreds of dollars per month before they have their first client and are locked into these contracts for months before they ever even need to do research, an all or nothing proposition.

If used responsibly, this might very well be an opportunity for the new solo, too, to keep costs down initially (without eliminating more extensive research as needed) yet allowing them to grow into more comprehensive on-line legal research agreements as their firm's needs increase.

Let me know your thoughts.

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Comments

Andrew Flusche

Susan,

I personally think Fastcase has a great thing going. Their primary research system is free through many state bars (including Virginia). And they continually add new features, like public records and forms.

This new Public Library is another great example!

Solos definitely shouldn't overlook options like this.

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