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The Top Websites for Free Legal Research

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

Running your own law firm can be a financial drain. You've got to shell out for malpractice and health insurance; pay rent and overhead; and keep up with a salary or two. And then you've got the clients who want you to reduce your bill.

It's a lot to think about and everyone has their own suggestions for reducing costs. But there's really only one option that can improve everyone's bottom line: free legal research. If this sounds like a good idea, the following three free sites are where you should start.

1. Cornell's Legal Information Institute. If you know very little about a topic, this is a good place to begin your free legal research. The site includes the Wex Legal Encyclopedia, which is sort of like an abbreviated treatise. It provides overviews of hundreds of topics and often includes links to outside resources, codes and cases.

2. FindLaw. Our site was ranked one of the New York Law Journal's best online research tools in 2010 and for good reason. We give you access to federal and state cases and codes, daily cases summaries, business contracts and forms. You can search by citation or full text. FindLaw is a great resource for those who know a little bit more about what they're looking for and don't need the help of a treatise to get started.

3. Google Scholar. This is one of the few free legal research sites that provide access to legal journals, so if you need scholarly authority, Google Scholar is your best bet. But more importantly, the search giant has just updated its citator function, which now acts similarly to Westlaw's KeyCite. However, there are no little red or yellow flags, and negative citing references won't necessarily be on top. You'll actually have to read a case or two.

As you continue to hone your free legal research skills, there's one additional site to keep in mind -- the Federal Digital System (FDsys), the federal government's clearinghouse for all regulatory, legislative and executive materials. The site has improved significantly in recent years.

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