Why should I care about free resources?
Major commercial providers of legal information can be prohibitively expensive. Access may also be restricted, since few legal employers subscribe to all such content. Fortunately, much primary (and some secondary) law is freely available online and elsewhere.
What are the advantages of free resources?
Aside from cost, free resources offer other benefits. Many, like government websites, post breaking legal information. Others are just as useful as their fee-based counterparts. The Social Science Research Network (SSRN), for instance, posts hundreds of legal articles in a searchable manner.
What are the disadvantages of free resources?
One must pay particular attention to authenticity, reliability, scope, and value. One should not refer to FindLaw when citing a case in a court brief, for example, or rely on such a resource to identify all contrary authority. Further, many free sources (like SSRN) are not comprehensive. Finally, high cost is sometimes justified, as when faced with hours of work compiling a 50-state survey from free resources or purchasing one for a few hundred dollars.
1. The subject matter is suitable - general overviews, government information, "get a document."
2. An authoritative and reputable organization or individual (i.e. trade group, nonprofit, issue advocate, professor, government entity) has a reason to objectively summarize the legal issues and to keep them up-to-date.
3. You have time to try it.
4. For authentication (i.e. law review).
5. You don't need in-depth, high-quality, citable secondary analysis - at least, not right away.
If you're looking for other similar books on legal research, look in the Reading Room (RR) for books with call numbers in the KF240s.