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 law and selected secondary resources are 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?
Authenticity, reliability, scope, and value can vary much more than with paid resources. Here are a few examples. While HeinOnline provides comprehensive access to each of the law journals in its collection and it is regularly updated, SSRN relies on individuals uploading their law journal articles so it can not be relied upon as a comprehensive resource. While access to the text of decided court cases is often available on government websites or other free sources like Google Scholar, these sites will not include the Westlaw or Lexis annotations that aid in locating other relevant laws and pull out important components of cases. 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 overview, government information, acquire a known 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. 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.