If you’ve ever been in the position to do legal research, you’ve likely found out pretty quickly that there aren’t many cost-effective options to access case law easily.
During my JD studies, I recall sitting in on multiple seminars, as legal research platform representatives guided students on how to effectively search case law. As nerdy as it sounds, at the time, I really only enjoyed learning syntax and other tactics to find cases faster and narrow down search results (came in handy for looming research paper deadlines).
However, as interesting as it was to be able to access all this information, there was an unspoken conundrum that my peers and I experienced by the end of each training session. The deflating energy in the room spoke for itself when information sheets were handed out with temporary access codes to utilize the search platform until a specified expiration date. The same temporary access that would cut you off from being able to scroll through legal history at a whim once your course or program were completed. Considering that our research paper grades depended on using these tools, this short-lived gift of access was a bit of a buzzkill.
Going through an extensive training session to utilize something that we only had trial access to, felt more like we were in a sales funnel than anything else.
It didn’t help that the information sheet was so darn easy to misplace, plus making too many login attempts half an hour before an essay was due would guarantee a mad scramble to complete any references.
I’ve always wondered what the deal was with having to pay for access to legal research if it is so integral to the study and profession of law, but also, for any citizen to have access to justice for self-representation.
Working at various Canadian firms, it was typical to hear the question, “do you have access to Westlaw or LexisNexis?” before being asked to compile legal research. I never did, of course, as my last little pamphlet from the librarian with the temporary code had elapsed long ago. How could I afford something so ridiculously expensive straight out of school after having been steamrolled financially with student debt?
The only logical way around that would be to use a colleague’s login to get the work done. Lest you accidentally clicked on an advanced search function, you’d have some explaining to do when your colleague received a large bill in the mail. Legal history can come at a high cost.
Getting a “hook-up” to access legal resources may seem off, but hey, everyone did it (and people still do), but you had to know your local librarian or a friendly lawyer to get the goods for free.
There are free options for both Canadian and US case law searches.
For Canadian case law, CanLii has long offered a simple free search which works well if you know the correct search term to plug in. From a technology standpoint, it does take some time to sift through cases, and the database is not updated in real-time. Canadians continue to find great use of it to this day, although it could use some UI advancements and end-user fine-tuning to improve the search experience.
For US case law, in the past there weren’t many free search options that were focused on simplicity and user experience. In the past year, AnyLaw has hit the legal tech scene with free US legal research for case law from state and federal courts, updated daily. It was definitely worth the wait, as the platform provides more user-friendly design, as well as advanced search functions and features that can narrow searches by keyword, date range, and level of court. Keywords are highlighted for fast scanning in both case view and in the search results.
There is no registration required to search or review cases, or download PDF copies. Creating a free account allows you to save cases for later reference, or to review your search history. The site is supported by ads that are placed separately from the content, and it also has the impressive ability to use the same proximity operators as Westlaw and Lexis Advance Quicklaw. Those training seminars from back in the day can end up going to good use!
Legal research should be freely accessible, and AnyLaw leads the pack for its search capabilities, daily US case law updates, and focus on user experience. The days of asking for your friend or colleague’s login credentials are behind you!