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Illinois Attorney General CLE

Tools and resources from 10/29/15 CLE on legal research

Out of the Box Resources for Affordable Research

Finding good, reliable, free information online has become the goal of many savvy legal researchers.  With the costs of Westlaw, Lexis and other major legal databases so high, finding what can be found for free feels like a moral obligation.  Before exploring some of those free resources however, it is important to keep several things in mind.

First, not all the information that you need or that will be useful to you can be had for free.  According to a study cited by David Dillenschneider in his presentation "Ethical Concerns and the Open Web." only 2% of the information on the web is available for free.  Having reasonable expectations of what is available for free saves frustration and allows you to consider paying for the information that you truly need with a clear conscience.

Second, just because no money has changed hands that does not mean that there isn’t a cost to some ostensibly free information.  Free sites can be harder to navigate, poorly organized and suffer from link rot.  They can be out-of-date or just plain wrong, even deceptive.  Always consider who is providing the free information and how they are supplying it 'at no cost to you'. Does the site support itself with advertising- or even advertising that passes itself off as disinterested analysis?  Does the site collect your personal information?  Does the site have a ideological agenda that colors what they do or do not make available.

With these caveats, the pages of this libguide will explore some of the resources available from the following sources:

  •     The Government,
  •     Public interest groups,
  •     Commercial providers who want to provide samples to prove the value of their content and
  •     Attorneys and firms promoting themselves.

There is much of value to be had from each of these sources and despite everything, what is available is truly remarkable.  Even so, approaching any resource, free or otherwise, without thinking critically about it will ultimately cost more than you can afford.