Category Archives: Free Legal Resources

Free Access to PACER Opinions and Orders via

A new resource for free access to federal court opinions and orders is now available online at This resource, known as the RECAP Archive, allows users to search approximately 3.4 million orders and opinions from approximately 1.5 million federal district and bankruptcy court cases dating back to 1960. New opinions are downloaded in to the Archive every night to keep the collection up to date.

Combating link rot: U.S. Supreme Court Web Citations

“Link rot,” when the URL provided via a hyperlink no longer functions, is a troublesome issue for legal scholars and practitioners.  A 2014 study found that half of the links provided in Supreme Court opinions and over 70% of links cited to in the Harvard Law Review “do not produce the information originally cited.”  As Jonathan Zittrain, one author of the study, put it in an April 2014 interview with NPR, this is “extraordinarily bad for the long-term maintenance of the information we need…to understand the law.”

An exciting new tool for combating link rot was recently unveiled by the U.C. Berkeley Law Library: U.S. Supreme Court Web Citations.  This web application captures snapshots of all web citations in new Supreme Court opinions immediately after publication. The snapshots are archived using’s API. U.S. Supreme Court Web Citations users have the ability to browse citations by opinion or by justice and can also subscribe to receive notification of new citations.

Indigenous Law Portal Makes finding Tribal Law Easier

Tribal law can be difficult to find for a variety reasons: individual tribes may not have the resources to publish their laws, may choose not to make them available electronically, or even may restrict outside access to their laws.  The new Library of Congress Indigenous Law Portal helps researchers find difficult-to locate tribal law materials by bringing together digitized historic Library of Congress resources with current resources available on tribal websites.  The Portal can be both searched and browsed by geographic region, state, and tribe name.

In addition to this new Portal, when researching tribal law be sure to also consult the Ross-Blakley Law Library’s Indian Law Portal which contains resources such as a listing of Arizona Tribal Law Sources, a listing of Tribal Law for Tribes Outside Arizona, a Federal Indian Law Research Guide, and an International Indigenous Law Research Guide.

Free Access to Historical Federal Legal Resources

The Library of Congress and HeinOnline recently announced a unique partnership that makes historical U.S. legal materials now available on the Library of Congress’ web portal, the Guide to Law Online.  While federal materials dating back to the mid-1990s have long been available for free through FDsys, the release of these materials by HeinOnline fills the access gap to the historical documents; generally, the content for each publication extends from its first print edition to the year when free access on FDsys begins.

The newly available content includes:

Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law community members have access to the complete HeinOnline: The Modern Link to Legal History database, which includes all the federal materials listed above as well as significant additional content such as:

  • Law Journal Library
  • American Indian Law Collection
  • Canada Supreme Court Reports
  • Code of Federal Regulations
  • Early American Case Law
  • English Reports
  • Federal Register Library
  • Foreign & International Law Resources Database
  • Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (IFLP)
  • Pentagon Papers
  • Revised Statutes of Canada
  • Session Laws Library
  • State Statutes: A Historical Archive
  • Subject Compilations of State Laws
  • United Nations Law Collection
  • U.S. Attorney General & Department of Justice Collection
  • U.S. Code
  • U.S. Congressional Documents
  • U.S. Federal Agency Documents, Decisions, and Appeals
  • U.S. Federal Legislative History Library
  • U.S. Presidential Library
  • U.S. Statutes at Large
  • U.S. Supreme Court Library
  • U.S. Treaties and Agreements Library

A New Tool for Online Legal Research – Ravel Law

Ravel Law is a new and innovative (as well as free) online legal search, analytics, and visualization platform that provides access to U.S. Supreme Court and federal Circuit Court case law.  What makes ravel so original is that it displays case search results in both list format (like WestlawNext, LexisAdvance, and Bloomberg Law) as well as in visual graphic format.  The visual display of search results has two elements: (1) a timeline of search results that shows which years had the most cases that fall under a search, and (2) a timeline that represents cases using circles of various sizes – the size of the circle indicates the importance of the case (based on number of citations).  This graphical display shows trends in cases over time and also makes it easy to see how cases relate to each other.  Ravel claims that in comparisons with traditional legal research tools, its unique “visual tools and robust analytics” cut research time by up to 70%.

Below you can see the graphical result for the case Katz v. United States (389 U.S. 347).



Ravel Law for Law Students
Anyone can run a search on Ravel Law, but it’s best to create an account as this will allow you to annotate and save cases to return to later. Ravel also offers a Premium account for free to law students.  The Premium account offers access to federal district court cases (1933-present) and state cases (1950-present) in addition to U.S. Supreme Court and Circuit Court opinions.

Free Digital Copies of the Federal Rules

Thanks to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School and the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction’s eLangdell Press, you can download the current versions of the Federal Rules of Evidence, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for free.  The books are available in .epub format, which is compatible with most e-readers including iPads, Nooks, and Android devices.

Here are direct links to each book:

2015 Federal Rules of Evidence
2015 Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure
2015 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Research Tip Series – Tip #1: Conduct a pre-emption check

We know that it is the time of the semester in which many 2L and 3L students are working on research papers and 1L students are preparing memos for their Legal Research & Writing class, so over the next week we will be providing research tips on the Law Library blog.

Research Tip #1: Conduct a pre-emption check
Before starting to write on your chosen topic you need to determine whether that topic has already been covered, or preempted, by another author. If your topic has not been addressed you can safely pursue your research and writing. If your topic has been addressed you may still be able to pursue it, if you concentrate on a different aspect of the topic or present a new perspective.

Steps for conducting a thorough preemption check
When conducting a preemption check you need to search for articles on your topic using a variety of resources, including full-text databases, indexes to legal journal articles, and working papers depositories. If your topic is interdisciplinary you should also check indexes to journal articles in other subjects. Starting with a list of terms on your topic will be helpful as you conduct your preemption check – consider the subjects your topic may be categorized under and any synonyms for terms on your list. As you search the various resources listed below, be sure to keep track of where you have searched, the search queries you made, and your search results. This will help you avoid duplicate searching and ensure that you did a thorough preemption check.

Full-Text Article Databases
Full-text databases contain the entire text of articles and thus allow you to search every word in an article.

  • WestlawNext
  • Lexis Advance
  • HeinOnline: HeinOnline has about 1,600 journals in its law journal library and unlike Westlaw and LexisNexis has coverage beginning with the first issue published.   All articles in HeinOnline are available in their original format in pdf.

Indexes to Legal Journal Articles
An index is a database of article citations arranged by subject. When searching in an index you are led to citations of relevant articles, and you then use those citations to locate the full-text of the article.

  • LegalTrac: LegalTrac provides citations to articles from 1980 to the present from over 1,500 legal journals, magazines, and newspapers.
  • Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective: The Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective contains citations to articles from over 750 legal periodicals published between 1908 and 1981.
  • Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals: The Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals contains articles published from 1985 to the present which focus on international, comparative, or foreign law topics, or are written in other languages.

Resources for Multidisciplinary Journal Articles

  • Academic Search Premier: Academic Search Premier indexes over 8,500 journals from 1975 to the present and covers most areas of academic study.
  • JSTOR: JSTOR is a full-text archive of over 1,000 academic journals in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.
  • Google Scholar: Google Scholar allows you to search scholarly articles and books in all disciplines, and offers an “alert” options to have results delivered to your e-mail.

Working Papers Depositories
Working papers depositories house research papers in development.

Ask Your Law Librarians!
If you cannot locate the above sources or if you would like a demonstration on how to use them, stop by the reference office or email a reference librarian. If you need advice on how to proceed with your research, please make an appointment with a reference librarian.  We are here to help you!

Finally, here is a handy preemption checklist developed by Melanie Knapp, the Head of Reference and Instructional Services at George Mason University Law Library, to help you keep track of the sources you have searched.

Collaborative Research for the Digital Age

While there have been significant changes in the realm of legal research (such as the shift from print to digital resources) conducting legal research is still often a solitary endeavor.  Two new websites are trying to change that, however, and have provided platforms designed to make online legal research a collaborative enterprise: Casetext and Mootus.


Casetext is a “community of lawyers, law professors, and law students helping each other understand the law by annotating key legal documents.”  The website contains a database of over a million cases, statutes, regulations, and contracts which users can add analysis and commentary to, including tags, documents, and links to secondary sources.  The site also allows users to “upvote” commentaries they like as well as post questions which others answer with case law.  Registering and using the site is free.


Mootus states that it “helps law students and lawyers build skills, reputation and knowledge…through open, online legal argument.” Registered users can post legal questions on the site, to which other users respond with legal arguments and supporting cases (in the future users will be able to add statutes and regulations).  Users can also vote for cites, indicating whether they think they are “on point” or “off base.”  Registering and using the site is free although there is a fee for use of upgraded features.

The next time you need to brief a case for class or would like some insightful commentary when working on a memo, check these two sites out.

*Hat tip to Robert Ambrogi’s article “Crowd Searching” in the January 2014 issue of the ABA Journal.

New Federal Government Websites

Two new federal government websites are making it easier to find government information online.  One of the new websites is, which is in an initial beta version.  This website currently contains legislation from 2001 to the present and congressional member profiles from 1973 to the present. will replace the Library of Congress’s website by the end of 2014 and will incorporate all of the information available on You can read more about and here.

The other new website is  This website contains a current, daily updated version of the Code of Federal Regulations.  It replaces and operates on an upgraded software and hardware platform, providing an interface that is similar to other Federal Register publications on FDsys (the Federal Digital System).

If you are looking for government information, also check out the Law Library’s research guides on the subject: Federal Legislation and Statutes, Federal Bills and Proposed Legislation, and Federal Regulations.

CFR now on the LII


Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (LII) recently announced that the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is now available on its website.  The CFR is the codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government.

The LII website allows for searching of the CFR and includes linked cross-references within the CFR to relevant parts of the United States Code, as well as to rulemaking dockets for pending regulations.  It is updated concurrently with the GPO’s Federal Digital System data, and links users to the Office of the Federal Register’s e-CFR webpage for more recent updates.