Meg Hayden is a librarian for the Massachusetts Trial Courts.
One of the largest expenses facing a small law practice is the cost of keeping up to date with current case law and statutory revisions. Although there are several companies providing legal research services with updated materials for a price, it may not be necessary to spend most of your office budget in order to keep up with current changes and clarifications in the law. The purpose of this article is to provide the reader with various research options available over the Internet that are easily accessible, reliable and, most importantly, free of charge.
It is easy to lose track of time when doing research on the Internet. One item leads to another, something catches your eye, and, suddenly, hours have passed. Because time so often really is money in the law office, this article is designed to guide the researcher to those free sites that can provide authoritative information most quickly.
Massachusetts legal research
These sites are the best choices if you are looking for a Massachusetts case, statute, regulation, form or article.
Casemaker (http://www.massbar.org/resources/casemaker). If you are a Massachusetts Bar Association member, this should be your first stop. This service is free with Massachusetts Bar Association membership, and contains a significant library of state and federal primary sources. Massachusetts titles include cases from the Supreme Judicial Court, Appeals Court, Superior Court and District Court Appellate Division, Massachusetts statutes, regulations, Attorney General's opinions, workers' compensation opinions and court rules. The coverage is not as current or complete as you would find with a pay service, such as Westlaw and Lexis, but it tends to lag only a few weeks behind. Notable exceptions are the CMR, which, when we checked, was about three months old, and court rules, which were nearly a year out of date. The search structure, too, is less sophisticated. But again, it is an outstanding value for a free service.
If you do not have access to Casemaker, or are looking for information beyond primary law sources, here are additional recommendations for your research.
Case lawLexisOne (http://www.lexisone.com).Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court cases from the past few years are available from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and the Social Law Library, but the best source is LexisOne. This site requires registration, but is free of charge. Coverage includes the past five years of case law from all 50 states and the federal circuit courts of appeals. All U.S. Supreme Court cases are also available. LexisOne does not include U.S. District Court cases or Massachusetts Superior Court cases.
U.S. District Court for Massachusetts (http://pacer.mad.uscourts.gov/opinion.html).Cases from the Federal District Court for Massachusetts are available here beginning with those from 2001. Cases can be searched by judge, keyword or date.
Social Law Library (http://www.socialaw.com/superior/superior.html).
Selected Massachusetts Superior Court Slip Opinions are available here by date, beginning with 1999.
Massachusetts General LawsMassachusetts General Court (http://www.state.ma.us/legis/laws/mgl).Laws can be searched by topic or citation. Dates of last update are clearly stated on the screen.
Regulations and forms Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries (http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us).Massachusetts regulations and forms are not universally published on the Web, but are selectively mounted by individual agencies and courts. Finding an individual document can be difficult, then, but the best compilations for regulations and forms can be found at this site.
CMR: Massachusetts has not published the Code of Massachusetts Regulations in its entirety on the Web. Librarians have assembled links to the sections currently available online by citation at http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/cmr.html, or by subject at http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/cmrindex.html .
Forms: Massachusetts forms by topic are linked at http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/forms.htm. This area links to forms from courts and state agencies in more than 30 subject areas from adoption through workers' compensation. A particularly strong area is that of Probate Court forms: Thanks to the efforts of several registers of probate in the state, there are many court forms available electronically for adoption, divorce, guardianship and other matters. Most can be easily downloaded and edited. Each link indicates the source of the form.
ArticlesALSO! American Law Sources On-line (http://www.lawsource.com/also/usa.cgi?usj&ma). This is a list of links to law reviews and journals from Massachusetts law schools. Most law reviews offer free access to their current issues, and several allow browsing of archives.
Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries (http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/lawabout.html). The Trial Court Law Libraries' "Law About…" section links to Web articles on more than 50 areas of Massachusetts law. While most information is from state agencies, some is from legal aid organizations, bar associations or other groups. Each link indicates the source of the information.
Other legal information
When you are looking beyond Massachusetts, it is not only easy to waste time, but also to begin to stray from reliable, authoritative sources. Here are some of the best sources to keep you on track.
For federal and state cases, stick with Casemaker or LexisOne. With either, you can count on the quality of the information, and one of the best ways to save time is to use one search interface as much as possible. Using the same source for Massachusetts, federal and out-of-state research will improve your search efficiency.
Casemaker (http://www.massbar.org/resources/casemaker). Federal titles include all U.S. Supreme Court decisions, U.S. Court of Appeals and District Courts from 1995 to date, the U.S. Code, CFR and Federal court rules. Casemaker lists a library of 13 states, but many of them are not yet complete. New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont are all at least partly available.
LexisOne (http://www.lexisone.com). LexisOne includes all U. S. Supreme Court cases, cases from the Circuit Courts of Appeals, and appellate level cases from all 50 states from the past five years. For those using Casemaker for Massachusetts and federal cases, consider using LexisOne for cases from other states.
Cornell University's Legal Information Institute (http://www.law.cornell.edu). For additional information on U.S. Supreme Court cases, Cornell's Supreme Court cases are easy to search and also include links to the parties' briefs at Findlaw (http://supreme.lp.findlaw.com/supreme_court/briefs/index.html) and oral arguments at Northwestern University (http://oyez.nwu.edu/), which are not included in Casemaker or LexisOne.
United States CodeCornell University's Legal Information Institute (http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/). There are several versions of the U.S. Code online, but the one at Cornell at is the easiest to use.
State statutesALSO! American Law Sources On-line at (http://www.lawsource.com/also). Many sites, such as Findlaw (http://www.findlaw.com) and Cornell, link to legal materials by state, but we prefer ALSO! for its clarity and breadth of coverage. For information from other states, including statutes and regulations, click on the state name and ALSO! provides links to statutes, regulations, forms and law reviews for that state.
Federal regulationsNational Archives and Records Administration (http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/cfr-table-search.html). The Code of Federal Regulations Web site allows the user to search by citation or keyword, or to browse the regulations. This site also provides a method to ensure a given regulation is still current, and may provide a more up-to-date version than on Casemaker.
State regulationsALSO! American Law Sources On-line at (http://www.lawsource.com/also). Choose a state to find a link to that state's regulations. Keep in mind that many states, like Massachusetts, do not put their administrative code on the Web in its entirety.
Federal forms and articlesGoogle's Uncle Sam (http://www.google.com/unclesam). Searching for a form or publication from a federal agency can be time-consuming, and often results in many false leads before the document is found.
Google has made this process much easier with their Uncle Sam service, which searches state and federal government sites only. This is the easiest way to get federal government information. For example, to get Federal Poverty Guidelines, just enter the search "poverty guidelines." For Form 1040, just enter "1040." The information sought is usually in the top five results. This is especially useful when you know a form name or number, but not the agency from which it came.
General forms and articlesCornell University's Legal Information Institute (http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/topic1.html). Cornell's "Law About" is the best place to start if you are looking for a broad range of information on a given topic.
You can find links by topic to federal and state information, as well as uniform laws and international agreements. The section on aviation, for example, includes a narrative description, and links to the U.S. Code, CFR, Supreme Court and Circuit Court opinions, state materials, treaties and links to appropriate federal agencies.
The sources above provide access to primary and secondary legal materials. Below are a few more sources that can be useful in rounding out your research.
News Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (http://www.masslaw.com). For legal news, this is really the only show in town. Newspaper subscribers have access to archives and other services, but anyone can read today's headlines and search Massachusetts cases back to 1997.
U.S. Newspaper List: Massachusetts (http://www.usnpl.com/manews.html). This site includes links to all the major media outlets in the state, including 65 newspapers, plus television stations, magazines and college newspapers. Most do not allow archive searching without a subscription, but this is still an excellent way to get the local slant on today's news.
Legal dictionaryAtomica (http://www.atomica.com). There is not a single, authoritative law dictionary on the open Web. One good source for definitions of legal terms is the general site Atomica.
Enter your term in the search box, and search results will come up with several tabs, depending on the search. A medical term, for example, will lead to a tab for a medical dictionary. A legal term will get you into Merriam-Webster's Law Dictionary.
Legal directoryMartindale-Hubbell (http://www.martindale.com). To find an attorney by name or in a specific geographic area, the best choice is the old standard. This site also provides listings for court reporters, expert witnesses and process servers.
Search engineGoogle (http://www.google.com). There are several good search engines available, including All theWeb at http://www.alltheweb.com and Teoma, at http://www.teoma.com, but the dominant player is Google.
If you use only one search engine, let this be it. Not only do its results routinely surpass those of other search engines, but also it has advanced features (http://www.google.com/help/features.html) that include stock quotes, maps, a telephone directory, a dictionary and site search capabilities. Tip: You can use Google to search by topic when a site doesn't have a topic search. For example, to find a case named Hines at Social Law Library's site, go to Google's Advanced Search, enter Hines in the "Find Results" box, and www.socialaw.com in the "Domain" box. This search will find all documents on the Social Law site with the word Hines in them.
The open Web provides primarily newer material without editorial enhancement, but it remains a remarkable source for legal research because of the breadth of coverage it offers.
There are many more authoritative sources of legal information on the Internet than we could mention here. Every site listed above in a particular category has a much wider range of information that is worth investigating, and there are other sites with much to offer that simply could not be included on such a short list.
If you enjoy exploring the Web and are interested in discovering additional sources, I recommend LLRX: Law Librarians Resource Exchange http://www.llrx.com, for research guides on hundreds of topics.