January 26th, 2011

Teaching legal research alternatives to law students

Law Librarian Blog posted today about Laura Justiss’ recent article: A Survey of Electronic Research Alternatives to Lexis and Westlaw in Law Firms. Laura, a librarian at SMU – Dedman School of Law, says she “was naively surprised to learn that most law students had little, if any, awareness of the electronic services other than Lexis and Westlaw routinely used by practicing attorneys.” We agree; this a problem. It’s one of the reasons we created this resource about free law.

Have a look at their blog post and her article  if you still need convincing that we should teach alternatives to the big two in law school (“It is one thing to indoctrinate law students in WEXIS. It is quite another thing for academic law librarians to allow this to happen without providing instruction on alternatives”), or if you’d like tips on what some of those alternatives might be. Of course, we believe free legal resources have a place among those alternatives, too.


September 30th, 2010

JMLS Presentation on The Legal Research Process

Are you familiar with this area of law picture.We’d like to thank John Marshall Law School Reference Librarian, Ramsey Donnell, for using Sarah’s legal research process flowchart in his presentation “The Legal Research Process.” It was a part of their Library Lunchtime Learning Series. You can even watch a video of the presentation.


September 20th, 2010

New slideshow added for legal research teachers

Thomas Keefe, Associate Director for Instruction and Electronic Services of TThank youhe John Marshall Law School Law Library, generously shared a couple of the PowerPoint presentation slide shows he created to teach internet legal research to his law students. Thanks Tom!

Legal research instructors can find Tom’s contributions and other resources to help you teach students how to use free legal research online on our librarian resources page. If you’d like to share your teaching materials with us just contact us.


September 13th, 2010

Finding the meaning of legal terms for free

A mistake I made coming into law school was buying a legal dictionary. It’s not that you won’t have to look up some words while you’re reading those cases that were written early 20th century in some combination of legalspeak, old-timey, and Latin; because you will.  It’s that even in the good old days of 2004 (when I walked uphill through three feet of snow to get to law school for at least 20 minutes without an iPhone), you could find most legal definitions onMight as well just throw my money away the web by simply Googling. For me anyway, looking a legal term up online in the middle of reading a case was easier than fumbling through a book.

So I paid $40 – student loan money, of course – prior to first semester for a paper dictionary I never cracked open. Like everyone who goes to law school, I’m no good at math; but I can only estimate that $40 out of my student loan check is something like $1.7 million over the course of a 30-year student loan term.

Nowadays it’s even easier for a confused 1L to figure out what Res Ipsa Loquitur means using free internet resources. One reason it’s easier, and why I’m bringing this up, is that we at LII just partnered with Nolo to add their Plain English Law Dictionary definitions to our free, collaboratively-built law dictionary we call Wex – and even Lifehacker noticed.

And I’ll admit, using Wex in law school as a free alternative to a commonly recommended legal dictionary (which we won’t name…) is not a terribly original idea. I kind of stole it from Lee Sims, a Librarian of at UConn Law, who just posted on UConn Law Library blog about using Wex as a replacement legal dictionary (…but Lee will).

So, law students, think before you spend money on that legal dictionary prior to first year. If you’re just trying to understand an obscure word in a case, and you’re more comfortable using internet sources anyway, you will probably be able to get what you need through free online alternatives to a paper legal dictionary, like Wex and simple internet searches.


August 16th, 2010

Welcome, and a little more about this project

Hello there law student or law librarian,

Welcome to the Law Student’s Guide to Free Legal Research on the Internet’s Blog (LSGTFLROTIB for short…or maybe not). My name is Austin Groothuis. Assuming you’re a law student, I was in your shoes as recently as three years ago. Now I work with Legal Information Institute and CALI; both are not-for-profit organizations and “sponsors” of this guide.

Who are we?

We, LII and CALI along with Justia, decided to create this guide for a couple of reasons. One reason is, of course, we’d love to see law students flock en masse to our free resources because it makes us feel important and justifies our existences. So to maintain some semblance of objectivity, we’ve enlisted one of the most web-savvy law librarians on the planet, Sarah Glassmeyer of the University of Valparaiso School of Law, to author almost everything of substance in this guide. This website and its resources, literally, wouldn’t exist without her, so we can’t thank her enough.

But the real reason we’re making this guide is that we think there’s a lack of a cohesive resource – and little ongoing discussion – that can a) inform law students about free online legal research options and b) help legal research instructors teach law students how to use those resources. Sarah makes a pretty convincing case for why students should be learning about free resources. But let’s just use me as an example.

Insert overused crack dealer/addict metaphor here.

Like your typical law student, I was bombarded with marketing from the two big legal research providers in law school. Their reps, literally, taught some components of my legal research classes. They gave me free stuff, I racked up “points” for using their searches; you know how it is. I became so comfortable with one paid provider that it was my crutch for legal research all through law school.

Acknowledgment of cost, in practice, and lessons on cost-effective research techniques were an afterthought second semester (I think), and regardless, they had no bearing on what was easiest for my next legal writing assignment. And I was never instructed on free resources. So I went through law school using basically one research provider, and I never had to confront the realities of practice during law school.

So, what?

That reality is, of course, that law students go on to work for firms of all sizes. They go on to work in the government or legal aid. They go solo. Or, like me, they don’t even really practice law, but still do legal research occasionally. In many of these work environments, unlimited use of a paid legal research provider is not practical. And in some cases, like mine, paying to do legal research, at all, is not an option: free is all I got.

free hugsLook, it’s not our intent to bash the big guys or try to put them out of business. We know their legal research tools are way more expansive and advanced than most free stuff. It’s important that these paid providers exist. We just think that free legal research resources also have a place in a legal professional’s repertoire; and that we should be instructing our students as such if we want law school to be more practical. So, we, some of the providers of these resources, came to the scary conclusion that we should also be doing a little bit of “marketing” and that – while we can’t come to your class and teach about free legal research options – we can give research instructors tools so that they can teach students about free resources. Thus, this website and these resources.

And the point of a blog?

As far as what the blog part of the site will do, maybe we can keep it filled with relevant posts concerning free legal research resources. There’s actually a lot happening in the free legal information world with the Law.Gov movement. Or maybe we’ll have guest posts by students and professors detailing how they use free resources. But we’ll see how it goes.

This is just one blog post. Wrap it up, Austin.

So, once again, welcome to your guide to free legal research. We’d love to hear from you, so feel free to email me, Austin Groothuis, if you have any questions, suggestions, or complaints.