Factors to consider for cost-effective and efficient research include:
In some instances, using a free resource such as a government website may be just as efficient as using a paid database such as Westlaw. In other instances, a free resource might not contain the content you need or will take you a substantially longer amount of time to conduct your research than if you were to use a paid database.
This section identifies free and low-cost resources as alternatives to Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law. You may use Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law while you are a student and over summer (with some restrictions), but you will lose access to them at some point after graduation. Please see the Summer and Post-Graduation Access tab for more information.
The following resources are free for the general public and provide full-text access to legislation, cases, regulations, and other materials. Government websites usually provide access to legislation and regulations, while court websites may provide access to recent court decisions and documents.
Limitations of free resources may include its scope or extent of coverage (e.g., govinfo.gov provides access to the United States Code going back only to 1994) and a lack of sophisticated research tools (e.g., no case annotations to the United States Code).
These case law research databases are lower cost alternatives to Westlaw or Lexis, but may lack certain advanced research tools such as citators, which help you determine whether a case is still good law and assist you with finding other cases that cite to a case.
Paid databases may be the most cost-effective option to use in certain circumstances. For instance, if you are trying to find cases interpreting a statute, using either Westlaw or Lexis will save you a significant amount of time compared to conducting research on other resources that do not provide Notes of Decisions/Case Notes or Citing References/Citing Decisions. Additionally, when determining whether a case is still good law, the citators available on Westlaw and Lexis are still much more comprehensive and reliable compared to those on available with free or low-cost case law research resources.
Understanding how these databases charge your firm is key to saving money and using them effectively.
County Law Libraries: County law libraries usually offer on-site public access to electronic databases and print resources. For instance, the Cook County Law Library provides access to Westlaw, Lexis, and HeinOnline, as well as Illinois practice materials.
Research Guides: Many academic law libraries have compiled free research guides that provide an overview of a research process for a topic, explain basic legal concepts, and point you to where you can find relevant legal materials. Our library's research guides are available here. A good way to search for research guides from other law libraries is by using Google Advanced Search and searching for keywords such as [topic] + research guide (e.g., Illinois legislative history research guide or administrative law research guide) and limiting the domain to .edu.