Legal Updates

Researching Case Law Online

Everyday citizens often get into trouble when trying to do legal research.  The problem is the law is nuanced and complex.  Attorneys receive three years of legal training to distinguish nuances in legal opinions, and to understand the spectrum of the law.  A single case is usually not determinative of an entire area of practice.  Judges, jurisdictions, and practices differ.  The law in one state is different from another.  With this in mind, there are many proactive individuals who want to better understand the law.  Case law is available on the internet for review by individuals and law firms.  Here are three website that offer you an opportunity to do legal research.

​Google Scholar
Google Scholar is an search engine that utilizes the Google algorithm to search legal cases.  The tool is useful and free.  My issue with Google Scholar is that it does not distinguish between cases that have been overturned, and good law.  As a result, it may mislead you as to the current legal environment.  Pay particular attention to cases that are more than ten or twenty years old, as the law may have changed since the opinion was published.

Lexis Nexis
Lexis Nexis is a high powered and sophisticated search engine focused on legal research.  It is perhaps the most popular search website used by lawyers in mid-sized and larger firms.  The website distinguishes between good law and overturned opinions.  It provides searchers with an opportunity to view similar opinions, establishing a clear picture of the law in a particular area.  The major downside is the cost: Lexis Nexis is expensive and unreasonable for individuals researching one or two legal issues.

Westlaw
Westlaw is Lexis’s primary competitor, and is a pay-for-research search engine.  The engine provides similar features to Lexis, and like Lexis, enables you to search legal treatises and other documents.  These broader search capabilities make the website particularly effective in legal research.  Their major advantage over the free Google application is more sophisticated search and variety.  While Google may give you a general idea of the legal environment related to your issue, the two pay-for-search engines are superior in getting precise and specific legal information.

If you have any questions about a legal issue, please contact our trained professionals at the Law Office of Mark D. Copoulos.