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Barbara Bavis, Bibliographic and Research Instruction Librarian, Law Library of Congress
Robert Brammer, Senior Legal Information Specialist, Law Library of Congress
Janeen Williams, Legal Reference Librarian, Law Library of Congress
Kellee Bonnell, Legal Reference Librarian, Law Library of Congress
Note: This guide is adapted from a research guide originally published on the Law Library's blog, In Custodia Legis.
Created: June 15, 2018
Last Updated: March 3, 2021
One of the defining features of the common law system is the emphasis placed on the precedential value of case law. Until recently, case law has not been widely available on the Internet, leaving researchers with no choice but to seek out print reporters and commercial electronic databases to locate cases of interest. This situation has started to change, however, and now researchers have several free, online databases at their disposal. These resources do not replace the use of commercial print and electronic resources, since they are often limited in coverage, do not provide a digest, and do not contain a quick and effective citator External, but researchers’ use of free online materials as a starting point can save them time and money. For example, researchers might use these resources to locate cases of interest and then visit their local public law library to use citators External and other subscription resources to ensure these cases are still "good law."
There are several freely-available options for tracking down electronic case law. Some of the most prominent of these are listed in this guide.