UPDATE: A Guide to Fee-Based U. S. Legal Research Databases

 

By Mary Rumsey

Update by Jootaek (Juice) Lee and Brittany Strojny

 

Jootaek (“Juice”) Lee is Senior Law Librarian (Research Librarian for Foreign, Comparative & International Law), Lecturer, and Affiliated Faculty for the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) at the Northeastern University School of Law. He is one of the Global Law Advisors and serves the Law School’s Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court team coach. He teaches international and foreign legal research, international business transactions and advanced legal research. He received a B.A. from Korea University where he also received an M.A. in international law. Jootaek completed his J.D. at Florida State University, where he was also awarded M.L.S. He worked before as a librarian assistant professor at the University of Miami School of Law. He has been publishing articles relating to legal informatics, legal pedagogy, human rights, and East Asian legal resources in various journals, including Law Library Journal, International Journal of Legal Information, GlobaLex by NYU, SSRN, etc. Furthermore, he made numerous presentations at national conferences. He is actively participating in the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and the American Society of International Law (ASIL). He is the former Co-Chair of International Legal Research Interest Group of ASIL (2012-2015), and the former president of Asian American Law Librarians Caucus of AALL (2013-2014). He is also a member of the Massachusetts Bar and the Florida Bar.

 

Brittany Strojny currently serves as Reference Law Librarian at the Wyoming Supreme Court.  She previously worked as a Legal Librarian and intern at Northeastern University School of Law.  While at Northeastern, she was one of the main editors for the Journal of Legal Education.  She also assisted Jootaek Lee with his international and foreign legal research class and other legal research classes.  She received her B.A. from Bridgewater State University, a J.D. at University of Massachusetts School of Law and a M.S. from Simmons College.  She is also a member of the Massachusetts Bar and the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

 

Published April 2016

(Previously updated by Mary Rumsey in Dec. 2006 and March 2010; and by Jootaek Lee & Neel K. Agrawal in July/Aug. 2012)

See the archive version!

 

Table of Contents

1.     Introduction

2.     Commercial vs. Free Internet Sources

3.     Major Databases

3.1. Lexis Advance

3.2.  WestlawNext

3.3.  Fastcase

3.4.  Casemaker

3.5.  VersusLaw

3.6.  HeinOnline

3.7.  Smart Litigator

4.     Specialized Databases

4.1. Bloomberg BNA

4.2.  CCH

4.3.  RIA

 

1.     Introduction

This guide is designed primarily for non-U.S. legal researchers. It describes several providers of legal research databases, focusing on fee-based sources, both high-cost and low-cost.  For an excellent guide to free sources of federal legal materials, see the GlobaLex guide authored by Gretchen Feltes, Update: A Guide to the U. S. Federal Legal System: Web-based Public Accessible Sources, October 2010. In order to properly evaluate the free U.S. legal information online, please refer to Gatekeepers of Legal Information: Evaluating and Integrating Free Internet Legal Resources into the Classroom (Spring 2012).CAUTION: Because database providers frequently change their coverage and functionality, researchers should make sure that a provider still offers the desired sources before signing a contract or may otherwise incur fees.

 

Among commercial providers, WestlawNext, Lexis Advance, and Bloomberg Law (including Bloomberg BNA and PACER) are the largest and most sophisticated in terms of search features in searching and other features), but often the most expensive.  Fastcase, Casemaker, and VersusLaw are considered to be low-cost databases.  Specifically, Casemaker and Fastcase are free to state bar members in many states.  Additionally, Bloomberg BNA (included in Bloomberg Law), CCH IntelliConnect, HeinOnline, and Thomson Reuters Checkpoint provide expensive, sophisticated, and specialized products for practitioners in areas such as labor law, environmental law, securities, taxation, and immigration law.  Although they have not been introduced in this article, other important fee-based databases are PACER (also included in Bloomberg Law), CourtLink (by Lexis), Courthouse News Service, Law360 (also included in Lexis), and CourtExpress (by Westlaw) for court docket and case information service, Lexis Securities Mosaic for securities, LexisNexis Accurint for public records, AILA Link for immigration law, vLex and Foreign Law Guide for foreign laws, WorldTradeLaw.net for international trade law, and Proquest Congressional for legislative history research, etc.

 

2.     Commercial vs. Free Internet Sources

First, much of the information available on commercial legal databases is also available from free internet sources.  However, commercial databases Lexis Advance by LexisNexis, WestlawNext by Westlaw, Bloomberg Law, and HeinOnline offer a large amount of information that is not available for free.  This includes secondary sources such as digital versions of treatises, including e-books, journal articles, legal encyclopedias such as American Jurisprudence, 2d (Am. Jur. 2d) and Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.), American Law Reports (A.L.R.), legal dictionaries such as Black’s Law Dictionary and Ballentine’s Law Dictionary, Restatements, Uniform Laws, and legal newspapers. The commercial databases also offer primary sources such as older state and federal cases, legal forms, court dockets, public records, certain state and federal administrative materials, historical and legislative history materials. Furthermore commercial databases often contain a great deal of valuable staff-added information.  For example, LexisNexis and Westlaw have databases that contain the United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) or United States Code Service (U.S.C.A.) (codified federal statutory laws).  The official U.S. Code is available online and for free.  But unlike the free internet version of the U.S. Code, the LexisNexis and Westlaw “annotated codes” provide “annotations,” additional information such as relevant cases, federal regulations, legal articles, law journal articles, and more. 

 

Second, in addition to providing more information, commercial databases are often easier to search when compared with free databases.  They offer more sophisticated search engines with better algorithms; the “natural language” searching option by default (Lexis Advance and WestlawNext in particular) resembles Semantic Web searching (e.g., [what is the statute of limitations for tax evasion] retrieves documents answering the question in order of relevance to that search. Westlaw and LexisNexis support the following advanced searching tools:

 

 

Providers of low-cost databases – often considered to be research alternatives to WestlawNext, Lexis Advance, and Bloomberg Law – such as Versuslaw, Fastcase, Casemaker, etc., also provide sophisticated searching options.

 

Third, commercial databases often contain staff-added enhancements to search results: function to search again within search results; a function to filter search results by various types of sources, subjects, time, and jurisdiction; better integrated search results in a document containing hyperlinks to related sources including history, briefs, forms, jury instruction, legal encyclopedia, treatise, journal articles, etc.; and a function to save research to allow users to revisit the search results.  For example, in the text of a court case, many vendors add hyperlinks to cases cited within the case.  A researcher can use these links to look quickly at any case the court mentions in its decision. 

 

Fourth, commercial providers of U.S. court cases and statutes also provide built-in ways for a researcher to check the current validity of a case and a statutory provision through citators.  This is in addition to the list of cases, statutes, and regulations citing to case.  In a common law system following stare decisis, checking whether a case was followed by later cases in the same jurisdiction or by higher courts, in other words, checking the validity of a case is an important step in legal research.  The researcher must find out whether the case is still “good law,” or whether a later court decision has changed the law.  If a case is not too old, it is possible to check a case’s validity using free databases which include court cases such as Google Scholar.  The researcher enters the case name as a search term and reviews any cases that contain the name, or uses the “Cited by” function under the case name in Google Scholar.   However, this process is cumbersome and vulnerable to errors, so most U.S. researchers prefer to use fee-based online “citators.”  WestlawNext’s online citator is called KeyCite; LexisNexis offers Shepard’s; FastCase offers AuthorityCheck; Casemaker offers CaseCheck+; and Bloomberg Law provides BCite (BCite Operators).

 

Fifth, commercial databases are sometimes more current than free databases.  This difference is most apparent in databases consisting of statutes and regulations.  Commercial database providers usually incorporate new statutory language, or at least provide links to it from the old statute section, much faster than government websites.  Researchers who rely upon free websites must be particularly careful to check for new laws and regulations, which are often located on a different webpage from the older ones.

 

Sixth, commercial databases usually offer superior technical and research support to free databases.  Some legal database providers, such as Westlaw and LexisNexis, have 24/7 telephone support.  Subscribers can receive free help in choosing a database, constructing a search, and overcoming technical problems. 

 

Finally, while government information on the internet is usually reliable, internet information from other sources may not be.  Unlike most websites, many commercial databases consist of materials that have been published in print, and have been screened by editors and publishers.  This makes commercial databases more reliable than some free internet information.  Of course, all of these advantages come at a price.  Commercial legal databases can be very expensive.  Free sources may work better for researchers who have more time than money to spend. Once again, in order to properly evaluate the free U.S. legal information online, please refer to Gatekeepers of Legal Information: Evaluating and Integrating Free Internet Legal Resources into the Classroom.

 

3.     Major Databases

 

3.1.  Lexis Advance

Lexis Advance by LexisNexis, owned by RELX Group (formerly Reed Elsevier), is one of the three largest databases of U.S. legal information.  Outside of the U.S., LexisNexis provides non-U.S. legal information through country-specific websites, for example, LexisNexis-France; LexisNexis-Germany; LexisNexis-Austria; and LexisNexis-United Kingdom.

 

What LexisNexis Offers

Like WestlawNext (see below), Lexis Advance offers a full range of U.S. legal information, including materials from all 50 states. In the U.S., primary authority consists of the constitution, statutes, administrative regulations, cases, and international law.  Lexis Advance gives the researcher access to all of these sources. In addition, Lexis Advance maintains large databases of secondary sources–commentaries on law contained in legal treatises, law journal articles, legal encyclopedias, dictionaries, and legal digests. Although commentaries are not primary sources of law in the U.S. legal system, consulting these secondary sources is often an effective approach to research.  Secondary sources usually explain the law more clearly than statutes and cases, while providing references to the applicable primary sources.  Examples of secondary materials, to name a few, include: encyclopedias, such as American Jurisprudence 2d, California Jurisprudence 3d, New York Jurisprudence 2d, Illinois Jurisprudence, Florida Jurisprudence, etc.; American Law Reports (ALR); Restatements of general principles of common law; continuing legal education (CLE) materials for practicing bar members; and U.S. law review and journal articles. 

 

Lexis Advance offers thousands of individual databases.  Some databases combine the contents of several databases.  For example, researchers can choose a database of New York court decisions, or search all state court cases at once.  Usually, it is less costly and most efficient to search the smallest database that contains all of the information needed.

 

In its databases of cases, LexisNexis generally offers complete coverage dating back to the earliest case. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court cases date back to January 1790, and cases from the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the U.S. District Courts go back to 1789.  Its statutes databases include the most current versions and offer both codified statutes such as the United States Code Service which is arranged by 54 subject titles and uncodified public laws published chronologically.  Because researchers sometimes need earlier versions of statutes, LexisNexis also has “archived” versions of statute databases, most of which extend back to 1992.  LexisNexis offers a free and searchable list of its databases.

 

Currency and Updating Tools

Primary authorities such as statutes, cases, administrative regulations and decisions are current and updated regularly.  For example, the most recent public laws are available within 24 to 48 hours after a law is passed, the U.S. Code Service is updated several times per month, the Federal Register is updated daily, and the Code of Federal Regulations is updated weekly.

 

Researchers also monitor new cases, new statutes, news, and more by using “Alerts.”  After retrieving satisfactory search results and clicking on the gold bell alert icon at the top of your results screen, researchers can receive email updates on a monthly, weekly, daily, and business daily basis, or as updates are available.  LexisNexis offers Shepard's Citations Service in order to enable researchers to determine whether they are employing “good law.”  Furthermore, Shepard's Alert allows subscribers to receive regular updates on citing authorities that could potentially affect the validity of a law.  Lastly, LexisNexis provides about 470 legal news databases.  Researchers can search by practice area, jurisdiction, and publisher, such as BNA, CCH, and Matthew Bender & Company.

 

How Its Databases Are Organized

Lexis Advance organizes its databases by four different standards.  Major headings include:

 

·       jurisdictions (e.g., federal and states);

·       types of documents (e.g., cases, statutes and legislation, administrative codes and regulations, administrative materials, secondary materials, forms, briefs, pleadings and motions, jury instructions, jury verdicts and settlements, expert witness analysis, dockets, directories, news, legal news, scientific, and company and financial); and

·       legal subjects (e.g., taxation, bankruptcy, immigration law, healthcare law, securities, family law, environmental law, and labor & employment)

 

For a typical U.S. state, Lexis Advance divides its database offerings under several major headings.  For example, California databases are divided into Cases, Dockets, Briefs, Pleadings, Motions, Expert Witness Analysis, Jury Verdicts [1] and Settlements, Jury Instructions[2], Statutes and Regulations, Administrative Materials, Administrative Codes and Regulations, Forms, Secondary Materials, News, Legal News, Directories, Scientific, and Company and Financial.

 

Lexis Advance also provides a browsing function for two practice pages in terms of jurisdiction and practice area. Within a category, such as California or Healthcare Law, a researcher can choose from several databases.  For California, Lexis Advance offers a database of cases from the California Supreme Court from 1850, a database of cases from the California Courts of Appeals from 1905, a database of federal cases from the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals, US District Courts, and US Bankruptcy Courts, and databases for California Constitution, Statutes and Court Rules, Administrative Materials, Treatises, Jury Instructions, Forms, and Practice Guides, etc.  From the Healthcare Law page, a researcher will see Affordable Care Act databases such as ACA Caselaw, ACA Federal Laws, ACA Federal Regulations, ACA State Laws, ACA State Regulations, ACA News, Federal and State Healthcare Cases, USCS and CFR Health Titles, Federal and State Agency Decisions – Healthcare, and Matthew Bender practice guides and forms.

 

Searchability

Overall, searching in Lexis Advance is not intuitive for beginners.  Thus, it is highly recommended that researchers complete Lexis Advance Support & Training available here .

 

Basically, Researchers should choose an appropriate database(s) by Jurisdiction, Category, and Practice Area and Topic, using various methods such as the “Browse” function on the top of the screen, the filtering function next to the search box, or the “Word Wheel” function which suggests database(s) when a researcher types a word in the search box.  Then, after adding the database as a search filter to the main search box, they can search by natural language by default, or perform Terms & Connectors searching.  If researchers have a citation(s), a party name(s), or docket number(s), they can type directly into the search box.

 

Presentation

The design of Lexis Advance has become much simpler and more usable that its first platform in May 2012; users do not have to browse the contents any more in the beginning.  Once you log into LexisNexis, LexisNexis provides a search where researchers can type in citations or key words. This new platform is much more usable and intuitive than old Lexis.com, and allows users to conduct a Google-like search and find the relevant answers by their unique content classification technology. Lexis Advance is not yet available in foreign markets.

 

Search results are automatically organized by relevancy with filtering functions on the left. Scanning the search results with relevant paragraphs with highlighted search terms is much easier than before. It also provides the “Search within Results” function on the left. Only the hypertext links and Shepard’s signals are colored so that users can find the links to look into the document without difficulty.  Main search box is also always located on top, which makes it easy for users to find and initiate a search.  The actual text of documents can be easily read on a computer screen.

 

Pricing

Lexis Advance offers a bewildering variety of subscription plans.  Some plans are based on hourly usage and database cost.  Others are based on the number of searches conducted (“transactional” pricing), and others are based on a discounted rate for specified databases.   The cost of databases differs considerably, depending on factors such as the size of the database and whether the underlying data comes from another vendor.  Additional charges for printing, downloading, or emailing documents may apply.

 

Lexis Advances offers free trials

 

Technical Information

Lexis Advance recommends technical specifications that can be found here. Lexis Advance offers toll-free technical help for non-U.S. customers, regardless of location.

 

Training

Lexis Advance also offers fairly extensive training resources.  There is a separate support and training webpage where a user can view videos, user guides, and similar resources to assist with research.

 

LexisNexis

LexisNexis offers content through products in a variety of markets such as accounting, academics and government.  Although Lexis Advance is the main product of legal materials, Lexis.com is an additional product still utilized in some places such are selected governmental offices.  Alongside legal materials, the news as well as company and public records can be accessed.  Lexis.com continues (for now) to be available as a legal research tool in some selected places but the long term goal is to move toward Lexis Advance.

 

3.2.  WestlawNext

WestlawNext is an online service containing more than 10,000 legal, financial, and news databases and is owned by the Thomson Reuters Corporation. It is one of the three largest providers of U.S. legal information. 

 

What WestlawNext Offers

Similar to Lexis Advance, WestlawNext offers a full range of U.S. legal information, including materials from all 50 states.  In the U.S., primary authority consists of the federal and state Constitutions, statutes, administrative regulations, cases, and international law.  WestlawNext provides the researcher with access to all of these sources.  In addition, WestlawNext offers large databases of secondary sources – commentary on the law in legal treatises, law journal articles, and legal encyclopedias.  While commentary is not a source of law in the U.S. legal system, it is often a method to begin and verify research.  Secondary sources usually explain the law more clearly than statutes and cases, while including references to applicable primary sources.  "Secondary Sources" include: encyclopedias – American Jurisprudence 2d, American Jurisprudence Proof of Facts, Causes of Action, Corpus Juris Secundum, California Jurisprudence 3d, New York Jurisprudence 2d, Illinois Jurisprudence, Florida Jurisprudence, etc.; Black's Law Dictionary; American Law Reports (ALR); Restatements for case oriented areas of law; continuing legal education (CLE) materials for practicing bar members; Uniform Laws Annotated; and U.S. law reviews and journal articles. 

 

WestlawNext offers thousands of individual databases.  Some databases combine the contents of several databases.  For example, researchers can choose a database of New York court decisions.  But they can also search all cases from all 50 states at once.  Usually, it is best to search the smallest database that contains all the information you need.

 

For its databases of cases, WestlawNext generally offers complete coverage back to the earliest case.  For example, the U.S. Supreme Court cases date back to 1790.  The statute databases offer current, frequently updated laws and offer both codified statutes like the U.S. Code Annotated which is arranged by 54 subject titles and uncodified public laws which is published chronologically.  Because researchers sometimes need earlier versions of statutes, WestlawNext also has “archived” versions of statute databases: United States Code Annotated – Historical dates back to 1990; United States Statutes at Large covers from 1789 to 1972; and United States Public Laws dates back to 1973.  Most of state statutes extend back to the late 1980s or early 1990s. 

 

CAUTION: Westlaw makes only selected databases available under its standard international subscriptions, while WestlawNext is available for subscription.  One primary part of its international subscription is a searchable database of West “headnotes” for U.S. federal and state case law; these “headnotes” are Westlaw’s proprietary summaries of various points of law discussed in a case, so, for example, one case might contain several different headnotes.  Westlaw International provides the full text of cases and of statutes in a handful of topical areas:  banking, bankruptcy (insolvency), commercial law, intellectual property, securities, and insurance.  The collection also includes law reviews, practice texts, and treatises in those topical areas.  The databases are described here.  Researchers can subscribe to one or more topic areas.

 

Currency and Updating Tools

Primary authorities such as statutes, cases, administrative regulations, and decisions are current and updated fast.  For example, the most recent public laws are available within 24 to 48 hours after a law is passed, the U.S. Code Annotated reflects the current changes enacted by public laws from the current Congressional session, the Federal Register is updated daily, the Code of Federal Regulations reflects changes made by the Federal Register within a week, and U.S. Supreme Court cases are available online prior to West Advance sheets without editorial enhancement.  Researchers also monitor new cases, new statutes, new regulations, standards, news, and more legal developments using Westlaw Alerts.  After obtaining satisfactory search results and clicking on the gold bell alert icon and "Create WestClip Alert," researchers can receive email updates on a monthly, biweekly, weekly, or daily basis.

 

WestlawNext’s KeyCite allows researchers to determine whether they are employing “good law.”  Furthermore, KeyCite Alert allows subscribers to receive regular updates on citing authorities that could potentially affect the validity of a law.  Coverage varies by country. In the U.S., KeyCite is available for case law, statutes, regulations, administrative materials, patents, and secondary sources.  For Hong Kong law, its coverage is limited to only case law, while for Canadian law; it covers case law and legislation.

 

Lastly, WestlawNext provides access to legal news and current awareness databases.  Researchers can search for articles in various categories of blogs, industries, international, journals magazines & newsletters, newspapers, Reuters, topics, Transcripts, United States, and wires.

 

How Its Databases Are Organized

WestlawNext organizes its databases in a hierarchical structure, which can be best utilized by using the “Browse” function on the main page.  Major headings include:

 

·       jurisdictions (e.g., federal, and states);

·       types of documents (e.g., cases, briefs, trial court documents, expert materials, statutes & court rules, administrative decisions & guidance, jury verdicts & settlements, secondary sources (texts & treatises, CLE & seminar materials [3], law reviews & journals,  jury instructions, 50 state surveys, American Law Reports, Restatements & principles of law, and legal newspapers & newsletters).

·       practice areas (e.g., tax, bankruptcy, criminal law, immigration, and employment).

 

For a typical U.S. state, WestlawNext divides its database offerings under nearly thirteen headings.  For example, California databases are divided into Cases; Statutes and Court Rules; Trial Court Orders; Regulations, Administrative Decisions & Guidance; Secondary Sources, Forms, Briefs, Trial Court Documents, Expert Materials, Jury Verdicts and Settlements, Proposed and Enacted Legislation, and Proposed and Adopted Regulations – Current. 

 

Within a category, such as Cases, the researcher can choose from several databases.  For California state cases, for example, WestlawNext offers All California State & Federal Cases, All California State Cases, California Supreme Court, California Courts of Appeals, All California Federal Cases, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, California Federal District Court, California Bankruptcy Courts, etc.  By clicking on the “i” (exclamation mark) button next to the database name, a researcher can determine the scope of coverage of each database.

 

While the categories and database names on WestlawNext differ from those on Lexis Advance, both providers offer similar coverage of primary sources.  The two providers vary more in the area of secondary sources.  For example, they often have different treatises on similar topics. 

 

Searchability

Overall, searching in WestlawNext became more intuitive for beginners than Westlaw Classic (International).  Basically, researchers can type citations or keywords in the main search box, and then they can narrow down search research by filters such as cases, statutes, regulations, secondary sources, etc.  However, in order to be a better researcher, it is highly recommended that researchers complete WestlawNext Training, available here .

 

Furthermore, in order to be more efficient, researchers should choose an appropriate database first from the beginning because default searching provides too many hits with many different filtering options. Researchers can choose an appropriate database(s) by the "Browse" function on the main page by jurisdiction, types of documents, or topical practice areas.  Or typing a word(s) in the search box will make an appropriate database(s) appear under the search box and allow researchers to click on it, which will narrow down the search scope only to the database.  Then, researchers can type terms in the search box and click the search button; WestlawNext will automatically perform natural language searching by relevance, applying various hidden algorithms.  Additionally, the placement of Boolean search connectors between words will automatically trigger advanced searching. 

 

By default, search results are arranged by relevance and can be further narrowed by filters on the left.  Related documents are also suggested on the right.  Researchers can also search again within the search results by utilizing the "Search within results" function on the left free of charge.  If researchers have a citation, a party name, or docket number, they can retrieve a document by entering them in the main search box, which will retrieve the document right away.

 

Presentation

The design of WestlawNext is more user-friendly than Westlaw Classic or International. A big, simple search box is prominently displayed on the upper-middle part of the page with the browsing function in the middle. Complex and confusing features of Westlaw Classic, where users were provided with many navigation bars, tabs, search boxes, and options, disappeared in WestlawNext. 

 

Pricing

International subscribers used to choose from a relatively small number of databases, via Westlaw International. Access to Westlaw databases that are outside of a subscriber’s Westlaw International subscription is available on a transactional charge basis.  In other words, the researcher is charged for each search or other transaction. 

 

Now, WestlawNext offers a bewildering variety of subscription plans.  Some plans are based on hourly usage and database cost, while others are based on a discounted rate for specified databases.   Smaller law offices often pay a flat monthly rate for a few specified databases.  The cost of databases differs considerably, depending on factors such as the size of the database and whether the underlying data comes from another vendor.  Additional charges for printing, downloading, or emailing documents may apply.

 

Technical Information

WestlawNext’s technical specifications can be found here. For international accounts, WestlawNext customer support telephone numbers are available here.

 

Training

Westlaw offers many types of training such as free on demand training videos about the legal research process, in-person representative classroom training, and webinars.  The availability of trainings often depend on the type of subscription.  Users can also download free documentation, reference materials, and user guides.  Upon request, these materials can also be accessed in alternative formats.

 

3.3.  Fastcase

Fastcase is an independent company located in Washington, D.C.  Fastcase is a “next-generation legal research service that puts a comprehensive national law library and smarter and more powerful searching, sorting, and visualization tools at your fingertips.”  Its target market is U.S. law firms, solo practitioners, and state bar associations that provide access to their members.

 

What Fastcase Offers

 

Fastcase offers online access to cases, statutes, regulations, court rules, and bar publications.  The National Appellate plan includes comprehensive 50-state and federal law, federal and 50-state appellate law, nationwide statutes and regulations, state constitutions, search results with a timeline view, authority check, dual-column and batch printing.  The National Premium plan includes everything in the National Appellate plan plus case law from federal district courts and federal bankruptcy courts.  The National Premium plan also includes the complete national research database, including cases from 1 U.S. 1 to present, 1 F.2d to present, 1 F.Supp. 1 to present, 1 B.R. 1 to present, and cases from all 50 states dating back to 1950.  The free 24-hour trial has the same coverage as the National Premium plan.  With either plan, FastCase offers the framed versions of state and federal statutes and regulations. 

 

Fastcase offers complete U.S. Supreme Court Reports; federal bankruptcy cases from 1979; federal courts of appeals decisions from 1924 or the inception of the court, whichever is more recent; and federal district court cases from 1912. Coverage of state appellate cases starts in 1950 or earlier for all U.S. states.  Fastcase also provides access to a newspaper archive, legal forms, and a one-stop PACER search of federal filings through their content partners.

 

To check whether a case is “good law,” and to find subsequent cases, Fastcase offers an “Authority Check” feature.  This feature displays a list of citing cases, as well as the text in which the citation occurs.  For its databases of court cases, Fastcase offers sophisticated search capabilities. It supports Boolean connectors, including proximity connectors. It also supports natural language searching, phrase searching, date restrictions, and truncation (“stemming”).  Fastcase gives the user several options for displaying the list of cases retrieved, including relevance ranking and reverse chronological order.  Results can be narrowed by jurisdiction or date range.

 

How Its Databases Are Organized

Fastcase’s initial search screen allows users to search by citations or keyword.  Users can choose to search among several options such as caselaw, statutes, regulations, constitutions, court rules, newspapers, federal filings, and legal forms.

 

Pricing

Fastcase offers a free 24-hour trial, a flat rate pricing for the National Appellate plan ($65/month, $695/year), and the National Premium plan ($95/month, $995/year). Fastcase provides potential subscribers clear information about its subscription costs.  Details are available here.

 

Technical Information

Fastcase works on most major browsers, including Internet Explorer 6.0 or greater, and Firefox 7.0 or greater on PCs.  Fastcase is also compatible with most recent Mac versions of Firefox, Safari, and Netscape.  Customer support is available via telephone, email, and live chat. 

 

Training

Fastcase offers free live legal research webinars.  These are geared toward new users but also can offer assistance for more experienced users.  You can receive CLE credits if access Fastcase through bar association membership.

 

A variety of training resources are available on Fastcase many of which are short video tutorials.  These are designed to address quick questions or if you need a review of search features.  You can also download reference guides and short papers which cover search features such as customizing your caselaw search or using the interactive timeline.

 

3.4.  Casemaker

Since 1999, Casemaker has provided attorneys with affordable access to quality legal research.   

 

What Casemaker Offers

Casemaker’s federal library include: Bankruptcy Opinions, Circuit Opinions, Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.), the Constitution, Court of Appeals - Armed Forces, Court of Appeals - Veteran’s Claims, Court of Claims, Court of International Trade, District Court Opinions, Federal Court Rules, Federal Rules Decisions, Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation, NTSB Decisions, Public Laws, Supreme Court Opinions, Tax Court, and the U.S. Code.  The state libraries vary between states, but for many states, includes: Session Laws, Administrative Codes, Attorney General Opinions, a Bar Journal, Case Law, the Constitution, and Federal Court Rules.

 

Casemaker offers a Google-like search engine, a multiple library search, client and subject matter folders, and accurate citation services.  CasemakerPro is an optional service and provides a Shepard/KeyCite type of negative citator, case alerts for new appellate court decisions within 24 hours, and a brief analyzer that will scan your brief and automatically create a table of authority to include notation of negative treatment.

 

Pricing

Monthly and annual subscription costs are listed here, and vary by state.  Casemaker is provided for free through many participating state and local bar associations.

 

Technical Information

Customer service is available through telephone, email, and a web form.

 

Training

Casemaker developed a Learning Center where all of its training resources are listed.  You can register for a Casemaker Webinar which can fulfill CLE requirements in some states.  Video demonstrations of both Casemaker and CasemakerPro are available and user guides can be downloaded.

 

3.5.  VersusLaw

VersusLaw was founded in 1985 as Timeline Publishing Company.  VersusLaw’s mission is to provide legal practitioners with access to current, in-depth, and easy-to-use legal research.  VersusLaw offers low-cost competition to Westlaw and LexisNexis.  VersusLaw offers access to core U.S. court decisions, federal and state statutes, and administrative codes and regulations at a lower monthly and annual subscription prices than LexisNexis and Westlaw.  VersusLaw’s target market is law students, academic law libraries, small firms, solo practitioners, and non-lawyers.

 

What VersusLaw Offers

VersusLaw offers three types of subscriptions.  The Standard Plan provides access to opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, U.S. District Courts, state appellate courts, and tribal courts.  It also includes access to AdvanceLinks, a system that sends weekly emails with updates on various topics.  U.S. Supreme Court coverage extends back to 1886.  Its coverage of federal circuit court cases extends to 1930 or to the creation of the court, whichever is later.  Coverage of state appellate cases varies, but for most states, it begins in the 1930s or 1950s.  VersusLaw’s Premium Plan provides access to federal, appellate, tribal court, and foreign court case law, federal district court opinions dating back to 1950, as well as selected state statutes and regulations.  It also provides increased search engine functionality including a citation search feature, and access to AdvanceLinks.  VersusLaw is believed to be the first national database dedicated to tribal court opinions.  In 2000, Versus Law entered into a cooperative agreement with the National American Indian Court Judges Association (NAICJA).  The Professional Plan provides access to all the materials in the Standard and Premium Plans, as well as to federal statutes (U.S. Code) and administrative regulations for the federal government (C.F.R.).  In addition, it provides access to certain federal administrative materials in its “Specialty Practice Collections.”  These include opinions from the Board of Immigration Appeals, the Court of Federal Claims, the Court of International Trade, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (FMSHRC), Internal Revenue Service Revenue Rulings, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the U.S. Tax Court. 

 

Unlike the U.S. Code versions on LexisNexis and Westlaw, VersusLaw’s U.S. Code does not provide references to relevant cases, regulations, or secondary sources such as law reviews or legal encyclopedias.  However, it is current.  Additionally, V.Cite, available to Premium and Professional Plan subscribers, allows users to determine the validity of cited cases, and identify other cases examining similar issues.  By entering the citation in the V.Cite form on the Search Query page, users can determine the validity of the cited case, as well as review opinions examining certain legal issues.

 

How Its Databases Are Organized

VersusLaw contains the following libraries: U.S. Supreme Court, Federal Circuit Courts, Federal District Courts, Other Federal Courts, U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations, State Appellate Courts, Other Court Content, Native American Tribal Courts, and Foreign Courts.  Once a user selects a library, the user can search within the library, as well as restrict search dates.

 

Pricing

Among the vendors, VersusLaw offers the most straightforward pricing options. The Standard Plan is $18.95/month or $227.40/year, the Premium Plan is $29.95/month or $359.40/year, and the Professional Plan is $44.95/month or $539.40/year. Its pricing information is found here. Shorter, 24-hour access is also available, but only to VersusLaw’s cases (Standard Plan). A subscription provides unlimited searching and printing.  You can also request a free trial of one of the three plans and search as a guest.

 

Technical Information

VersusLaw’s site is best viewed using MS Internet Explorer 6.0 or Firefox 3.0.  For overseas customers, email help is available.  Telephone help is available 9 hours each day, but is not toll-free for overseas customers.  Customer Service agents are available to assist users through the Live Chat function as well as through email.

 

Training

VersusLaw does not offer any type of webinar or video tutorials.  However, on the home page you can select search tips.  This list includes a list of search techniques with accompanying descriptions which is especially helpful to a new user.

 

3.6.  HeinOnline

HeinOnline is owned by William S. Hein & Co., Inc. (“Hein”).  Hein’s primary market for HeinOnline is U.S. law school libraries and large law firms.  HeinOnline has subscribers in over 150 countries.

 

What HeinOnline Offers

HeinOnline, a product of William S. Hein & Co., Inc., includes over 70 million pages of legal history available in an online, fully searchable, image-based format. It provides comprehensive coverage from inception of more than 1,600 law and law-related periodicals. HeinOnline provides PDF images of documents as they appear in print, ensuring authenticity of the original copy.

 

HeinOnline offers a variety of materials.  For the most part, it does not have core legal research resources (e.g. statutes, cases) similar to those offered by the other vendors in this guide.  HeinOnline’s main components are U.S. Supreme Court opinions from the beginning of the Court; a large collection of U.S. law journals, with coverage dating to the earliest volume; a “Treaties and Agreements” library including the Treaties and International Acts Series, and U.S. Treaties and Other International Acts; and the Federal Register.  Further descriptions of its collection are available here

 

HeinOnline has been successful in part because it provides high-quality image-based PDF replicas of original documents.  Also, most of its Federal Register and law journals collection is not available electronically from other vendors.  Although HeinOnline is popular in academic law libraries, researchers use it primarily to retrieve known documents.  Its full-text search capabilities are much less powerful than those of Westlaw, Lexis, or other commercial database providers.  Users can search by phrase, and can use the Boolean “and” connector (by selecting the “all words” option).  HeinOnline offers a very limited Boolean “or” connector option (by selecting “any words”), which cannot be combined with other terms.  But users cannot create proximity searches, grammatical connector searches, or natural language searches.  They can, however, restrict searches by date.

 

The Librarian’s Corner of HeinOnline offers various materials for libraries to market the products: logos, brand identity guidelines, posters, graphic banners for webpages, the law journal library citation widget, new library press release announcements, as well as a description of HeinOnline and its libraries.  Moreover, the American Association of Law Libraries (“AALL”) offers its entire archive to its members through HeinOnline.

 

How Its Databases Are Organized

HeinOnline is divided into various “Collections” (sometimes referred to as “Libraries”).  Users access collections within their respective institution’s subscription.  These include, amongst others: Law Journal Library; Intellectual Property Library; HeinOnline PoliSci; Foreign and International Law Resources Database (FILRD); English Reports 1220-1865 (full reprint); Digital Session Laws; New York Court of Appeals Records and Briefs; European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI); International Law Association Reports (ILA); U.S. Code of Federal Regulations; Federal Register; Legal Classics Library; Philip C. Jessup Library; World Trials Collection; Treaties and Agreements Library; U.S. Supreme Court Library; U.S. Federal Legislative History Library; U.S. Attorney General Opinions Library; U.S. Statutes at Large Library; and U.S. Presidential Library.  The scope notes in the index provide useful summaries of the content of each library. 

 

Pricing

Hein’s pricing model is to sell unlimited access to a “Collection” or package of Collections (“library modules”). Hein offers differing subscription prices based on the size and nature of the subscribing institution and whether the institution subscribes to the entire collection or to one or more of its library modules. License agreements also vary depending on the type of institution. Hein offers a core subscription package and a-la-carte subscription options.  Subscriptions are annual. Trial access to a sample of the HeinOnline collection is available at Hein’s discretion; see here.

 

Technical information

HeinOnline recommends that users have a dedicated internet connection.  For PDF printing, HeinOnline recommends Adobe Acrobat Reader, version 6.0 or later. More system requirements and recommendations are listed here. HeinOnline provides technical support by email. A toll-free technical assistance number is available for U.S. customers.

 

Training

Heinonline offers many different training types in forums to include webinars, self-paced videos, and guides which can be downloaded. A useful Frequently Asked Questions section is also available to researchers

 

3.7. Smart Litigator

 

What Smart Litigator Offers

Smart Litigator, as a low cost alternative, offers research and practice materials for the following regions: Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania.  In addition to case law and statutes, a other materials are also available including regulations, judicial profiles for all state and federal judges, and a regional legal newspaper. Smart Litigator offers access to New York Law Journal as well.

 

Pricing

Smart Litigator offers flat rate pricing for unlimited access.  A free trial is also available.

 

Training

Smart Litigator offers free and customized training sessions.  Webinar Demonstrations are also available each month.

 

4.     Specialized Databases

 

4.1.  Bloomberg BNA (Bureau of National Affairs) (see also this link)

Bloomberg BNA is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bloomberg.  It is a leading source of legal, regulatory, and business information.  Bloomberg BNA comprises a network of more than 2,500 reporters, correspondents, and leading practitioners in order to deliver expert analysis, news, practice tools, and guidance within a wide range of practice areas.  Its market includes law firms, law schools, businesses, and governments.

 

What BNA Offers

BNA offers standalone online research databases in several subject areas.  The subject areas include antitrust, banking, bankruptcy, corporate, criminal law, employee benefits, employment and labor, environment and safety, ethics, family law, healthcare, homeland security, intellectual property, international, litigation, product liability, securities and corporate responsibility, tax, and trade and commerce.  BNA’s products usually combine primary law materials (laws, cases, regulations) with editorial analysis.

 

How Its Databases Are Organized

BNA’s databases are arranged alphabetically by subject matter. Internally, each product is organized differently.  The daily, weekly, and monthly reports are organized like newsletters, allowing search by keyword, or browsing topically through the index. The most comprehensive way to search is by clicking on “Search My BNA” on the left side of the homepage. There, you can search across databases by using a variety of search operators, limit the date range, and choose which publications to search.

 

Most BNA databases are based on its loose-leaf publications.  The arrangement of its databases depends on the type of publication.  Generally, databases combine a subject arrangement with frequently released updates.  For smaller products, such as the Criminal Law Reporter, the default search is across the entire contents of the database.  For larger, more complex products, such as the Labor and Employment Law Library, the researcher selects from a variety of database divisions before searching.  Using BNA’s larger products usually requires training. 

 

Pricing

BNA does not make pricing information readily available; it is best to contact the company.  Subscription options vary, but are flat rate.  Customers can buy a single-user password, a single password for an entire organization, or access via IP address recognition.  Subscriptions can be made on a one-year or two-year basis.  Free trials are available.  Customer service can be accessed through the telephone or online support forms.

 

Technical Information

The Bloomberg BNA Web Reference Libraries are compatible on Windows and Mac operating systems.  It is recommended to use the Mac version of the Mozilla Firefox or Netscape Navigator software as the Internet browser.  However, the Interactive Forms software included with a few of the BNA Web reference libraries is only compatible with Windows operating systems.  Additionally, Bloomberg BNA Technical Support provides assistance to electronic subscribers.  Technical Specialists are available to assist customers in the installation, configuration, and use of BNA’s electronic publications on the web, on CD, and delivered by e-mail.

 

Training

Bloomberg BNA offers complimentary training sessions to assist with using its products to include a 30-minute express session.  You can also arrange to have an individual training session at your office.  A majority of its training modules are offered for the tax and accounting areas.

 

4.2.  CCH (Commerce Clearing House)

CCH is owned by Wolters Kluwer.  Its primary focus is tax research, though it has databases in antitrust, banking, construction law, corporate governance, energy, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, products liability, securities, and transportation law, and in other subject areas.  Its customers include large tax and accounting firms, large law firms, smaller law firms with tax practices, and law schools.

 

What CCH Offers

CCH offers content in: tax news, journals, and newsletters; federal tax; state tax; international tax; accounting and audit; advertising law; antitrust and trade regulation; banking (federal); banking (state); banking compliance library; commercial; commodities and derivatives; consumer financial services; corporate governance; energy and natural resources; European Union financial services; exchanges and SROs; financial and estate planning; financing and distribution; government contracts; insurance coverage litigation; intellectual property; international securities and business; investment management; litigation; mergers and acquisitions; privacy law; products liability and safety; secured transactions; securities (federal); securities (litigation); securities (state); tax treatises; transportation law; U.K. financial services; U.S. financial services; and practice tools. 

 

On the IntelliConnect homepage, users can search, view and browse content.  By default, users search all content in the subscription or in particular practice areas.  Each result can be viewed in a list or categorized by document type.  The filters allow users to sort their results in order to find documents of interest.  The filters include document type, practice tools, library, court, state tax type, and jurisdiction.  Multiple filters can be used together to refine search results.

 

Users can link to related documents, save and email documents, view documents in a split-screen with their search results, or run multiple searches simultaneously.  Search results can be viewed as the top three results listed in each category.  Additionally, the easy-to-use browse tree enables users to easily find documents.  Moreover, Tracker News is an automatic daily search for important news articles of interests.  These articles can be emailed to the user.  Finally, research folders allow users to save and store documents for future use.

 

How Its Databases Are Organized

The databases are listed alphabetically.  CCH uses a combination of tabs and lists with checkboxes to organize its database offerings.  Organization depends on which databases are in the subscription.  The scope notes provide detailed information about each publication in a database.

 

Pricing

All internet products are offered on an annual subscription basis only.  Pricing varies depending upon the number of passwords purchased and the number of users that are allowed to access the service at the same time.   

 

Technical Information

CCH specifies Microsoft Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP.  It recommends a 56 Kb or higher speed internet connection, and Internet Explorer version 5.5 or later, or Netscape version 6.2 or later.

 

Training

Wolters Kluwer includes as part of its training access to over 350 online self-study topics for many topics.  Specialized product training courses, related videos, and documents are also available.  Many of the trainings often depend on the type of subscription.

 

4.3.  RIA (Research Institute of America)

RIA is owned by the Thomson Reuters Corporation.  RIA Checkpoint is a web-based tax research service that includes a wide range of materials on federal and state tax law.  Its customers include large tax and accounting firms, large law firms, smaller law firms with tax practices, and law schools.

 

What RIA Offers

RIA’s primary product is RIA Checkpoint.  Some of the U.S. federal materials offered by RIA Checkpoint include: Internal Revenue Code and regulations; Internal Revenue Bulletin; IRS rulings and releases; Tax Court and other tax decisions; pending tax legislation; IRS forms and publications; Federal Tax Coordinator; U.S. Tax Reporter; RIA Federal Tax Handbook; Journal of Corporate Taxation; Taxation for Accountants; Journal of Taxation; daily tax news.  Some of the state materials offered include: laws and regulations; forms and instructions; tax rates; court decisions; multistate law comparisons; and Journal of Multistate Taxation and Incentives.  RIA Checkpoint also provides calculators in the areas of: auto; business; credit card; investment; loans; mortgages; personal; retirement; savings; and tax.     

 

RIA Checkpoint combines primary and secondary sources so that a researcher can examine a primary source, such as a section of the U.S. tax code, and jump quickly to commentary on the source.  Its service includes access to most of the administrative documents needed by tax researchers.  This administrative material is available on LexisNexis and Westlaw, but not on VersusLaw.   

 

How Its Databases Are Organized

RIA Checkpoint’s databases are broken into several divisions. The federal tax product, for example, is divided into Editorial Materials, News/Current Awareness, Primary Source Materials, Legislation (Editorial Analysis and Source Material), and archival material. The researcher can, however, search all sources at once. Generally, researchers will need training on how to choose the best database for efficient searching.

 

Pricing

Potential customers should contact a sales representative for pricing information.  Contact information is available here. Subscription prices vary depending on the individual databases chosen.  Free trials are available here.

 

Technical information

RIA Checkpoint has the following system requirements:  A high-speed internet connection, Microsoft Internet Explorer® (latest version) or Mozilla® Firefox (latest version), Adobe Acrobat® Reader (latest version).  RIA Checkpoint provides telephone support for US customers, but does not offer toll-free support for overseas customers.  Email support is available.

 

Training

Online training courses for Checkpoint or industry topics are available. Additionally, free online demonstrations can also be viewed.  User guides and reference



[1] “Verdicts” databases provide information on the monetary amount awarded in previous jury trials.  Attorneys use them as one way to evaluate the possible recovery or liability for a client.

[2] “Jury Instructions” are a set of explanations and instructions that a judge reads to jurors before they begin their deliberations.  Their content varies depending on the jurisdiction.

[3] A “CLE” is a Continuing Legal Education publication. These publications are prepared as part of educational programs for attorneys.  Most states require attorneys to attend a certain number of hours of Continuing Legal Education programs.