online legal research tools

Online Legal Research Tools

Find the best free and paid online legal research tools for your law firm using our handy comparison chart, industry experience, and feature descriptions.

Choosing an online legal research tool for your law firm is difficult. For example, there is the fear that if you choose one, you’ll miss out on some incredible functionality in another. There is also the brutal sales pressure, the ever-escalating pricing structures, and the nagging feeling that you’re paying too much and using it too little. You’re probably annoyed with multi-year contracts and expensive add-on features. All of this may leave you bouncing from one legal research tool to another. It can be challenging to know what software, and which specific features, you need to keep your business running smoothly. We’ll try to make it easy.

  1. First, assess your firm’s needs. Some tools offer limited research sets, while others allow you to explore secondary sources, check your citations, and more, and either for free or at an additional cost. Decide whether you’re only going to use a legal research tool for a particular practice area. Maybe you don’t need any other offerings.
  2. Next, read through our feature definitions list.
  3. Then, devour as much information as you care to about the software offerings that most interest you. Visit the product page for each, including pricing options. At a minimum, pricing should be forthright and easy to understand. After all, no one likes hidden fees. Jump into the comments and ratings below or into our Facebook group to learn how Lawyerist and its tribe feel about each. If you have a sales representative, ask them for references.
  4. Finally, sign up for a trial account with one or two likely options, put them through their paces, and select the one that you think will work best for your firm.

You’re a bit like Goldilocks here. Some research tools give you far more firepower than you will ever need. Some will offer too little. Try to find one that is just right for your practice. In our view, you should be able to try before you buy. Ask for a free trial of whichever legal research tool most interests you before you buy it. Be sure it is right for you and your practice before you drop money—or sign a multi-year contract—with your chosen provider. And be wary of companies that try to charge you before you can test the product. Some companies may give you a 30-day money-back guarantee or demand your credit card to get started with a legal research tool (and will begin billing you if you don’t cancel before your trial expires). While this isn’t ideal, any “free trial” is better than nothing.

Alphabetical List

Feature Comparison Chart

Legal Research Features ChartSee all the key features for online legal research tools options in our directory.

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Feature Definitions

Cases. A check in this box means the online legal research tool gives you access to court cases. In most instances, this means cases from all 50 states.

State statutes. Although most states now make their statutes available for free on the internet, legal research tools often include them, too. If this box is checked, the software provides state statute databases.

Secondary sources. Software with a check in this box offers secondary sources like American Law Reports, legal encyclopedias, law reviews, and treatises.

Dockets. If this box is checked, it means that the research tool allows you to search court dockets from one or more jurisdictions.

Citation checking. Legal researchers need to confirm the case or statute they plan to cite is still good law and has not been overruled, modified in meaningful ways, or repealed. A check in this box means that the online legal research tool has this feature.

Natural language searching. Some legal research software allows you to enter terms in full sentences, mimicking spoken language, rather than keywords or boolean connectors and phrases.

Boolean searching. Boolean searching allows you to join words with operators like AND and OR. It may produce more targeted results than natural language searching.

Filter searching. If the software will let you restrict your searches to specific parts or features of a document, like a date, judge, or court, then it offers filter searching.

Research history. Software that stores your research trail keeps a history of your searches and the documents you’ve read. Software tracking your search history is useful, particularly when researching in areas with which you are unfamiliar.

Folders. Some legal research tools store your research history. Others level up by letting you create folders and subfolders to organize your research results.

Additional results. If this box is checked, it means the software will suggest further material based on your search.

Alerts. Alerts allow you to tell the legal research tool to notify you by email if a case is overturned or a new case or statute is issued on a certain topic.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence. Online legal research can quickly overwhelm even the most diligent research efforts, and you can miss important precedent. Software with this box checked incorporates machine learning systems to surface relevant resources responsive to your query and—probably—improves with use.

Case summaries. Some research programs summarize cases so that you can see the high points of a case at a glance.

Formatted downloads. Many legal research software programs let you download your case in PDF or Word format rather than an unformatted web page.

News coverage. Some legal research tools services offer legal, business, or general news databases for attorneys to keep up on recent events.

Search without an account. Many online legal research tools require you to have an account—and often pay—for their service before you’re able to search. A check in this box means you can search without paying or registering for an account. You may still have to register or pay to download results, however.

Send to cloud storage. Some programs will allow you to send your documents to services like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive (but you will need to have a separate subscription to those services).

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