Denver Bar Association
June 2012
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Free (or Almost Free) Online Legal Resources

by Andrea L. Hamilton

Andrea Hamilton

 

W


ith many premium subscription databases available for conducting legal research, when is it appropriate to use free resources? Most websites will not provide annotations or advanced search functionality, however, they are a safe, low-cost place to get acquainted with a new area of law, especially when using an authoritative source, such as that of the government or an educational institution. The following are a number of state and federal resources. 

 

Colorado Research Resources

Attorney General Opinions
(coloradoattorneygeneral.gov/ag_opinions/index)

"The attorney general provides opinions on the interpretation of Colorado law at the request of state officials and departments," according to the site. Full text searching is available for opinions issued since 1984.

Casemaker (cobar.org)

A partnership among the nation’s state bar associations, Casemaker contains primary and secondary federal and state legal materials. The Colorado Library contains session laws, attorney general opinions, state case law, federal and state court rules, statutes, workers’ compensation decisions, and every issue of The Colorado Lawyer. A Colorado Bar Association membership login is required for access.

CoCourts.com (cocourts.com)

Created as an initiative of the Colorado Judicial Branch, users may research real-time state court records across all jurisdictions for a maximum of $7 per search. Coverage varies by court, but most records date back to the 1990s (See cocourts.com/public/coverage.cfm).

Code of Colorado Regulations
(sos.state.co.us/CCR/Welcome.do)

As of July 1, 2007, the online version compiled and hosted by the Colorado Secretary of State became the official publication of the state’s administrative rules of executive agencies of the state.

Colorado General Assembly (leg.state.co.us)

This state website archives bills from 1997 to present and, from 1998 forward, provides access to related bill versions, history, fiscal notes, Joint Budget Committee analysis, committee reports and votes, third-reading votes, and House and Senate journal entries. The session laws of Colorado—"the compiled enactments of a legislative body during a particular session"—are available electronically starting with the first regular session of the 59th General Assembly (1993).

Colorado Legislative Council (colorado.gov/lcs)

The Research & Publications section contains research compiled by the Policy and Research Section of the Legislative Council, a nonpartisan office. Memoranda are prepared at the request of any General Assembly member and "frequently relate to background for bill requests, constituent concerns on specific questions, bills going through the legislative process, background for speeches or meetings, or simply topics of interest." The Colorado Legislative Council staff also draft issue briefs and summaries of major legislation that are available for review from 1997 forward.

Colorado State Judicial Branch
(courts.state.co.us/Courts/Index.cfm)

Appellate case announcements and published opinions from the Colorado Supreme Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals from 2008 to present are available for searching from the Case Announcements pages for the respective court.

LexisNexis File & Serve
(lexisnexis.com/fileandserve/researchers)

In 2000, Colorado became the first state to adopt e-filing statewide. File & Serve is the e-filing service provided for the state. For a fee, dockets and related filings from Colorado—as well as additional state jurisdictions—are available to researchers for searching and downloading.

Michie’s Legal Resources (michie.com/colorado)

LexisNexis maintains this website, which—per the direction of the Committee on Legal Services of the Colorado General Assembly—provides public access to current versions of Colorado Court Rules and Colorado Revised Statutes, as well as the Colorado and U.S. Constitutions. The Colorado Advanced Legislative Service contains the session laws from 2009 to present.

Municode (municode.com/Library/CO)

The Municipal Code Corporation publishes and provides online access to the city code of ordinances for several Colorado ordinances, as well as for jurisdictions throughout the United States.

 

Federal Research Resources

C-SPAN Video Library
(c-spanvideo.org/videolibrary)

The Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network covers proceedings of the federal government. According to the site, the "C-SPAN Archives records, indexes, and archives all C-SPAN programming for historical, educational, research, and archival uses. Every C-SPAN program aired since 1987, now totaling over 190,000 hours, is contained in the C-SPAN Archives and is immediately accessible."

FDSYS (gpo.gov/fdsys)

The Federal Digital System, which replaced GPO Access earlier this year, provides access to current and historical federal work product, including the Code of Federal Regulations, Federal Register, U.S. Code, Congressional bills, documents, hearings, records, and reports, as well as select U.S. courts opinions. Visit the "What’s Available?" page (gpo.gov/help/index.html#what_s_available.htm) to learn more about available collections.

Federal Register (federalregister.gov)

Described as the daily journal of the U.S. government, federal agency notices, proposed rules, final rules, and presidential documents from 1994 to present can be located by citation, keyword, agency, topic, docket number, and/or affecting CFR part.

Also, visit Regulations.gov, where you can find, read, and comment on documents such as public comments and supporting and related materials associated with the federal agency notices, proposed rules, and final rules from the Federal Register. Documents can be found by type, keyword, agency, docket number, and/or various date parameters.

PACER (pacer.gov)

Public Access to Court Electronic Records is an electronic service of the U.S. judiciary that allows users to obtain case and docket information from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts. The only federal court to not fully participate in PACER is the Federal Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. PACER’s Case Management/Electronic Case Filing (CM/ECF) system allows courts to accept filings and provide access to filed documents online. There is a nominal fee of 10 cents per page of results.

Thomas (thomas.loc.gov)

"In the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, legislative information from the Library of Congress." Access the full text of public laws and bill summaries dating back to the 93rd Congress (1973–74), as well as bill texts and the Congressional Record from the 101st Congress (1989–90) to present.

USA.gov (usa.gov)

"The U.S. Government’s Official Web Portal" indexes all federal government agencies, including executive departments—such as defense, labor, and treasury—and independent agencies and government corporations—such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the U.S. Postal Service. State, local, and tribal governments also are included.

U.S. House of Representatives (house.gov) and Senate (senate.gov)

These sites provide historical backgrounds for each legislative body as well as activities of the current session. D

Andrea L. Hamilton is a research librarian for Davis Graham & Stubbs and is the Legal Research Corner committee chair for the Colorado Association of Law Libraries.


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