Update on Free Online Legal Research

Robert Ambrogi’s Lawsites has this update on free on-line case law resources. The most notable link is to a review of PreCYdent, which may be living up to its hype as “the Google of legal research.” Says the reviewer:

I was stunned by the results of my search [for “in personam jurisdiction”] on PreCYdent. The top six cases were the leading U.S. Supreme Court cases I studied in Prof. Reimann’s jurisdiction class. Each of them is fundamental to an understanding of the application of personal jurisdiction in federal courts. I have never seen a such a highly relevant set of search results on any electronic case search engine. Not in Westlaw. Not in Lexis. Not anywhere.

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This stellar result was no accident or the result of preprogammed “best bets.” I tested a few other terms (e.g., “abortion” “sodomy”) and had comparably stellar results. The statute search also worked quite well. And this is the “Beta” release!

Before you discount the review, consider that it is from David Hobbie, the Litigation Knowledge Manager for Goodwin Procter. He’s in the information business.

Still, it’s hard to imagine that lawyers well-versed on a paid subscription service are going to convert completely to any of the public domain services any time soon. There’s always the problem of trying to get lawyers to try something new. And the paid services will look for ways to stay a step ahead of the game.

For lawyers who find Westlaw or Lexis unaffordable, however, it looks like PreCYdent may already be a useful adjunct to combing through the digests looking for case law. And there will surely be more to follow.