Legal Research

Are you looking for a good value in legal research?

We all need information and for those of us watching our overhead, legal research databases can be prohibitively expensive. Luckily, there are some legal research resources that can help a solo or small firm get the information they need for less.

My first and only virtual award goes to Google Scholar for most improved legal research. This is currently my favorite database because it is free, easy to use, packed with data, and as convenient as your closest computer. The cases are up-to-date and the search engine is easy to use. Google Scholar has a “how cited” option that shows every case that cites the target case.

Unlike the costly databases, Google Scholar leaves the analysis to us and does not offer indicators like flags or symbols to indicate positive or negative treatment in the citing case. Can you feel that renewed power of analysis? Maybe you should take a walk and cool down a little. In true Google form, there are add-ons and apps of varying costs that will help you with pin cites and writing memoranda and other important lawyerly things.

If you are looking for practice guides, treatises, or compiled legislative histories, the local law libraries will save you time and money. They also often offer free access to the most used elements of Lexis or Westlaw (law journals, primary sources, and shepardizing/key cites.) Some of these aren’t in Contra Costa County but you can put the money saved towards your transport costs and a hearty meal.

Contra Costa Law Library

Free and open to the public. There are three locations, one of which is probably close to you: Martinez, Pittsburgh, and Richmond. Hours and information can be found at http://www.cccpllib.org/

UC Berkeley Law Library

Free and open to the public. Most major databases are available on public computers in the law library, plus access to related databases from related areas, for example Haas’ business library.

JFK Law Library

$5.00 fee for daily use or you can get memberships by the semester or year. Great resources and convenient for many. Members of the CCCBA Solo and Small Firm Section are allowed access to the JFK Law Library without cost. The library maintains a list of the members of the section for reference.

San Francisco Law Library

Free and open to the public. A bit far away but if you have a presence in San Francisco they have a great program that is free for firms under 10 attorneys that includes free emailed documents from the library’s Hein Online database and librarian assistance researching challenging issues.

A full listing of Bay Area law libraries can be found at www.sflawlibrary.org/index.aspx?page=35

Law libraries are worth the trip not only because they can save you money in resources but also because, if you talk to the librarians, they can save you time. The librarians are smart and well-trained. They can often help you find thorough information on a topic much more quickly than you might on your own.


Kristen Bargmeyer is a bankruptcy attorney whose practice, Bargmeyer Law, is devoted to the representation of individual and small business debtors in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies and in settlement negotiations and voluntary workouts.

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