Westlaw and LexisNexis are invaluable (or, perhaps, entirely valuable and billable to the client) resources for researching caselaw. Nothing I have encountered so far has come to rival their value. But there are times when I know the case I’m looking for and all I want to do is pull it up quickly, either to confirm something or to quickly copy and paste from it. When I was in private practice, I always felt bad for the client that they would get billed for such a small matter.
For those situations, there are at least two completely adequate, completely free alternatives to Westlaw and LexisNexis. The first, I expect most of the readers of this newsletter already know about: CaseMaker, available through the TexasBarCLE website. The second, I expect to be introducing for the first time to a number of people: Google Scholar.
If you’ve ever visited the Texas BarCLE website, you’ve seen the widget for CaseMaker.
If you know the citation of the case you want to look up, you can enter it in and instantly get the case. If you actually want to do a search query, you can do that as well. Looking at the search tips, it seems that CaseMaker is attempting to be more sophisticated than just a general search. I have not used this resource enough to be able to discuss its usefulness. If you have experience with using search terms in CaseMaker, please let me know what your thoughts are, and I will try follow up on this in a future article.
Though I have only used this for caselaw searches, it is not limited to this purpose. Under their Texas Library, you can also search the administrative code, the Texas constitution, Texas statutes, session laws, and a handful of municipal codes, including Houston’s. The federal library includes a number of other resources as well. You are able to search caselaw, statutes, and other materials for the other 49 states as well. In this case, CaseMaker could be a useful supplement if your Westlaw or LexisNexis subscription is more limited.
As the image above indicates, it is available only to Texas State Bar members and does require you to log in.
Right now, Google Scholar is not much competition for Westlaw or LexisNexis since Google Scholar’s search queries appear to lack Westlaw’s or LexisNexis’s more sophisticated search capabilities. But I do wonder if that will always be the case.
For the moment, though, I use Google Scholar frequently to pull up a case I have already found that I want to copy a quote from.
To pull up a case, first go down to the bottom of the page and make sure Texas is selected as your source.
Then go up to the top, and put in your search query and put in the case citation.
A word of warning: sometimes I find that periods must be used in “S.W.3d” and sometime I find that they cannot. Google Scholar is not very sophisticated or consistent in this way. If you can’t seem to find your case using the proper citation, try omitting the periods in “S.W.3d.”
Google Scholar places the page number both on the left and inline with the text. I find this to be a useful feature when you want to quickly find the page you’re looking for.
Both of these websites offer much more than I’m covering here today. If you are looking for more ways to avoid the cost of Westlaw or LexisNexis, you should look into these more. And if you do explore either of them more, please let me know what you think and what you find.
Next column: I plan on reviewing some of the online resources available for Texas legislative materials. Clearly the Texas Legislature’s own website will feature prominently. If you know of any other online resources that fit within that topic, however, please let me know and I will work it into my column.
Staff attorney, First Court of Appeals
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