Public Interest Law: Research & Resources

by Matt Morrison

This guide offers sources for free and low-cost legal research. As well, additional sources are provided to help one learn about public interest law, the types of career opportunities available in the public interest sector, and options for networking.

 I. Federal

United States Code from the Office of the Law Revision Counsel
Online source for the U.S. Code from the entity that prepares it.

Provides federal legislative materials, including bills, committee reports, and the Congressional Record.  Use it to update code sections obtained from the Office of the Law Revision Counsel.

U.S. Supreme Court
Provides opinions from the 1991 Term to current.  Also provides oral argument transcripts from the 2000 Term forward, plus court rules, argument calendar, and docket information.

U.S. Courts
Links to the district and bankruptcy courts, and the courts of appeals, plus other court information.  Courts provide opinions on their web sites, but keep in mind that coverage is variable.

PACER—Public Access to Court Electronic Records
Low-cost access to records from the U.S. District, Bankruptcy, and Appellate courts.

Code of Federal Regulations
Provides pdf copies from 1996 to current.

Federal Register
Provides pdf copies from 1994 to current.

Library of Congress, Executive Branch Web Sites
Directory to federal agency web sites.  Many agencies post primary material to their sites.

UVA Administrative Decisions page
Organized by agency, provides links to agency decisions and actions on the web.

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 II. State

Cornell LII
Access to primary materials from the 50 states, plus Uniform laws.

Washlaw Web
Detailed jump page to state law and information.

 III. Portals

Cornell LII
Gateway to federal and state materials, plus some secondary material.
Gateway to U.S. government information.

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 IV. Commercial Resources

Designed with the solo/small firm practitioner in mind, LexisOne actually offers some primary sources for free—typically material that is otherwise publicly available.  The benefit of LexisOne is the ability to access extensive legal materials on a pay-as-you-go basis.  LexisOne provides various “research value packages” that are priced by the day, week, or month.

Low cost access to federal and state cases, statutes, regulations, and court rules, plus treatises and forms.  Flat rate pricing with subscription periods ranging from one day to one year.

Quite basic, but very affordable monthly pricing plans.  Standard plan does not include citation searching.

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 V. Local Law

Free access to selected codes of local ordinances.

Free access to selected codes of local ordinances.  New York not included.

 VI. Foreign and International

Cornell Foreign and International Selected Resources
Directory to extensive set of foreign and international law on the web, including the United Nations and regional organizations.

World Legal Information Institute
Access to primary and secondary materials from numerous countries.

Extensive set of guides to international, foreign, and comparative legal research. 

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 VII. Secondary Sources

Washlaw Web – Law Journals online
Extensive listing of legal periodicals.

Justia Blawg Search
A search engine and directory of legal blogs.

Cornell Law Library—Legal Research Engine
Customized searching of blawgs, the legal Internet, and research guides.

Duke Law Faculty Scholarship Repository
Full-text archive of scholarship.

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 VIII. Organizations, Associations, Institutes, etc.

Public Interest Law Initiative
PILI creates opportunities for law students and lawyers to perform pro bono and public interest work.

Public Justice
Billed as "America's public interest law firm," Public Justice consists of a national network of more than 3500 lawyers and other professionals. 

USC School of Law Public Interest Links
Extensive directory of public interest organizations, resources, and opportunities organized topically.

National Association of Law Placement
The site has a section devoted to public service initiatives.

The Institute of Public Law at the University of New Mexico
IPL "engages in research, analysis, teaching, training, writing, and publishing to support . . . informed public policy."

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 IX. Bibliography

The Amicus Brief: How to Be a Good Friend of the Court
Simpson, Reagan William and Mary R. Vasaly. Chicago, IL: American Bar Association, 2004.
KF8748.S536x 2004

Beyond the Big Firm: Profiles of Lawyers Who Want Something More
Morrison, Alan B. and Diane T. Chin. New York, NY: Aspen Publishers, 2007.
KF299.P8 M67x 2007

The Great Firm Escape: Harvard Law School’s Guide to Breaking Out of Private Practice and Into Public Service
DeBroff, Stacy M., et al. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Law School, 2000.
KF299.P8 G74x 2000

Serving the Public: A Job Search Guide: Harvard Law School’s Handbook & Directory for Law Students and Lawyers Seeking Public Service Work
Cambridge, MA: Harvard Law School, 2006.
KF299.P8 P96  Reserve

Something to Believe In: Politics, Professionalism, and Cause Lawyering
Scheingold, Stuart A. and Austin Sarat. Stanford, CA: Stanford Law and Politics, 2004.
KF299.P8 S334x 2004

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