The best free legal research sites By Kate Allman, Journalist, LSJ
One of the first phrases drummed into law students is “ignorantia juris non excusat”. While this may be a backhanded warning from professors about the futility of the “I didn’t realise” defence to academic plagiarism, it also teaches soon-to-be lawyers the importance of knowing
Legal knowledge is power – power that takes years to acquire. The good news is, free and reliable legal resources do exist online. The great news is, we’ve done the work for you and have compiled a handy list with explanations and links to the best websites for legal research. If you (or the stingy law graduates in your firm) have other suggestions, please let us know in the comments.
This is Australia’s largest free-access database collecting legislation and cases from every jurisdiction. It also provides a great search feature to access secondary materials such as journal articles, commentaries and law reform reports.
For international case law, head to the worldwide version which is called BailLII.
The Judgments and Decisions Enhanced (JADE) website collects decisions of Australian Courts and Tribunals dating back to 1903. Although not as comprehensive at AustLII it is somewhat easier to navigate.
A great feature is the alert service you can sign up to for free, that delivers the latest superior court decisions on your chosen subject areas to your inbox.
• NSW Caselaw
This is a government website administered by the NSW Department of Justice. It is reliable and updated regularly, but it only lists decisions of NSW Courts and Tribunals from 1999 onwards.
Mentioned above, this website also sorts Commonwealth and State legislation by date, name and jurisdiction.
• Federal Register of Legislation
You might have used ComLaw in the past, but that site has now been replaced by the Federal Register of Legislation. The new site includes all the same Parliamentary content including Acts, Bills, legislative instruments and reading speeches but looks more modern and is easier to navigate.
This is probably the easiest-to-use free database of Australian legislation, with a great search feature for browsing current State and Commonwealth Acts as well as prior amendments.
Though it seems unnecessary given the amount of material accessible on the free site, there is also a paid upgrade option that promises to send you email notifications within 24 hours of changes to the law.
JOURNAL ARTICLES / COMMENTARY
• AustLII Legal Scholarship Library
AustLII again tops our list for housing the most free and reliable legal commentary from more than 45 Australian law journals, with issues dating back to 1980.
• American Bar Association Journal Search
Although this is an American website, the search engine browses over 400 law journals from around the world. It publishes articles from four Australia-specific journals as well as the Asian Pacific Law and Policy Journal.
• Social Science Research Network
This is a database of social science research from around the world. Click on the “law” tab to download full text articles on a variety of legal topics from Australian and overseas jurisdictions.
LEGAL NEWS AND UPDATES
• Monday Briefs
This weekly newsletter is published by the Law Society of NSW and is a must-read that lists important regulatory changes, events, news and information relevant to practitioners in NSW. While paying members receive it to their inboxes each Monday, non-members can access the three most recent issues through the Law Society’s website.
• Government Media releases
Media releases from the Attorney-General agencies, including the Australian Crime Commission, Australian Federal Police, Australian Human Rights Commission, Australian Law Reform Commission and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions are regularly published regularly. For NSW-specific updates, check the NSW Department of Justice and Minister for Justice pages.
Twitter is the best platform for breaking news stories and the 140-character limit means you’ll never have to plough through a 10,000 word judgment.
Legal affairs journalists all share and break legal-related news stories on Twitter. Human rights barrister, Julian Burnside, boasts more than 90,000 followers as he regularly tweets about human rights issues in Australia and overseas. Here are some useful accounts to follow:
Legal affairs journalists
@JaneSYLee from The Age
@ChrisMerrittc from The Australian
@KatiePWalsh from the Australian Financial Review
@MWhitbourn from The Sydney Morning Herald
Human rights barrister
The NSW Department of Justice
The Australian Law Reform Commission
And finally…A BIT OF FUN
• Roll on Friday
With headlines about animals in court, bonkers law firms and rubbish criminals, this site serves up hilarious and bizarre legal news from around the world. Great light-hearted material to scroll through your smart phone on a coffee break.
• Lowering the Bar
A blog written by San Francisco lawyer Kevin Underhill, updated on daily basis. Topics range from “Has your boss ever pooped in your lunchbox?” to news about a class action against Starbucks for falsely advertising lattes in “tall” cups that were only 80 per cent full. Only in America.