Where to go to get Case Law
Research can be daunting in and of itself. However, researching case law can be overwhelming, especially if you do not have the fanciest databases or are not aware of what is offered on a more economic level. Thankfully, there are tools and resources available to help you find what you are looking for.
The focus of my last few articles has been on case lawâ€”how to use it, how to cite it, whether to cite it, etc.Â This got me thinking that I may have put the carriage in front of the horse.Â The focus of this article is where one would go to get case law.
Historically, if one wanted to pull cases on any topic there were two sources: (1) Westlaw, and (2) LexisNexis.Â The aforementioned are still the proverbial 800-pound gorillas when it comes to legal research.Â Walk into any law firmâ€”large or smallâ€”and one can bet that they have subscriptions to either, or both of the abovementioned sources.
Westlaw and LexisNexis are the gold-standard legal research portals because of the sheer amount of information contained in each database.Â In addition to case opinions, one can search legal and business journals, newspapers, and a host of other topics.Â Further, they are updated daily with new cases and the like.Â The sheer amount of data contained in both databases comes at a price, and a hefty one at that.Â Annual subscriptions to either database start at several thousand dollars per user.Â That is not a huge barrier to an attorney that will use the subscription daily, but to the average valuation practitioner, even one practicing in the area of business valuation, financial forensics, or damages on a full-time basis, the sheer cost of each database can be an insurmountable barrier.Â In such an instance, where should the valuation practitioner look when they need to perform legal research as it relates to a matter of importance in their valuations?
The best place to perform this type of research is to go where the lawyers goâ€”to Lexis or Westlaw; however, in more of a roundabout manner.Â By way of example, assume you are working on a valuation and an issue arises that reminds you of a recent case or case law summary you have read.Â Best practice is to go back to the referring attorney and ask them to perform (or to have an associate) some legal research on the topic.Â This way, the individual performing the research is a trained legal professional.Â This avoids certain pitfalls that come from using case law incorrectly, such as citing a case in one jurisdiction when cases are not decided in that manner in that particular jurisdiction.
Should you want to perform some of the legal research yourself, you can start by subscribing to some budget-friendly services, such as KeyValueData.com.Â Part of the KeyValueData subscription covers two legal databasesâ€”a federal case law database, and a state case law database.Â Each database contains a summary of each case contained in the database, as well as the full legal opinion.Â The primary benefit of this type of database is that it only contains cases dealing with valuation, financial forensics, and damage topics.
Other useful tools include valuation blogs, such as BVWire News (www.bvwirenews).Â The primary benefit of such blogs is that they are, (1) free and (2) they provide a wealth of current knowledge.Â The one downfall is that such blogs do not provide the entire case and, oftentimes, leave the reader in a bit of a quandary when it comes to downloading the entire case.
One of my personal favorite resources, when it comes to uncovering important case law, is to talk to attorneys.Â This can obviously be done in a variety of settings, such as discussing your particular issue with the referring attorney, or in more formal settings such as becoming a member of your local bar association and attending their meetings and conferences.Â I am a fan of this approach for several reasons.Â First, if there is new case law out there, you are going to hear about it.Â Second, it is a very good opportunity for you to market your services and expertise, as well as just meet and build a rapport with local attorneys that could refer you business.Â Finally, attending monthly meetings or annual state bar conferences can satisfy some CPE requirements.Â Keep in mind that each local bar association has a variety of different groups, including: estate tax, family law, etc., so it is important to choose the group that best fits your practice niche.
In sum, I have shared a compilation of some of the free research tools I use on a regular basis:
- Legal Information Institute (law.cornell.edu/lii/get_the_law). LII provides free and open access to legal materials.Â It offers access to federal and state statutes, cases, U.C.C. materials, the code of federal regulation (â€śCFRâ€ť) and other legal materials.
- Court Listener (courtlistener.com). From the site, â€śThe Goal of the site is to create a free and competitive real time alert tool for the U.S. judicial system.â€ť Â The site is updated daily to include all precedential opinions from the Supreme Court and all the Circuit Courts.Â Non-precedential opinions are also included with the exception of those from the D.C. Circuit.Â The site also recently rolled out a citator.
- U.S. Court Websites (www.uscourts.gov/court-locator). Court websites often offer digital copies of recent opinions.Â This website from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts collects links to the websites of the federal courts.
- FindLaw (findlaw.com). This browseable and searchable database from FindLaw offers U.S. Supreme Court opinions since 1893.Â FindLaw also maintains a database of case summaries for lower court opinions since 2000.
- RECAP Archive (archive.recathelaw.org). This is a database of federal district and bankruptcy court documents from PACER, contributed to the RECAP Archive allowing free access.
- The Public Library of Law (plol.org/pages/search.aspx). This database provides free access to a wide range of resources including, state and federal cases, court rules, statutes, regulations, forms, and constitutions.
- Justia.com (www.justicia.com). Justicia.com includes an extensive, free database of federal and state cases.
Peter H. Agrapides, MBA, CVA, is with the Salt Lake City, Utah, and Las Vegas, Nevada, offices of Western Valuation Advisors. Mr. Agrapidesâ€™ practice focuses primarily on valuations for gift and estate tax reporting. Mr. Agrapides has experience valuing companies in a diverse array of industries. These engagements have ranged from small, family owned businesses to companies over $1 billion.
Mr. Agrapides can be reached at: (801) 273-1000 ext. 2, or by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.