September 2016

Tools in a New Lawyer’s Research Toolbox

By Isabel Eustaquio

Associate Director of Career Services, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

With so many resources available to you, it can be difficult to settle on just one or two to help you with specific research tasks. And as a new lawyer one of the many things you will need to consider is cost, which includes research costs. For this article, I will concentrate solely on accessing research tools without spending too much money.  To list all of the great free or low-cost research tools available to you would be a bit overwhelming, so following are just a few tools I recommend based on my own experience:

CEB OnLaw is an outstanding database that is underutilized by California law school students. Some students may have graduated without ever having used OnLaw, and some new attorneys may have gone to law school in other states. To start everyone off on an even playing field: CEB OnLaw is an online library that has about 150 California practice guides, Action Guides, and reporters. OnLaw is fully searchable and links to relevant California case law and codes. With this program you have access to a wide variety of legal topics and sample forms. CEB Action Guides lay out useful step-by-step instructions on how to do specific legal tasks. Note, most of the information you will find on OnLaw will be California specific.

As a new lawyer you qualify for unlimited access to CEB OnLaw for a year at no charge. What if you have been sworn in for a few years already? So long as it was not more than five years ago you can still request your free CEB OnLaw trial. 

San Diego Law Library
The public law library is full of law-related materials and there are two branches: one in downtown San Diego and the other in Vista.

At the law library you can access a huge selection of legal practice materials, in print and electronic format, without becoming a member. Need a legal resource for a one time use? Search the law library catalog and see if they have that resource so you can access it for free.

If you have trouble finding what you need, you can call or stop by the library and ask the reference librarian for help. Making that one connection may well save you a good half-hour of your time.

What if you are too far to stop by the law library? If you know what pages you want from a particular book, or which case or statute, you can ask for document delivery and those pages will be emailed to you. It will only cost you a few bucks and it will save you the travel time.

The library also provides you access to the very popular NOLO do-it-yourself legal guides. You can access them from your home or office. With this access, if you are an employment attorney, and family members ask you what they need to do to evict someone, get their rent deposit back, get a divorce, etc., you can quickly read the NOLO on that subject and be a little more knowledgeable in that area. No need to say, “Sorry, I only do employment law, Mom,” then (if she is anything like my mom) have her wonder aloud why you bothered to go to law school if you can’t help her with this one little thing.

If you are actually at the library, you can access Lexis Advance (all states and federal), CEB OnLaw (even if you’ve already used your free trial year), Hein Online (useful to find law and law-related periodicals), and VerdictSearch (useful for trying cases and negotiate settlements from a position of strength because you know what previous verdicts and settlement amounts were under similar circumstances). Attorneys that live near El Cajon or Chula Vista can access Lexis, CEB OnLaw and Hein Online at designated computers in their public library. This means one can still access Lexis for free even if the San Diego Law Library is closed.

As an SDCBA member, the discounts you receive on specific Thomson Reuters Westlaw products are nothing to blink at. These include: CA Cases & Codes; KeyCite citatory service; the Entire Rutter Practice Guide Series; and 9th Circuit, USCA & Supreme Court Reports. Westlaw is a great option if you want your research tools conveniently at your disposal. 

It's also worth mentioning that members get a 10% lifetime discount on Firm Central, Thomson Reuters' cloud-based practice management tool that integrates your legal research with your legal business. Talk about convenience... 

Law Library of Congress How-To Guide
Barbara Bavis, Bibliographic and Research Instruction Librarian for the Law Library of Congress, put together a wonderful guide on how to conduct free legal research online. This resource outlines key research tools provided by the Library, including the Guide to Law Online, a "legal portal of over 9,000 links [...] organized by jurisdiction and topic; multinational, international, U.S., and state materials; full text of laws, regulations, and cases;
legal commentary; and [the] New Indigenous Law Portal – includes links to American Indian constitutions and legal materials." 

The guide also highlights resources available through, the Federal Digital System at, the House Office of Law Revision Counsel at and more. You can download this invaluable resource here.

Costs can be burdensome for new lawyers, but if you know the tools available to you, you can save your clients and yourself expense while delivering a superior legal product.