Online Legal Research Databases: What Are Your Alternatives?

LexisNexis and Westlaw are the top tier options when it comes to online legal research; but they’re not your only options. In fact, less expensive alternatives are becoming increasingly popular. Although KeyCite and Shepardize features are certainly worth their hefty premium, sometimes attorneys just can’t afford all that. In those situations, you might want to look into less-expensive alternatives. These are just some of the options available to you.


Fastcase is on the ABA’s list of Lexis/Westlaw alternatives. You’ll get unlimited access to a comprehensive statute and case law database that covers federal case law and case law from all 50 states. Some local bar associations even offer free access to Fastcase as a benefit to members.

Fastcase provides citation analysis, quick results, data visualization tools, an advanced search function, and powerful mobile apps. It has an Authority Check feature that shows a hyperlinked list of later citing cases to let you see how your case has been cited. Fastcase also provides a “Bad Law Bot” that red flags cases with negative treatment

Fastcase is honest on its website about not being able to provide a complete replacement to Shepard’s or KeyCite. Bad Law Bot, for example, is helpful “but it is not a complete citator, like Shepard’s,” they say. “We do not hold Authority Check to be a complete replacement for services such as Shepard’s or KeyCite, both of which we like very much, but it is a good tool for finding out how later cases have treated your case.”

If you’re looking for Loislaw, it merged its libraries with Fastcase in 2015. You can give Fastcase a spin through its free trial. FastCase’s premium service costs $995 a year and its basic Appellate service costs $695 a year.

Google Scholar

If you need something that’s free, Google Scholar is is a good option (unless your bar association provides free access to another service.) In a 2017 Clio survey, Google Scholar was the fourth choice for users, right after Westlaw, LexisNexis, and Fastcase.

Google Scholar provides a complete database of case law, including state appellate and supreme court cases since 1950, appellate, federal district, and bankruptcy courts to 1932, and U.S. Supreme Court cases since 1791. The database is updated several times a week, but existing records may take 6 months to a year to update. The Advanced function lets you narrow your search by date and specific courts. You can also add results to your own library.

Google Scholar provides its own version of Shepardizing. When viewing a case, click on “How Cited” in the upper left corner (or click “Cited By” on the search results.) The results include the specific legal propositions for which your case was cited. You can even create an alert to be notified about new citations.


Casemaker is on Harvard’s list of recommended alternative legal research tools. More than 25 state and local bar associations offer free access to Casemaker.

Casemaker focuses on updating materials quickly, which is vital for any legal researcher. Its website brags that its database is sometimes “more current than the leading high-cost research providers.” Casemaker’s database includes federal, Supreme Court, district, and bankruptcy decisions, and state libraries that may go back 100 years or more.

If Shepard and KeyCite are what you’re missing, CasemakerPRO offers a negative citator, case alerts for appellate decisions within 24 hours, and an analyzer that scans your brief and creates a table of authority with a list of negative citations. Curious about the price? Casemaker with Casemaker Pro costs $950 a year (and Casemaker by itself costs $600 a year) for people in Arizona, one of the states that doesn’t offer free access.


Casetext utilizes a system called CARA Research Suite, an “easy-to-use AI technology that helps you quickly discover and deeply understand the cases you need.” According to Casetext, all you need to do is drop a brief into CARA’s system and relevant case law will be presented to you. Casetext’s database includes millions of cases, plus annotations from legal scholars. Casetext also provides a heatmap so you can jump to the most highly-cited part of a case, an alert about negative treatment, and summaries from subsequent cases.

For individuals, an annual subscription is $99 a month if you commit to a year’s membership. You can get a one-week trial to test the service.

As you can see, you have many legal research options even if LexisNexis and Westlaw are outside your price range. Find out if any of these are offered for free by your bar association. Then give the others a free-trial spin and see which meets your needs the best.

Special Counsel does not endorse or guarantee the performance of these databases. The content of this blog is for informational purposes only.

Attract & Retain Top Talent

With a rapidly changing industry, it's vital to offer the right compensation and set the right expectation. With our Salary Guide, get detailed job descriptions, industry insights and local salary data to equip your managers with hiring confidence and expertise.

Get your copy »

Get email updates about more content like this.


| Next articles in The Column blog |

Get the foundation you need to hire the best legal talent.

Request your copy of our 2021 Salary Guide »
December 07, 2017

Salary-History Bans: How to Navigate the Changing Legislation

Knowing a job candidate's prior pay gives hiring managers useful insight during the interview process. But that line of inquiry might need to be buried forever. In states from Massachusetts to Oregon, as well as individual cities, new laws now prohibit asking a job candidate to disclose their previous salary. Some of the laws and penalties for infractions don't take effect until 2018 and beyond, but it's time to prepare hiring managers for a new reality.
Read Post »