American case law is sometimes quite difficult to track down, as most of the time our basic Canadian database subscriptions do not cover other jurisdictions. (That’s why we added British case law database JustisOne to our subscriptions; check out our introductory post if you haven’t had the chance yet!)
So where can we find free access to American Case Law?
1. Google Scholar is always the first place we look. With a clean interface and a large collection of cases from state and federal courts, it’s a fantastic place to start. From the main search screen, select “Case Law” (or articles/patents if you are looking for those), and enter your search terms. Your results page should look quite familiar to you; you can click through to open a case. Note that you can also click on the “How Cited” link at the top to see any articles or cases that refer to it. Often times even if Google Scholar does not have the case you are looking for, it will still contain a reference to the case as well as alternative citations that you can try elsewhere.
2. Findlaw houses a lot of case law as well, as well as commentary and links to the state and district courts. To search for case law, you can enter a party’s name in the “Search for a Case” box, or alternatively, click on “Advanced Search” to enter in any other information you know. (This is where docket numbers can come in handy!) Results will bring you to a summary page, where you can click on the “Read” button to be linked to the full decision, although sometimes this will be behind a paywall.
3. Justia also offers free access to online American case law, as it brings together decisions from the Federal Courts and many of the district courts websites as well. You can search using the bar at the top right, or browse through the different courts below.
4. Casetext is the CanLIIConnects of the United States, as it features case law and added commentary by members of the legal community.
5. If you happen to know at what court the decision was made, you can often head directly to the State or District Court website to browse a database of their own decisions. Often times these are also included in the databases mentioned above.