In the legal field, time is money. Law firms need quick and reliable access to legal research to support case law and find records, so it has to be done online. Critical legal research that used to take weeks, sometimes months combing through printed periodicals and materials, can now be done in a fraction of the time in the cloud. That’s what a quality legal research database can offer. But finding the right resource to purchase can be confusing, and the costs can add up quickly.
The best legal research databases contain comprehensive collections of legal information, resources, and libraries that can be segmented with information filtered quickly to find the most relevant cases and citations. In the legal field, the best resources are often the most expensive, but we also have alternatives that can best serve cost-conscious smaller firms and sole practitioners.
Best Legal Research Databases of 2021
Best for Primary Sources
Best for Search Features
Best for Law Students
Best for Secondary Sources
Best Overall : LexisNexis
As one of the largest online legal research providers, LexisNexis sets the standard with the most comprehensive array of highly searchable databases, making it our choice as the best overall legal research database.
Shepardize Citation service to verify good law
Extensive database of secondary sources
Copy citations as hyperlinks
May be too expensive for smaller firms
Since its founding in 1973, LexisNexis, also referred to as Lexis, has become one of the largest and most reputable legal research databases. Hundreds of large law firms and academic institutions rely heavily on its extensive array of databases and AI-enhanced legal research, making it our pick as the best overall legal research database.
Lexis users have access to the widest range of U.S. legal information spanning all 50 states, broken down by jurisdictions, types of documents, and legal subjects. Each jurisdiction database is divided into multiple categories such as cases, statutes, agency materials, jurisprudence, public records, jury instructions, and verdicts, which lead to additional, smaller databases.
As vast as its databases are, the Lexis interface is highly intuitive, requiring little training to conduct basic searches. However, because its database offering is so massive, it requires continuous usage to learn all aspects of its extensive search capabilities, including secondary sources and archived versions of statute databases dating back to 1991.
Its Shepardize Citation service is renowned for its ability to quickly and efficiently verify a particular case’s status as good or bad law while providing users with additional legal insights and analysis on the case.
Lexis recently introduced a flat-rate monthly plan that starts at $75, but it requires a three-year contract. A one-year plan costs $108 a month. The flat-rate plan only covers your state’s cases and statutes. To add federal statutes, you pay $125 a month for three years or $148 a month for one year. To access law journals and law reviews, you pay $200 or $246 a month for the three- or one-year plan, respectively. You could also pay additional fees of $10 to $289 per document for research materials not included in your plan.
Best for Primary Sources : Westlaw
Westlaw’s vast array of extensive databases for primary sources can stand up to any competitor, which makes Westlaw our choice as the best legal research database for primary sources.
Well established with top reputation
User-friendly, intuitive interface
Powered by advanced AI technology
Extensive search and analysis capabilities for secondary sources
May be too expensive for smaller firms
Questionable customer service
Established in 1975, Westlaw is one of the more established legal research databases, with vast legal information and extensive search capabilities. Utilizing advanced AI technology, Westlaw accelerates the research process, helping users obtain the answers they need quickly and efficiently. That makes Westlaw our choice as the best legal research database for primary sources.
Westlaw’s databases are as extensive as any, consisting of legal information, cases, statutes, regulations, trial court documents, public records, and expert materials. Its secondary sources database is more comprehensive than most, with the ability to intuitively browse and bookmark publications through a streamlined user interface. Its Litigation Analytics feature offers insights and docket analytics from judges, attorneys, and courts on relevant case law to help guide your search.
Its AI-driven research tool, KeyCite, surfaces red flags on cases no longer considered good law in situations where other citators might have been missed. Its Statutes Compare feature enables users to compare any changes to statutes.
Westlaw’s price plans start at $96 a month on a one-year contract for solo practitioners. The price goes up to $130 a month for two attorneys. But that only includes cases and statutes for your state. The next tier adds federal circuit cases, but the monthly cost depends on the state in which you practice. For example, in California, the monthly fee is $356 for one attorney and $481 for two. In Massachusetts, the respective monthly rates are $292 and $393. You will pay higher rates for a custom plan that includes all federal and state cases (no secondary sources).
Best for Search Features : Bloomberg Law
In its quest to become a leader in the legal research field, Bloomberg Law has spared no resources to create cutting-edge search capabilities and has thus far succeeded. That’s why we chose Bloomberg Law as the best legal research database for search features.
Fast and comprehensive query results
Easy and intuitive user interface
Large, interactive database
Flat, fixed pricing
Pricing is expensive but all-inclusive
As the premier global source of financial news and business intelligence, it was only a matter of time before the Bloomberg news empire muscled its way into the legal field. While it is still expanding its primary content to compete with LexisNexis and Westlaw, Bloomberg Law is racing to the top with its high-end technology to create state-of-the-art search capabilities. That makes Bloomberg Law our top choice as the best legal research database for search features.
Launched in 2010, Bloomberg Law is now considered a major legal database, taking its place alongside LexisNexis and Westlaw as one of the three most prestigious law libraries. Its reputation as an information resource is second to none, so it’s no surprise that it has amassed an impressive collection of legal databases, including U.S. federal and state court cases, current and prior editions of U.S. code, public laws, federal and state legislative history materials, and a wide variety of secondary materials.
It is the only legal research database that integrates legal content with proprietary financial data and analysis, which can be a boon for the business legal field. To that end, its home page is designed like a news terminal that marries legal research with the current awareness of top legal news.
Its law citator rivals Shepard from LexisNexis and KeyCite from Westlaw. The Bloomberg Law Citator flashes instant alerts on the status of a case along with an in-depth analysis of the case’s history, citation history, and a list of relevant cases cited. It also provides tracking and alerts for federal legislation and regulations.
Its Points of Law service enables users to identify and analyze relevant language in a judicial opinion quickly. This capability facilitates the review of legal points and precedents that strengthen their own cases.
Bloomberg offers a flat, fixed pricing scheme. Bloomberg doesn’t publish its pricing, but in a highly competitive field, we can assume that it is competitive with its top peers.
Most Affordable : Fastcase
Fastcase is a low-cost solution for cost-conscious law firms, offering a comprehensive database with powerful search capabilities, which makes it our top pick as the most affordable legal research database.
Straightforward and low-cost pricing
Comprehensive law library
Innovative, time-saving search features
Free mobile app
No secondary sources
Launched in 1999, Fastcase is a well-established research database provider. It may be low cost, but users have access to one of the more extensive information databases and highly sophisticated search capabilities, which is why it is our top pick as the most affordable legal research database.
Fastcase offers a two-tier pricing scheme. Following a free 24-hour trial, users pay $65 a month ($695 a year) for the National Appellate plan or $95 a month ($995 a year) for the National Premium Plan. Both plans include comprehensive databases for state and federal statutes and regulations. The only difference is the National Appellate plan doesn’t include cases from federal district and bankruptcy courts.
Where Fastcase sets itself apart is its application of innovative features, including a data visualization tool that simultaneously generates four different pieces of information for each case, including date of decision, a relevance score, number of times the case has been cited, and the number of instances the case was cited based on your search terms.
Its Forecite citator feature looks at a user’s search results and displays a ranking of cases based on how frequently they are cited by other cases in the search results. Authority Check is its citator tool that displays a list of hyperlinked cases flagged as good law, bad law, or cases with adverse treatment.
Fastcase does not include secondary sources, but it has a relationship with HeinOnline, known for its extensive secondary source database. Users can access certain HeinOnline databases, including its extensive law journal library. Initial access is free, but HeinOnline charges a fee for any follow-up.
Best for Law Students : Casetext
Casetext’s AI-driven database generates comprehensive searches quickly and efficiently, and it’s offered free to law school libraries. That’s why we chose Casetext as the best legal research database for law students.
Straightforward and affordable pricing tiers
Cutting-edge AI search capabilities
Excellent customer support
Doesn’t include secondary sources
Can only download cases as PDF files
Short on analytical tools
Casetext believes the next generation of attorneys and those training them should have access to the best legal research tools available. To that end, Casetext provides free and unlimited access to currently enrolled law students, staff, and faculty. That makes Casetext our choice as the best legal research database for law students.
Launched in 2013, Castext’s database includes all federal and state cases and statutes above the trial court level. It has made its mark in the legal research field by incorporating advanced AI technology to create one of the fastest, most efficient, and lowest cost databases around. Its Case Analysis Research Assistant (CARA) enables users to quickly zero in on relevant cases and briefs. CARA analyzes the briefs and uses its intelligence to make additional research more efficient by revealing a path to relevant cases.
Casetext’s AI technology also extends to its citator service, SmartCity, which informs users of a case’s validity and whether or not it’s still good law. It will also let you know if a case is well settled or relies on opinions that may have been overturned.
For law students who become accustomed to Casetext’s advanced search capabilities, they can access the database after they graduate and go into practice for a starting fee of just $65 a month (billed annually) after a 14-day free trial. If billed monthly, the cost is $89. Those rates include unlimited access to all databases and features.
Best for Secondary Sources : HeinOnline
With its vast collection of libraries, including the Law Journal Library, Federal Registry Library, Legal Classics, and the U.S. Supreme Court Library, HeinOnline is a treasure trove for academics and law firms looking for secondary source case law. That makes HeinOnline our top pick as the best legal research database for secondary sources.
Extensive secondary source database
Most complete access to authoritative material
Users can print exact replicas of documents
No primary sources
Rudimentary search function
Founded in 2000, HeinOnline is a premier legal research platform with a collection of more than 100 databases containing exact document facsimiles. Its fully searchable, image-based resources provide legal researchers with access to authoritative secondary material at an affordable price, making HeinOnline our choice as the best legal research database for secondary sources.
While HeinOnline does not have core primary sources, its secondary sources are vast, and most prominent U.S. law firms and libraries use it along with users from 75 countries. Its collection includes U.S. law journals going back to the earliest volume. It also has a treaties and agreements library covering U.S. and international acts. Many of its collections are not available electronically from other legal research databases.
While its search capabilities are not on par with other legal research databases, it doesn't need to be. The database is organized by library, and users can search by phrase using Boolean with an “and” connector. They can also filter searches by date.
Hein’s offers annual subscription pricing for unlimited or partial access based on the size and type of the organization. Hein’s also offers trial access to a sampling of its collection.
By most measures, LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg are considered the “big three” of legal research databases, with any one of them being a solid choice. However, LexisNexis has a slight edge. It’s more established. Its databases are as comprehensive as any. Its AI-based search and citator capabilities are cutting-edge, and it offers rewards points helping users offset their costs.
The only downside is its cost, which can be prohibitive for many smaller firms. But, for larger firms and academic institutions, LexisNexis is the best overall enterprise solution for legal research.
Compare the Best Legal Research Databases
|Company||Cost||Types of Sources||Mobile App||Alerts|
|Starting at $75 per month||Primary Secondary||Yes||Yes|
Best for Primary Sources
|Starting at $96 per month||Primary Secondary||Yes||Yes|
Best for Search Features
|Flat monthly rate based on size, type of organization||Primary Secondary||No||Yes|
|$65 per month||Primary||Yes||Yes|
Best for Law Students
|$65 per month||Primary||No||Yes|
Best for Secondary Sources
|Quoted based on size and usage||Secondary||Yes||Yes|
How to Choose the Best Legal Research Databases
When it comes to legal research databases, you pay for access, ease of use, functionality, reliability, efficiency, breadth of information, and support. Those are the essential elements legal researchers need at any price. How much you pay for the service depends on the level at which a legal research database delivers on those elements and what you are willing to pay for that level. At a minimum, here are the key features to look for:
- Breadth of information: Does coverage include case law, legislative, statutory, administrative, regulatory, and attorney general opinions for all states related to your practice? Does it include case law for all federal circuit and district courts? Does it provide access to legal and topical periodicals related to your practice?
- Reliable citation checking: Does it provide a citation checker to identify whether a case or statute has been modified, reversed, overruled, or repealed?
- Search filters: Are you able to restrict your searches to certain aspects of cases, such as jurisdiction or date?
- Search assistance: Does it provide suggestions to guide your search to other relevant information, cases, or materials?
- Search preference: Does it allow for your search preference, using either natural language search or Boolean connectors and phrases?
- Ease of use: Is the user interface easy to use? Is it easy to navigate from one database to another? Is it easy to navigate from a broad search to a narrow search? Does the provider offer tutorials or ongoing training for more advanced usage?
- Support: Does the provider offer research or technical support if you experience problems accessing the database, printing, or formulating search queries?
- Pricing: Does the provider offer an all-inclusive, flat-rate subscription or a transaction-based subscription in which you pay for usage or time? Does it require a long-term contract?
Legal Research Databases vs. Do-It-Yourself Research
For the budget-conscious, there are free legal research options. The question is whether the added time and effort are worth the savings, especially where accuracy and thoroughness are of the essence. You can undoubtedly find case law and documents online for free directly from the source. If you are a member of the bar, you also have access to courthouses, bar association, and law library resources.
In addition, you could follow legal blogs (recommended by the American Bar Association) for following the latest developments in your specific field. LexBlog is an online network of legal bloggers that offers the latest commentary on legal matters. Google Scholar is another option for searching legal journals and published opinions.
However, what you will be missing is robust proximity searching, field restrictions, result filtering, and citation checking that could cut your time and effort substantially. You could also be missing out on the assurance of accuracy and whether the material is up to date. Essentially, it comes down to how much you think your time is worth and how productive you want to be.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are There Advanced Search Features With Legal Research Databases?
When you subscribe to a legal research database, you are essentially paying for its search capabilities, which is the key to finding the right information quickly and reliably. For the top providers, their advanced search features are their competitive advantage. Most now employ artificial intelligence and sophisticated algorithms to create the shortest path between a search query and relevant and accurate results. A good research database has a citator service, often AI-based, to help researchers to know if a case is still good law or whether it’s outdated.
Are Legal Research Databases Suitable for Law Students of Practicing Lawyers?
Both. You can find many of the top legal research databases deployed in both law libraries for students and law firms.
How Much Do Legal Research Databases Cost?
Depending on the legal research database you choose, the cost can range from $65 a month to more than $400 a month. Price is only a part of comparing services. It’s essential to thoroughly evaluate what each offers and whether it meets your research needs.
How We Chose the Best Legal Research Databases
For this roundup, we reviewed 10 legal research databases. We compared them based on reputation, breadth of databases and research materials, advanced search capabilities, cost, and features or technology that add value. After drilling down on each of the criteria, we identified the best legal research databases in six distinct categories.