The internet has made it possible for anyone to do good basic legal research. The best part is that it is absolutely free and remarkably powerful.
State and Federal Research
1. “Google Scholar” offers the ability to use the power of Google in a focused way. The search engine allows for a targeted search of both state and federal case law. It also allows you to search other types of legal publications. The beauty of this search engine is that it doesn’t require any special set of skills – plain English works.
I often use Google Scholar. It works just as well as Google on a smart-phone. The “advanced” Google Scholar option within the search engine allows you to focus the search and avoid having to wade through a massive search result.
The one thing that Google Scholar lacks is an automatic “authority check”. Citing a case for a legal holding that has been overturned is a risk. In order to minimize that risk I will run a Google Scholar search for the case that I want to rely upon. If that search yields current cases favorably citing my case then I’m pretty safe. For “on-the-fly” research you just can’t beat Google Scholar.
2. Plain old Google is good legal search engine. The only difficulty with Google is the amount of information retrieved. But, as a starting point, Google isn’t bad. A plain-English search using key terms will often pull blogs, articles and cases – from everywhere. But, if you are new to the issue that you are researching Google will get you headed in the right direction.
Tennessee Case Law and Statutes
1. Again, Google Scholar Advanced search allows you to target your state’s law:
2. The Tennessee Supreme Court’s website provides a variety of services. One of them is access to Appellate Court opinions dating back to 1994. For some reason the link to that database is on the “attorneys” portion of the site – under “Appellate Court Opinions”. In 2013 the site added a database titled “Public Case History”. This new database is – hopefully – the beginning of a transition to an electronic filing system for the appellate courts. This new feature allows access to all motions, orders, judgments and opinions filed in the appellate courts after August 26, 2013.
The “Attorneys” page if the site also provides a link to the Tennessee Code – Lexis Nexis. This link takes you outside the court’s website to Lexis-Nexis – an old name in electronic legal research. The Tennessee Code found on the Lexis-Nexis site is free. It offers a full search of the Tennessee code. Searching the full code will yield a result that is often too large to be useful. Normally, when I use this service I simply look for the section of the code that probably contains the area of the law that I’m interested in. Once found I expand the section (click the + to the left of the title) to view the subsections. It shouldn’t take long to narrow your search. That seems to work best for me.
I will expand this section as time goes on. If you are attempting to research your own case and are having difficulty, feel free to email me with your question. I will do my best to get you headed in the right direction.