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June 2003

A Brief Summary: Free Briefs on the Web

By Robert J. Ambrogi
If you do not mind paying for them, you can obtain copies of legal briefs via the Web from several sources. But where can you find briefs for free?

Among the services that offer briefs for a price are Westlaw, and LexisNexis, both of which have Supreme Court briefs. Westlaw includes briefs beginning with the court's October 1990 term, while Lexis has briefs in some cases beginning from January 1979.

Two other services that sell copies of briefs are Brief Reporter, and BriefServe.com. Brief Reporter offers briefs from a variety of state and federal courts, contributed by the lawyers who wrote them. Briefs are arranged by topic. The price of a brief is $40, or you can subscribe for $35 a month and pay $10 per brief.

BriefServe has Supreme Court briefs beginning with the 1984 term. It also offers all U.S. circuit court briefs since 1981, and a selection of California and New York appellate briefs. Briefs cost $25 each, but there is a two brief minimum.

Briefs for Free

But a number of sites offer copies of briefs at no cost. Some provide briefs from a range of courts covering a variety of topics, others are more focused.

For Supreme Court briefs, FindLaw's Supreme Court Center, has briefs beginning with the 1999-2000 term. You can download them for free in various formats.

American Law Sources On-Line, does not provide direct copies of briefs, but has assembled a useful collection of links to amicus curiae briefs available elsewhere on the Web. These include briefs filed in both state and federal courts.

Boalt Hall Law School's Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic maintains a brief bank devoted to law, technology and public policy. Its broad-ranging collection of briefs filed in U.S. courts is organized by case name. It can be found at: .

More than 250 state and federal briefs covering a range of topics are available from Appellate.net. All were written by lawyers in the Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group of Chicago-based Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw. Briefs are listed by case and subject matter, and include citations to the appellate decision.

Stanford Law School's Securities Class Action Clearinghouse, maintains an archive of filings in federal class-action securities fraud litigation. Its collection includes more than 2,000 litigation documents, including briefs.

Court Archives

A growing number of appellate courts are publishing the briefs they receive on the Internet.

These include two U.S. circuit courts of appeals, the 7th Circuit and the 8th Circuit. The 7th Circuit site has briefs filed with the court beginning in 2001. The 8th Circuit begins with cases filed in 2000.

Briefs filed in a handful of state supreme courts are also available:
Federal Entities

The federal government is one of the best sources of free legal briefs. The legal documents collection of the U.S. Department of Justice, includes all Supreme Court briefs filed by the solicitor general since 1988 and selected briefs beginning in 1982. It also includes a wide-ranging collection of appellate briefs filed by the Antitrust Division dating back to 1993, along with selected briefs filed by the Civil Division and the Civil Rights Division. Other federal entities that publish their briefs on the Web are:
Advocacy Groups

Advocacy organizations publish briefs filed in cases in which they appeared as parties or as amicus curiae. One of the best examples of this is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco-based organization devoted to protecting civil liberties in Cyberspace. It maintains extensive collections of legal documents from cases in which it has been involved, including its own briefs and those of its opponents. To find them, follow the link labeled "Cases."

Another is the American Civil Liberties Union. Follow the link, "In the Courts," for a library of documents related to Supreme Court cases in which the ACLU played a role dating back to 1994. The library includes a number of briefs filed by the ACLU as amicus curiae. From that page, look for the link, "Legal Documents," to find documents filed by the ACLU in other courts. Here, too, are a number of briefs. Search by topic or ACLU affiliate. Other groups with briefs on their sites include: Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., tracks new and intriguing Web sites for lawyers through his LawSites Web log. He is author of The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web, available through LawCatalog.com. E-mail him at rambrogi@legaline.com.

© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.