Cutting research costs to improve access to justice


by Daryl Thompson   |   Michigan Bar Journal


Access to justice involves many barriers, including a cost barrier. In the spirit of finding ways to reduce that cost barrier, you may want to consider the resources below for researching Michigan law. Some resources such as Nexis Uni and Westlaw Public Access provide unified research solutions. Alternatively, you may find opportunities to combine sources (e.g., using Google Scholar to locate a case and using State of Michigan resources to find a referenced statute.) Most of these resources are publicly available, something you may keep in mind if you find you do not have time to take on a client.

The bulleted lists below provide some places you might find secondary sources, cases, statutes, and regulations. This is followed by alphabetically organized descriptions of those resources.


  • Benchbooks and model jury instructions
  • FindLaw
  • Google Scholar
  • Law libraries
  • Law reviews and journals
  • Michigan eLibrary (MeL)
  • Michigan Legal Help
  • Nexis Uni
  • Westlaw Patron Access


  • Caselaw Access Project
  • Fastcase
  • Google Scholar
  • Law libraries
  • Nexis Uni
  • State of Michigan
  • Westlaw Patron Access


  • Fastcase
  • FindLaw
  • Law libraries
  • Nexis Uni
  • State of Michigan
  • Westlaw Patron Access


  • Fastcase
  • Law libraries
  • Nexis Uni
  • State of Michigan
  • Westlaw Patron Access


Benchbooks are designed to provide the basics of the law for judges and clerks. The Michigan Judicial Institute provides benchbooks on several different subjects and one might apply to your issue.1

You also might find something on topic with model jury instructions. These often address narrow questions. The Michigan Supreme Court has provided model civil2 and criminal3 jury instructions.


The Caselaw Access Project4 is a digitization of U.S. caselaw held by Harvard Law Library. It is extensive and entirely free. As of the publishing of this article, it has caselaw through 2018. It is keyword searchable. This collection goes back considerably further than the online cases provided by the state government websites, although it is not as up to date.


Your State Bar membership provides you with access to a legal research platform called Fastcase. Casemaker, the SBM’s previous research platform, has merged with Fastcase. Fastcase provides free access to cases, statutes, and regulations. It can help you determine if your case is based on good law or find which cases cite a particular section of a code. Another big advantage is that it includes a robust search engine similar to Westlaw and Lexis. While Fastcase lists secondary sources, it charges for most of them. Log in to the SBM member area at, and you will find a link to Fastcase.5


FindLaw6 is like a legal teaser: Thomson Reuters provides a little information for free and encourages users to locate an attorney through its service. You can find secondary information and links to unannotated statutes. It is a good first step into the legal lingo and concepts surrounding a topic, but you will likely need to supplement its findings with Michigan-specific searches.


Google Scholar7 provides links to many court cases and legal articles. The court cases are generally freely accessible. Unfortunately, while review articles are frequently freely available through the publisher (particularly if the publisher is a law school), Google Scholar often places links to paid services such as Hein Online more highly in the search rankings. However, you may be able to access articles found using Google Scholar by using your bar membership or through that journal’s web page (see law reviews and journals below).


Libraries and institutions of higher education are good resources for finding freely accessible materials. Academic law libraries frequently have print resources available to the public or attorneys including practice guides, forms, treatises, annotated codes, and case reporters. Less frequently, they may have electronic resources for the public. Also check your local public library to see which resources it has. Most libraries, even those without extensive legal collections, will have some freely accessible legal information. The Library of Michigan has published an invaluable directory of libraries with designated legal collections and the types of available resources.8


As a State Bar of Michigan member, you can search archived versions of the Michigan Bar Journal and most other U.S. law reviews and journals using Hein Online. To use Hein Online, click on the link for Bar Journal Search in the SBM members area.

Law reviews are often freely accessible. Law Review Commons9 provides an easy search through a large collection of open-access journals. Searching articles across an even larger aggregation of law reviews, however, may involve a two-step process. One trick is to search using Google Scholar and then go to the journal’s website to check if you can access the article for free.


Electronic resources are convenient, and the Michigan eLibrary10 is a response to that reality. Through EBSCO Information Services, the Library of Michigan provides access to legal resources such as e-books, forms, and articles on several topics.


As attorneys, the most effective way for you to help clients access justice is representing the client. Sometimes, however, you will not be able to do so due to time constraints. Arguably, the single best starting tool for laypersons facing civil legal issues is Michigan Legal Help.11 It includes an online platform accessible from anywhere and self-help centers statewide that offer support.


Nexis Uni12 includes much of Lexis Nexis’s core legal research capabilities including Shepardizing,13 annotated codes, and some secondary sources. Generally, Nexis Uni is a tool for educational institutions, and you can connect to it from the campuses of some universities, colleges, and libraries. Because it is meant to be a broader tool than just legal research, you may need to click on Advanced Search, and then select Legal to focus your search. Check an institution near you for Nexis Uni; many have it.


Michigan’s government offers freely accessible cases, statutes, and regulations online. Michigan Court Case Search14 provides access to recent cases. The search covers published Court of Appeals and Supreme Court opinions back to 2001. There you can also find unpublished Court of Appeals opinions back to July 1996, Court of Appeals orders back to 2005, and Supreme Court orders back to September 21, 2005.

The Michigan Legislature site15 allows for searching of current Michigan Compiled Laws, bills back to 1989, and executive orders back to 1993. It provides several filters you can use to narrow your search in addition to keyword searching. The Michigan Administrative Code site16 is searchable and lets users narrow searches by department.


Public access terminals to Westlaw17 are tremendously helpful. Treasure a public terminal if you have access to one. Some places that have one — this list is not exhaustive — include the Kalamazoo Public Law Library, the Marquette County Law Library, and the Muskegon County Law Library. You may find more public access terminals using the aforementioned Library of Michigan law library directory.


Michigan attorneys have many free legal research resources available to use. Hopefully, you can use them to cut costs and help people gain access to justice.


1        [https://]. All websites cited in this article were accessed October 8, 2021.

2        Model Civil Jury Instructions, One Court of Justice, Michigan Courts, available at [].

3        Model Criminal Jury Instructions, One Court of Justice, Michigan Courts, available at [ EB2U-W7S4].

4             [].

5        You Now Have Access to Fastcase Legal Research, SBM (July 27, 2021) [https://perma. cc/8FGX-ZCG9].

6        [ S52Z-LRXY].

7        [https://perma. cc/7L3E-QSNH].

8        [].

9        [].

10      [].

11      [].

12      [ CB26-J3G2].

13      Shepardizing a citation is ascertaining the subsequent treatment of a legal decision, putting its precedential value in a complete context. The term originates from the common historical use of Shepard’s Citation Service to track treatment of specific decisions. Shepardize, Legal Information Inst, Cornell Law School (July 2021). [].

14      Cases, Opinions, & Orders, available at One Court of Justice, Michigan Courts [https://perma. cc/LC6A-Q5BT].

15      [].

16      [].

17       [ S6MS-S4V9].