These are interesting times for legal researchers. A constant problem is deciding if and when to use free online resources. Are free legal resources always the best? Here are some considerations to take into account -
1. Be prepared to weigh the costs of finding a free resource and simply downloading a source you've already found on Lexis or Westlaw. If, for example, you have just conducted a search on WL or LN and the case you want is right in front of you this may not be the best time for you to try and find it from a free source. You will need to balance what your firm is charging for your time against the cost of the download. This requires you to know both figures.
2. Is there a risk associated with using the free source? The risk may seem remote but it may be worth noting that the United States Code available on the Cornell LII site is the official version. Thus, it is not as current as that found in the print version of the USCA or USCS (which is updated annually) and certainly not as current as that found on WL or LN (which is updated as soon as is humanly possible).
3. Do you know how it works? Full text "terms and connectors" search engines like LOIS, Casemaker, Westlaw and Lexis are based on Boolean search operators. That technology has been around for years. Can you really say that you know how Google Scholar works? Do you know how their algorithm is designed? Can you rely on the results?
Familiarity with free resources is the key. The ability to find and retrieve results using a free resource increases your value to your employer. You just need to be able to make informed decisions about when it is appropriate to use free resources.