Finding Legal Materials in PDF

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Legal publications are increasingly available in electronic formats. However, not all electronic databases provide these materials in Portable Document Format (PDF). Because PDF documents copied from original print publications reflect the original pagination, they are the preferred electronic source for Bluebook citation. This guide presents sources and strategies for locating common legal research materials in PDF. (Note: Resources marked with an asterisk (*) are available only by password to current Duke Law students, faculty, and staff.)

I. Books/Treatises

Book titles which are available in electronic full-text through various databases will appear in a search of the Duke Libraries Catalog with the notation "eBook" or "internet resource." A link to the online version will appear in the item's catalog record; off-campus users will need to enter a Duke NetID and password to view the full text.

Some e-book publishers, such as NetLibrary and Oxford Reference Online, do not provide access to full text in PDF. In addition, some e-book sources may place restrictions on printing or downloading, due to copyright concerns. The most common sources for full-text e-books in PDF include:

  • Early American Imprints
  • Early English Books Online
  • Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library
  • HathiTrust Digital Library
  • HeinOnline (from main screen, scroll to Legal Classics Library)
  • Making of Modern Law

Many books have also been digitized into Google Book Search. Historical materials (where copyright protection has expired) are frequently available in full text. More recent titles often offer a "Limited Preview"; although selected pages are excluded from this view, it can often be useful for viewing tables of contents, indexes and for searching the full text of a book. (Note: A free Gmail account may be required to search and view some titles in Google Book Search.)

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II. Journals and Law Reviews

Most law journals and law reviews are available electronically in PDF, although the most recent issues may not be available. There are several ways to determine whether a specific article citation is available electronically. One way is to search for the article by its title using Google Scholar. Make sure the "Library Links" under the "settings" tool are set to Duke University, Duke University Libraries, and Open Worldcat. If the article is available through Duke, a link will appear on the right, or you may be able to click directly on the title. If you are off campus, use your NetId and password to access the article. Alternatively, you can use the Online Full-Text Journals link from the Law Library's home page. Search for the title of the journal (not the individual article) to retrieve a listing of Duke databases which contain the full text of that journal title, as well as information about the years of coverage. The list will not indicate whether the contents are provided in PDF; you will need to enter each database to determine in which format the articles are provided. The major sources for law-related titles in PDF are:

  • Academic Search Premier
  • HathiTrust
  • HeinOnline (latest 1-3 years usually unavailable)
  • JSTOR (latest 1-3 years usually unavailable)
  • Project Muse

Current issues of academic journals are also frequently available as a sample from the individual journal's web site; these samples are often published as PDF documents. In addition, pre-publication drafts of many law review articles are often posted for free download at the Social Science Research Network.

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III. Newspaper Articles

To determine whether a specific newspaper is available in full-text electronically, use the Online Full-Text Journals link from the Law Library’s home page. Search for the title of the newspaper (not the individual article) to retrieve a listing of Duke databases which contain the full text of that newspaper, as well as information about the years of coverage. The list will not indicate whether the contents are provided in PDF; you will need to enter each database to determine in which format the articles are provided.

Most full-text sources for newspaper articles, such as America’s News, provide the full text of articles only in HTML format. However, some historical articles from U.S. newspapers may be available in PDF through the database ProQuest Historical Newspapers. This database includes historical PDF versions of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the UK’s Guardian and Observer, and historical papers from Chicago, Atlanta, and other metropolitan areas. America's Historical Newspapers, 1690-1922 also offers downloadable facsimiles of many early U.S. newspapers.

PDF versions of historical articles from selected British newspapers are also available in Duke’s electronic databases. The Guardian and the Observer are available in ProQuest Historical Newspapers. The London Times is available in PDF through the Times Digital Archive (1788-2009). The Times Literary Supplement is also available in PDF in a separate database, TLS Historical Archive (1902-2009). These databases can be reached through the Law Library’s home page, via the link labeled More Research Databases.

In addition to the Duke databases listed above, the free site Newseum: Today's Front Pages provides PDFs of the front pages of many national and local newspapers for the current date. The Archive section maintains selected front-page PDFs for dates of historical interest (including the deaths of national figures, major terrorist attacks, and Hurricane Katrina). The Library of Congress has also digitized a number of historical newspapers from 1836-1922 at Chronicling America.

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IV. Cases and Court Documents

Legal opinions and other court documents can be located in PDF format in several places. The available documents and their locations vary by the type of court.

United States Supreme Court

Official United States Reports

West's Supreme Court Reporter

  • Westlaw* (1920- ); recent cases are not available in PDF until published in the permanent print reporter volume.

Supreme Court Records and Briefs

Other Federal Courts

West's Federal Supplement and Federal Reporter series

Federal Court filings

State Courts
  • LLMC Digital, (Availability varies by court. Some volumes are available for all jurisdictions. This resource is most useful for historical information.)
  • State Court Web sites, National Center for State Courts (provides links to state courts; many publish their own opinions online in PDF)
  • LexisNexis* (selected state official reporters available in PDF; date coverage varies)
  • Westlaw* (Regional Reporter system volumes; 1920 – current)

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V. Statutes and Legislative History

Many federal legislative materials are available online in PDF for each stage of the law-making process.

Bills & Resolutions
Reports/Documents ("Serial Set")
Committee Prints
Debates (Congressional Record and earlier titles)
Enacted Public Laws ("slip laws")
United States Statutes at Large ("session laws")
United States Code (U.S.C.)

In addition, ProQuest Legislative Insight has bills, reports, records, and more in PDF organized into legislative histories of Public Laws.  Their coverage varies by year, with significant coverage dating back to the 1930s and sporadic coverage as far back as the 24th Congress in the early 1800s.

The availability of state materials in PDF will vary by jurisdiction; consult the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University State Legislative History Research Guides to locate a state-specific library research guide to legislative history materials. Quick access to individual state legislatures is available through the National Conference of State Legislatures’ State Legislative Websites.

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VI. Regulations and Administrative Materials

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) can be found in PDF on FDsys beginning in 1996 through the current year. Historical issues of the Code of Federal Regulations can also be found via Guide to Law Online or on HeinOnline in the Code of Federal Regulations Library (1938- ).

The Federal Register is available on Federal from 1994 forward and documents can be downloaded in PDF format. The Federal Register, with the exception of the most current issue, may also be found via Guide to Law Online or on HeinOnline in its Federal Register Library.

Many federal administrative agencies include more recent agency decisions online. In some cases, these decisions can be found in PDF format. A good place to begin a search for agency decisions generally is the University of Virginia's Government Information Resources, which provides a page with links to administrative agency opinions. Historical agency decisions may also be found in HeinOnline's U.S. Federal Agency Documents, Decisions and Appeals Library.

HeinOnline also has PDF materials in its U.S. Attorney General & Department of Justice Collection.  These include Official Opinions of the Attorneys General of the United States (vol. 1 (1791) to vol. 43 (1982)) and Opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice (vol. 1 (1977) to vol. 24 (2000)).

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VII. Presidential Materials

The Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States are available on FDsys from 1991 to the most recent available.  The Compilation of Presidential Documents is available on FDsys from vol. 29 (1993) to present as well as on HeinOnline in their U.S. Presidential Library from vol. 1 (1965) to the present.

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VIII. Treaties and International Law

U.S. Treaties

The HeinOnline Treaties and Agreements Library includes PDF versions of international treaties to which the United States is a party dating back to the mid 1800’s. Unofficial versions can be found on Hein dating even farther back. In addition, treaty finding tools are also available in PDF on Hein as well as Treaties in Force and secondary resources that support treaty research. The United States Department of State posts a current version of Treaties in Force in pdf format. 

Official Publications in HeinOnline

  • United States Statutes at Large, Vol. 7 (Treaties between the United States and Indian Tribes, 1778-1842) and Vol. 8 (Treaties between the United States and Foreign Nations, 1778-1845)
  • United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (UST), Vols. 1-35 (1950-1984)
  • Treaties and International Act Series (TIAS), TIAS 11060 to TIAS 12734 (1982-1996)
  • KAV Agreements (Recent State Department Agreements, Senate Treaty Documents, Trade Agreements and others that are not published in UST or TIAS), KAV 0001-9877 (1987- 2016)

Official Publications on Government Sites

Treaty Guides and Indexes

  • Catalogue of Treaties 1814-1918 (1919), at S 9.2: C 28 in the Documents section or online.
  • Collection of Neutrality Law, Regulations and Treaties of Various Countries (1939), at KZ6419 .D43 1974 or online.
  • Current Treaty Index (1982- ), at S 9.12 K in the Reference section or online in HeinOnline.
  • Digest of the Published Opinions of the Attorneys-General, & of the Leading Decisions of the Federal Courts, with Reference to International Law, Treaties and Kindred Subjects (1877), at S 1.2:At 8 in the Documents section or online.
  • Guide to the United States Treaties in Force (1982-2007), at S 9.12u in the Documents section or online.

See the HeinOnline Treaties and Agreements Library for other unofficial treaty publications and secondary resources that support treaty research.

United Nations Treaties

UN Treaties to which the U.S. may or may not be a party can be located in PDF format using several free and subscription electronic resources.

Documents from International Organizations

Other United Nations documents in PDF include the Reports of International Arbitral Awards (also available on HeinOnline) and materials from the International Court of Justice.

European Union materials can be found, many in PDF, in Eur‑Lex, the European Union law portal. The Official Journal of the EU is available in PDF format as well as some of the documents in these collections:

  • Treaties
  • International agreements
  • Legislation in force
  • Preparatory acts

Documents from other IGOs can often be found in PDF format on the website of the organization. International Governmental Organizations, a guide from the Northwestern University Library, provides links to many IGOs.

Other International Resources

The HeinOnline Foreign and International Law Resources Database includes PDF versions of materials of varying scope on the following topics:

  • International Yearbooks and Periodicals
  • U.S. Law Digests
  • International Tribunals/Judicial Decisions

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rev. 05/2017 jpb