September 26, 2016
Google Scholar: Search for Cases and Related Legal Publications
It is 2016 and most of us have taken advantage of Google to find information on a potential client, an old friend, a restaurant, vacation ideas, a news article, or even a movie. At Cravens and Noll P.C. we are using google to augment our legal research. In 2009, Google started to offer the ability for attorneys to search for U.S. case law as part of its Google Scholar search.
You can now conduct free searches for full-text opinions of cases and legal journals in addition to general articles and patents, which were previously available on Google Scholar. Searches are conducted the same exact way you would conduct a search on Google.com. There is no need for Boolean operators anymore if you don’t want to use them, and you still might get the exact case you’re looking for. This article gives an overview on the new features Google Scholar provides for the legal research market.
Google Scholar now includes U.S. Supreme Court opinions since 1791 and U.S. federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy courts since 1923. Also included is U.S. state appellate and supreme court cases dating back to 1950. Cases are cited in Bluebook format, include internal page numbers, and are cross-linked within the database. In addition to case law, Google scholar provides links to secondary sources, such as law reviews and journals.
The cases themselves are displayed with the expected Google simplicity. Similar to Google docs, search terms that retrieved the case are highlighted throughout, and all footnotes are linked.
Is Scholar Useful? Google Scholar’s free search has drawn admiration and criticism from attorneys. On the positive side, Scholar employs the clean, simple, and fast user experience that Google is well known and admired for. Google Scholar does not require a login, allowing users to very quickly check a case name or cite.
It is clear however, that Google Scholar will not replace commercial legal publishers such as LexisNexis® or Westlaw® any time soon. However many of the Virginia lawyers we spoke to in researching this article concluded that Google Scholar is a great place to conduct preliminary research, or to review new cases that have not yet been affected by precedent. Using free services first can help narrow and focus an attorney’s subsequent search. And because it’s Google, we should expect to see more features and coverage in the future.
Why it’s Important
For attorneys, Google’s entrance into the legal information market should help to drive down research costs. While it may not break up the LexisNexis® and Westlaw® grip right away, it does increase competition. As Google expands its offerings, watch for smaller players to enter the market with free or low cost add-ons to supplement Google’s work. Check out Google Scholar’s newest legal search features at: http://scholar.google.com.
Google Scholar can also be very helpful for non-lawyers who are interested in conducting their own research that is related their own issue or case. Google Scholar can assist an individual who is interested in finding out more about their own legal issue or case. However, it is important that a non-lawyer understands that interpreting a published case, and how that case may or may not impact their own case, can be difficult. Therefore, it is important to consult with an attorney to discuss your legal matter and how published court decisions impact an individual’s case.
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