Legal Research with Google Scholar

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Personal Productivity for Lawyers

This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.

GoogleScholarThe next time you to need to legal research, consider using Google Scholar.

Google Scholar has a rather impressive library of judicial opinions, and if you have a citation you can probably find it. The information is more raw, however, and Google Scholar does not organize the results in the same manner as Westlaw or LexisNexis—which generally will organize any caselaw searches from most relevant to least relevant.

The raw natural language search function, however, is arguably on the same level as Westlaw, LexisNexis, or Fastcase. I did the same search in Fastcase and Google Scholar and got almost the same results—but Google Scholar was much faster. Natural language searches should be as effective, if not more effective, using because Google’s search engine uses better search algorithms.

Google Scholar also displays the entire case, not just the citation. For the cases I viewed, citations were also hyperlinked (just like Westlaw, LexisNexis, and Fastcase). There is also a tab called “how cited” which provides quick quotes and links to the cites.

Overall, Google Scholar is fairly useful for a free product—and at least as good as Fastcase.

Case Law in Google Scholar | Just in Case

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  • Roland Jensen

    Nice one! First read this here in your blog. Google has really been cementing their place in the search engines race and have been reaching to and accommodating almost all fields of research.

  • I tried Google Scholar the other day. It’s stunning how fast it is, and I love the way they put the reporter page numbers in the margin. But I don’t think it’s ready for prime time. They are missing cases that are less than 1 yr old, and I located a fed district court case from 2005, but no indication or link to the reversal in 2007. There are not even any warnings that cases may no longer be good law. If you want to search for a case by its citation, you have to put it in quotes.

    So, not something I’d want to rely on yet. It’s faster than Fastcase (which perhaps will have to change its name to PrettyFastCase), but not as comprehensive, which isn’t saying much because Fastcase still has a lot of holes in its database. If I were Fastcase though, I would not be sleeping at night.

    One of our local tech and search big-thinkers, Lavern Pritchard, commented on a listserve that it is somewhat fascinating that this came from outside the legal world. It’s as if they’re saying legal research isn’t anything special – it’s just search like anything else. That’s not really true, of course, but it’s not hard to see where this is going. What will happen to lawyers’ lock on searching and accessing caselaw when it can be taught in high school using Google? [oh, wait, they try to stay away from teaching relevant things in high school. But that’s a rant for another day].

  • Good to know it’s missing some cases—not cool there is no link to the reversal. Still, Fastcase is not fast, and like you point out, also has holes in their database.