Google Enters Into The Realm Of Legal Research And Adds Legal Opinions To Google Scholar

Is this the beginning of the end for Westlaw and Lexis? Today, Google added the ability to search legal opinions through Google Scholar. As a litigator, I rely quite heavily on Westlaw to conduct online legal research and have become quite proficient at creating searches that will quickly and efficiently get me good results. (I have used Lexis as well, and don't intend to debate the differences between the two services.) But, as good as Westlaw's database is, their searches are slow and their web interface is cluttered.

I was wondering when Google was going to enter the legal research field and was excited to hear that the day has finally come. Considering that Westlaw and Lexis have had a monopoly over online legal research for the last 20 years, I was curious to see Google's take on legal research. After all, who knows search better than Google?

After playing with Google Scholar for a couple of hours, I am very impressed with the service. It is nothing short of amazing and will create some serious competition for Westlaw and Lexis. It is important to note that, as of today, only legal opinions and journals are available through Google's database. In that sense, and until statues and regulations and included, it is not yet a comprehensive research tool for attorneys. I wouldn't think this would be very difficult for Google to add and, as is evident from the way Google treats case citations and references related cases (see below), statutory annotations and links to citing cases should follow.

In order to get the full benefit of Google Scholar's legal search capabilities, searches should be conducted through the Advanced Search page. Scroll to the bottom of the page to select your jurisdiction. You may also want to increase the number of returned search results to 50 or 100 in the upper right hand corner of the page or in your search preferences. Once your jurisdictions are selected, the various search fields at the top of the page provide a lot of flexibility in specifying search parameters.

Once you hit the search button, the beauty of Google Scholar become apparent. For example, my search for cases in California containing the phrases "breach of fiduciary duty" and "exemplary damages" produced 90 case results. [my search] The same search in Westlaw produced 96 results. Once you click on a link to a case citation, Google Scholar displays the text of the opinion in a clean, well organized, format. [link to cited case] The case name and citation are displayed at the top of the page, search terms are highlighted, and links to inline case citations are provided. One feature I really like is that pagination is displayed in the left margin, rather than within the actual text. Also, you can print the text of the opinion directly from your browser, unlike Westlaw, which requires you to jump through hoops to print.

The other noteworthy feature of the "How Cited" tab at the top of the results page. This tab takes you to a page with three sections: "How this document has been cited," "Cited by," and "Related Documents." [link to "cited" tab] Each of these sections contains links to the citing authority or document.

Another benefit of Google's simple web-based format is that the search and result pages are easily and quickly displayed on mobile devices, such as the iPhone and Blackberry. I conducted a few searches from my iPhone and was pleasantly surprised with the results.

As I mentioned earlier, until Google includes statutes and regulations in their databases, Google Scholar is not yet complete as a research tool for lawyers. It is, however, a promising tool for conducting case law research.

I am interested in hearing others' opinions on Google Scholar for purposes of conducting legal research.

Reader Comments (3)

I just tried Google scholar for the first time and found a case I had been looking for, actually a client in jail found it and gave me the case name, cite, date etc but I could not locate it via Casemaker or legalwa.org searches ... kudos to Google.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim Schoenberger

I've been "old school". Learned research by the books, and was put off by by Westlaw and Lexis search queries. Did Google Advanced search, and obtained immediate results.
Very pleased.
Cheryl Chapman Henderson

November 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCherylhend

Ya really the google research will give immediate result. Its so benfit for all of them. This is the best research..........


April 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlawwave

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>