Heads up Westlaw, LEXIS, FindLaw and all you other law-related databases.  There is another giant in the field of legal research.  Last night, Google launched a new feature on Google Scholar that makes 80+ years of US federal caselaw and 50+ years of US state caselaw searchable and readable. Here’s what you may find: 

  • The entire opinions are indexed and available
  • Every citation is hyperlinked to the full text of the opinion cited
  • Every opinion includes a "How cited" tab showing how the current opinion was cited by the referring opinion
  • All opinions include their official citation and include page breaks and page numbers

Let’s take this scholar on a test drive. Years ago I worked on a case involving the construction of a power generation facility owned by an entity named Choctaw Generation Limited Partnership.  When I GoogleScholar-ed the name of the owner, my search immediately returned the Second Circuit decision.  That’s it!  The hyperlinks to the footnotes and other citations … check.  The page numbers … check.  So far, so good.

What’s happened to the Choctaw case over the past eight years?  All you have to do is click on the HOW CITED tab and you will find a wealth of information, including the cases that have cited the decision, as well as snippets of the quoted material:

Google Scholar Enters the Legal Market

Here are some early insights about Google Scholar as a research tool and how business should approach its use:

  • This is a great offering from Google.  Ask any associate attorney in my office where I suggest that they start a research assignment and the answer will be: Google.  Is that the only legal research an attorney should do?  Absolutely not!  But it is the best place to start.  And Google Scholar just opened a wealth of additional data for these preliminary searches.
  • One of the enhanced features of Google Scholar is the Advanced Scholar Search that allows you to search by name, jurisdiction, and subject area.  Again, I believe this enhances the preliminary searches that are performed.
  • Before relying on Google Scholar exclusively (…which would probably be years before doing so … ), I would want the public to fully test the scope of the database.  It will be important to watch how timely case law is collected and stored.  

Despite the benefit that Google Scholar results from provide public access to case law, the question remains: will this benefit the practice of law and resolution of disputes in general?  Some of my clients are empowered by their ability to do research and to assist in the trial preparation, while others would simply prefer to show up for the final judgment.  I think for the former group, Google Scholar opens up a pool of available research.  The later group would not bother.

If I had to limit my comments to one sentence, it would be: Great new tool for preliminary research!