Case Law on Google Scholar

Google Scholar has garnered a great deal of attention for its new Case Law service, some flattering and others critical. See the WSJ Law Blog post News You Can Use: On Google’s Adding Caselaw to ‘Scholar’ and the Resource Shelf’s post Legal Info Now Part of Google Scholar Database; Federal and State Legal Opinions and Patents, Law Journals Also Part of the Mix both of which raise questions about the new service. While it permits free access to full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts, it also contains citation features. In its blog entry about the new service, Google Scholar states that the “Cited by” and “Related articles” links will help the average citizen understand the impact of a given opinion. For example, a search for Roe v. Wade will yield not only the text of the decision but all 22,841 citing documents including cases and articles that cite to it. It is questionable whether an experienced legal researcher, let alone the average citizen, will be able to process that much information.

There is a separate patent search interface in addition to the legal opinions and journals which the searcher can choose to add to the search results. In order to search content from all 50 states (and DC) at one time, the search must check each “state” box on the advanced search page.

The addition of free access to the “laws that govern us” along with the emergence of Bloomberg Law to the world of legal information is likely to get the attention of LexisNexis and Westlaw, the two main commercial online databases which lawyers and legal research scholars use to search for this material. The ABA has recently launched its Media Alerts on Federal Courts of Appeals Website summarizing federal court opinions and upcoming cases for its audience of lawyers and other legal professionals. However, with so much information available on the web, whether for free or for fee, it is important to remember the distinction between search and research. As stated in this Westlaw video “Our Salute to Law Librarians” featuring UCLA Prof. Bob Berring, NYU Prof. Arthur Miller and Linda Will, Law Librarian Consultant, industry leaders reflecting on the invaluable work of law librarians “There’s a difference between research and search.”