Google Legal Research is Here and Now

Google the noun has become google the verb. That's old news. How about Googling your legal research? And it's here right now. Beta, yeah. But it works.

Granted Westlaw and Lexis have no reason to lose sleep right now, but it's coming. After all, they offer a lot more than just court cases and their own methodology and search techniques have been honed to fit the lawyer's mind from decades of experimentation. But Google is free, and that's tempting to new young lawyers who don't have the resources to sign up for the paid services that offer a lot more bang for the buck.

Google Scholar is a database that Google has been quietly building and they've now added the ability to search court opinions from the US District Courts, the US Court of Appeals, the US Supreme Court and from all fifty states.

It's got the familiar Google interface and the only obvious thing that distinguishes it from the "home" Google search engine web site page is the smaller print under the "Google" that says "Scholar Beta." And the searching is easy, but a bit clumsy and it'll take some time to get used to.
But it's biggest advantage? Limit yourself to one state and a time frame of say the last 9 years and plug in a specific phrase or topic, like "lemon law" for instance, and in a flash you will get all the court decision there are. No waiting. No hourglass busy icon. No time to even lift your coffee cup up off the desk. It's that fast. Okay, I know you're thinking it ... it's "google fast."

You can use the "advanced" link to limit your search to one or more jurisdictions and you can search by date ranges. Like Google itself, it's slick and simple. Maybe too simple for lawyers to get used to, but the next generation of law students? It's right up their alley.

But there's lots of questions. After all, it is beta.

Who knows how deep the content is, how often will it be updated, where does the data come from, and just how strong is Google's committment to legal research --- or does beta mean maybe it'll be around next month, and maybe it won't? No one seems to know for sure, so for now take a spin and see what you think. Like it or hate it, let us know and we'll report back.

Ron Burdge
Helping lawyers help their clients since 1978.