November 18, 2009
Testing Google Scholar for Legal Research
The most amazing thing happened yesterday. Google has added legal research to Google Scholar. The feature is accessible from the main Scholar page as a radio button that limits the search to legal materials. What is even more amazing is that it transcends what I would call the Internet experience, the scatter-shot search results that populate a result page. The initial iteration is something that even legal professionals might be able to use for some forms of research. The usual free sites are good for what they are, distinct collections of case law that are usable if one knows which documents one wants. Searching the law by topic and getting something useful has always been a problem. See my post , Some Thoughts on the Bob Berring Video Comments, for details.
My initial impression of Google's legal research is that it is way better than I could expect. I used a test search of "products liability torts Illinois" and found links to the full text of the significant cases in Illinois jurisprudence on the subject. The first case that came up was Suvada v. White Motor Co., 210 NE 2d 182 from the Illinois Supreme Court in 1965 with cites to the official Illinois case reporter and the Northeastern Reporter. Other searches indicate cases in full text as far back as 1961, earlier than most free case law collections. The text of the case had minimal star paging with pages listed in the margins on the left. Cases mentioned in the opinion were hyperlinked when available. I'm guessing 1960 is a cutoff date for case law as that date seemed consistent with a boundary for mentioned cases linked and not linked. The presentation of the case had two tabs at the top of the page, one for the text and one for how cited. The latter tab included texts to other cases with links to full text, links to articles which so far appear to be available on Heinonline as their source, links to books in Google Books (J.J. White's UCC Hornbook, for example), and related documents which included more cases and general scholarship in Google Scholar. Some of these linked materials may not be available to the general public. There is, however, enough information noted about these documents to find them in the average law library collection or through other sources.
The hyperlinking to related materials is something that is available in the free sites, but not to the extent given here. It is very Lexis and Westlaw-like. The related materials seemed keyed less on my initial search terms than the actual point of the case, which is strict liability under Restatement of Torts section 402A. If nothing else, this can lead a researcher to related materials in ways that other sites may not.
Joe excerpted a quote from the Google blog in his post, Researching Court Opinions Using Google Scholar: What Do You Think?, noting individuals who have helped create free legal resource collections on the web. I want to highlight one sentence from that excerpt: "It is an honor to follow in their footsteps." Google is not linking directly to these sites for their content. Google is hosting this content if the URLs on the opinions are any indication. There are links in the result listings that give access to places such as Justia and the Legal Informtion Institute as alternative locations for texts. If my reading is accurate, Google is a competitor more than a collaborator with these sites.
I can only wonder what improvements Google can make as the service continues. They could license content from Hein and others and present the commentary usually hidden behind paywalls. They may be able to create a citator as one exists here in its most rudimentary form. They could extend case law full text back further in time. However, the clear immediate advantage for this addition to Google is the relevant keyword search results and the hyperlinks to relevant materials. Amazing. More on this later as I test the limits of legal research on Google Scholar. [MG]
I am glad that Google has given its research portal Google Scholar the capability to search through American case law and can do budding legal scholars out there have a powerful new research tool officially. This will be powerful research tool for those without access to the mainstays of the legal research market. Thank you so much for informing here!
Posted by: fischöl | Nov 19, 2009 3:24:46 AM
I'm wondering how they rank the results. Do you know? Are they using the same ranking that they use is plain old google - most popular rising to the top - or some other form of relevancy? I haven't checked it out yet.
Posted by: Vicki Szymczak | Nov 18, 2009 11:51:23 AM