Wednesday, December 23, 2009
To all legal researchers: Be aware of possible discrepancies between Google Scholar and commercial research tools
Thanks to legal research expert, scholar, and all-around good guy Chris Wren for telling me about this potential pitfall he uncovered while recently using Google Scholar, the newest open-source legal research tool to hit the market. As Chris explained, he recently used Google Scholar to find a case he needed for a brief he's writing for the Wisconsin's A.G.'s office (some find it easier to cut and paste language from cases using Google Scholar than Wexis). However, when Chris compared the Google Scholar version of the case, State v. Greene, 2008 WI App 100, 313 Wis. 2d 211, 756 NW 2d 411, to the official one, he noticed the footnote numbers were off.
As Chris explained:
The source of the discrepancy quickly became apparent. In the official version of the case (as in all official versions of Wisconsin cases), the filing of a petition for review in the Wisconsin Supreme Court gets noted in the caption with a footnote placed at the end of the name of the party that filed the petition. The symbol for this footnote is a dagger, not a number. Google Scholar, however, designates this footnote with a number (in this instance, the dagger became "1") and renumbers the remaining footnotes accordingly. Where there's more than one footnote attached to the caption - e.g., Ellsworth v. Schelbrock, 229 Wis. 2d 542, 600 N.W.2d 247 (Ct. App. 1999) - Google Scholar shifts the footnote numbers even more: in Ellsworth, the caption has two footnotes, so the numbered footnotes shifted by two as well, making footnote 1 in the official version into footnote 3 in the Google Scholar version.
The lesson? If you're going to cite to legal authorities found through Google Scholar, make sure you check your results against the official (or commercial) version, as applicable, to ensure accuracy.
A bg hat tip to Chris Wren.
I am the scholarship dude.