Use Google Scholar for your legal research? Then you may be happy to hear that the Scholar team has further refined the service to highlight significant cases that cite to a particular legal opinion. “Significant” means it discusses the cited case to a greater degree, maybe distinguishing or even rejecting or overturning it.
Scholar always provided citing documents, showing them in order of prominence. Now, in Scholar, those citing cases will be shown in order of significance. So, not unlike services like say Westlaw, citations are shown with the greatest discussion and treatment at the top, and the least at the bottom of the list. Scholar also marks the amount of discussion visually in three tiers. Citing cases that only cite the original case show no marking at all. The tiers are shown with horizontal hashes to the left of the case name.
To say this makes Scholar more useful would be an understatement – as Scholar adds more and more features, the dream of useful free legal research edges closer to reality.
Cool new functionality available now in Google Scholar – you can search within citations to an article! This is particularly helpful for sorting and sifting through the citations to particularly popular piece, like the example in the Google Scholar Blog article announcing the feature: Einstein’s famous paper Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?. When you see the “Cited By ##” in the search results in your Scholar search, click on it and you will get a new search box:
This allows you to actually search within the articles listed in the citation results so that you can get to the subsequent treatment you are looking for.
What does this mean for lawyers? After pulling up the U.S. Supreme Court Opinion in Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson (link here), I searched within the citations to find “same gender discrimination” and cut my list of citations from 7,258 to 30.
Take THAT, Westlaw and Lexis! Read more on this awesome research tool at the Google Scholar Blog (link here).
Here is a bit of common sense from real life example: when using Google Scholar for your legal research, use care in making sure that versions of a case match. Legal Writing Prof Blog has a post about an attorney preparing a brief for filing who noted a discrepancy in the footnote numbering between the official Wisconsin Reporter version of a case and the Google Scholar version. The Blog quotes the attorney’s findings as follows:
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.
My thinking on the proper role of Google Scholar is this: the greatest cost in using the paid databases is the time spent poking around looking for the main cases on a point of law. Once you have identified those cases, the costs of pulling them down out of the paid databases is relatively inexpensive. I see Google Scholar as an effective (but not sole) tool for the former task. When writing an appellate brief to any court, I would not feel the slightest bit comfortable relying on Google Scholar’s version. At that point, I would be pulling the actual cases from the paid databases. While these sources are far from infallible, they do have a longer track record with respect to accuracy, as well as complete citations and the ability to Keycite or Shepardize, a must for briefs to be filed in any court.
So there you have it. Use the free resources with your eyes wide open to their possible shortcomings, and you should not go far wrong.
iPhone user? Lawyer? Or simply interested in the law? Remember last week’s Studio post about Google Scholar’s Advanced Search and legal authorities?
Run, don’t walk, to Jeff Richardson’s great post at iPhone J.D. about using Google Scholar on your iPhone to track down free legal resources. Richardson discusses how to access, set up a bookmark to Scholar search for a specific jurisdiction and other tips, with screenshots and examples of how the results will appear. Check out his take on the new Wexis killer and take Scholar out for a legal spin.
You may remember a while back a post here in the Studio about legal reporter and article results in Google Book Search. You can also pull case law results from Google Scholar Advanced Scholar Search. As can be seen from the search page, results cull legal opinions from federal and state courts and legal journals.
Maybe you don’t know what Google Scholar is? From the site:
Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations. Google Scholar helps you identify the most relevant research across the world of scholarly research.
Features of Google Scholar
- Search diverse sources from one convenient place
- Find papers, abstracts and citations
- Locate the complete paper through your library or on the web
- Learn about key papers in any area of research
There are date restrictions on the case law. While the Supreme Court material goes back to the 1700’s, federal and state case law begins in the 20th century.
More free and legal here in the Studio.
Hat tip to BeSpacific.