Monday, November 23, 2009

Searching for legal opinions and journals on Google Scholar

Google itself has an interesting discussion of its new Google Scholar legal opinions and journals search engine, now in Beta, on its blog:
As many of us recall from our civics lessons in school, the United States is a common law country. That means when judges issue opinions in legal cases, they often establish precedents that will guide the rulings of other judges in similar cases and jurisdictions. Over time, these legal opinions build, refine and clarify the laws that govern our land. For average citizens, however, it can be difficult to find or even read these landmark opinions. We think that's a problem: Laws that you don't know about, you can't follow — or make effective arguments to change. Starting today, we're enabling people everywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar. You can find these opinions by searching for cases (like Planned Parenthood v. Casey), or by topics (like desegregation) or other queries that you are interested in. . . . We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of several pioneers, who have worked on making it possible for an average citizen to educate herself about the laws of the land: Tom Bruce (Cornell LII), Jerry Dupont (LLMC), Graham Greenleaf and Andrew Mowbray (AustLII), Carl Malamud (Public.Resource.Org), Daniel Poulin (LexUM), Tim Stanley (Justia), Joe Ury (BAILII), Tim Wu (AltLaw) and many others. It is an honor to follow in their footsteps. We would also like to acknowledge the judges who have built this cathedral of justice brick by brick and have tried to make it accessible to the rest of us. We hope Google Scholar will help all of us stand on the shoulders of these giants.

CS-SIS has a good overview of the new Google Scholar service, citing other sources, like the Just in Case, the Case Western Reserve Law School Library Blog, which have done some actual testing. According to Andrew Plumb-Larrick, in Just in Case, it sounds like sometimes Google Scholar works well, and sometimes it doesn't. It cites to full text opinions, but journal articles tend to be hosted by third parties and not available in full text. Its search mechanism, based on citation analysis, works differently from the usual keyword approach, which makes it interesting. There will be more to come on this one.

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