Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Google's Entry into Legal Research

Interesting news this week for small law offices who can't afford Lexis or Westlaw. Google released a legal research web site. You can access it via their Google Scholar search engine. Just to experiment, I decided to use it one day in parallel with Lexis on several research topics. I found that it consistently returned the same results as Lexis. The next day, I decided to use it to do all the research for the day just to see what it felt like.

Turns out I really like it, with a couple of provisions about how to use it. First, the default page searches all case law from any state or federal court in the country. Obviously, that isn't all that useful since you have to wade through a lot of cases that have minimal interest. The solution to that is simple - always use the Advanced Search page. That page lets you specify what states you want to search from or whether you want to search Federal Courts.

Missing is the ability to search combinations of federal courts and state courts. For example, you can't search for all Sixth Circuit and Tennessee state cases. Most likely this is because they don't have the federal cases broken out by circuit. You also can't search for only Supreme Court cases or only cases from specialized courts such as bankruptcy (bankruptcy cases are there, they are just lumped in with federal).

Also missing is linking cases together by topic like the West keynote system or the Lexis headnote system. In fact, all of the analysis material commonly found on the paid services is missing.

On the bright side, there is a citation service that provides you with lists of cases that cite the case you are reading. It's pretty bare bones, and the cases aren't sorted as those that are favorable, etc. And speaking of sorting, I couldn't find any way of sorting the results from whatever default order they initially appear. It would be nice to be able to sort them by date, then by court.

Still, Google has done a creditable job of providing a free legal research tool. It's close to something you could use to replace Lexis or Westlaw. If they will accept some feedback from the legal community, they could make Lexis and West sit up and take notice.


Back After (Lengthy) Absence

I am back to blogging after a lengthy absence caused by being woefully overworked in my practice as well as dealing with some family emergency issues. We're well into U.S. Supreme Court season and I have some comments to make on pending cases and decisions. I hope to get back to posting at least a couple of times a week.