Google Makes Free Caselaw Search Available in Scholar
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On the evening of November 17, Google fired (arguably) the loudest and certainly most recent salvo in the battle for free access to case law...and it apparently came as a tweet. Google has made a database of Federal and State caselaw and legal journal articles available via its Google Scholar search. The announcement was apparently made  by lawyer-turned-Google-product-manager Rick Klau on Twitter.

Google has posted a more "official" announcement on its blog about the availability of free case law via Google Scholar.

Expert Witness profiler

On the Google Scholar Advanced Search page, you can limit results to:

  • all legal opinions and journals: You cannot limit your search to just journals or just legal opinions.
  • only US Federal court opinions: You cannot limit your search to just one type of federal court (such as U.S. Supreme Court only).
  • only state court opinions: You can select any combination of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

There are no search boxes to search by citation, party name, or judge name, but you can "force" these searches. To force a search by citation, enter it into the Find articles with the exact phrase search box on the Advanced Search page. (Even though a case citation is not an article, the results do include cases).

To force a search by party name, you must first decide if you want to bring back narrow or broad results. For example, in a search for Roe v Wade, the most narrow search strategy would be to enter Roe v Wade into the Find articles with the exact phrase search box, limit your results to Search only US federal court opinions, and from the Find articles where my words occur drop-down menu, select in the title of the article (this will bring back cases, not articles, since you selected Search only US federal court opinions). This brought back two results (the U.S. Supreme Court decision and the Federal District Court decision). Be sure to use "v" and not "versus" or "vs." 

The most broad search strategy for research about Roe v Wade (using Scholar) would be to enter the two party names, Roe and Wade into the Find articles with all of the words search box, click into the Search all legal opinions and journals radio button, and from the Find articles where my words occur drop-down menu, select anywhere in the article (this will bring back both cases and articles). This search brought back 31,900 results, from the Roe v Wade case, to state and federal cases and articles citing to Roe v Wade. (Searching Roe and Wade at brought back over 18 million results.)

To force a search by judge's name, first enter the judge's last name into the search box labeled Return articles written by and then either click into the radio button labeled only U.S. Federal court opinions or only court opinions from the following states (and then choose a state). At the U.S. Supreme Court level, this will bring back any case where the specified judge delivered the opinion, concurred with it, or dissented from it. If you only want cases where a specified U.S. Supreme Court judge delivered the opinion, for example, you could try entering the judge's last name and the word delivered into the phrase box. This is very hit or miss. It's possible a result (or results) could include cases where someone else delivered the opinion but the specified judge was mentioned regarding his/her delivery of another opinion cited to in the case you are viewing.

Google Scholar Case Coverage

Google Scholar has posted some documentation regarding the case coverage of its free case law database. Scroll down the page to see the following: (no changes between 11/17/09 and 1/19/10)

"Currently, Google Scholar allows you to search and read opinions for US state appellate and supreme court cases since 1950, US federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy courts since 1923 and US Supreme Court cases since 1791 (please check back periodically for updates to coverage information). In addition, it includes citations for cases cited by indexed opinions or journal articles which allows you to find influential cases (usually older or international) which are not yet online or publicly available. Legal opinions in Google Scholar are provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied on as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed lawyer. Google does not warrant that the information is complete or accurate."

(Thanks to Stuart Sierra for the tip on the link to this addition.)

Stanley also points out that Google links to alternate sources for some cases (in addition to Google's own database version), such as "Cornell's LII, Justia, and" Aditionally, he's posted a summary at his own Justia Law, Technology & Marketing blog.

Law Technology News Editor Monica Bay has additional background information on the sources for some of the cases - quoting Klau - on her blog The Common Scold.

The Anatomy of A Google Scholar Legal Opinions and Journals Results List

This is what we've seen in a more-detailed review of the search pages and results.

As a test, we searched for opinions and journal articles related to Roe v Wade. To do so, we typed Roe and Wade into the Find articles with all of the words search box, where we clicked the Search all legal opinions and journals radio button, and selected in the title of the article (from the Find articles where my words occur drop-down menu).  [In most of our searches of all legal opinions and journals, it seems that the first result is to the actual case (versus an article or a case citing the actual case). The first result is typically to the official version.]

The first result is to the official U.S. Supreme Court opinion of Roe v Wade. To the right of the case name, note the How cited link. Beneath the case name you will find: (1) one official and two unofficial citations to the case, (2) a brief case annotation, and (3) links to Cited by 23237 (note these numbers may be dfferent by the time you read this), Related articles, and All 6 versions. Clicking the case name link will bring you to the full-text of the case.

(In this example, Cited by 23237, refers to how many books, cases, and articles cited to Roe and Wade. If you click All 6 versions, you will find the text of Roe v Wade [from up to six different sources]. In this particular search, however, there seems to be four sources: two versions were from Cornell, two were from Justia, one was from [a project of Public.Resource.Org] and one was probably from the U.S. Supreme Court.)

The third result is to a Yale Law Journal article and beneath the article title and brief annotation you will find: Cited by 1543, Related articles, and All 6 versions.

Anatomy of Google Scholar Case Search Results

Case results include:

  • Full text of the returned case
  • links to other cases cited in the returned case (but not to the exact page numbers when cited)

Also included when you are reading a case is a How Cited tab, which includes:

  • How this document has been cited: a snippet of text is displayed that attempts to show how your case was treated in the citing case or journal article. Clicking on one of these snippets takes you directly to the location of the snippet in the citing case - which should be the location of your cited case - if the case is being displayed from Google's collection of free cases. Journal citations are also included in this list. Some journals coming from non-Google sources are in the form of PDFs. In those instances, you're taken to the beginning of the article or to a log-in/payment page of the [non-Google] database vendor.
  • Cited by: lists (and links) to cases, books, and journal articles citing the case you're reading. (Clicking on a case citation link takes you to the first page of the case, not to the exact pin-point page where your case is cited.)
  • Related Documents: lists related cases and journal articles that might have similar fact patterns (or could be a countersuit, for instance).

Nowhere does Google explain the difference between How this document has been cited and Cited by. From what we can tell, there are more documents in the Cited by section and, as noted above, How this document has been cited takes you to pinpoint pages while Cited by does not.

Research Alert: Does Google Scholar's Case Law Database Include Shepard's or West's Key-Cite?

No. However, the How this document has been cited and Cited by features are Google's attempt to update the case you are reading, but there is no editorial treatment to tell you how the citing cases treated the case you're reading - that determination is up to you. The How this document has been cited and Cited by features are definitely a step in the right direction.

There will be, no doubt, many who point out inadequacies of the search and coverage of the database, but remember that this free caselaw research. And if all you need to do is read the text of an opinion, how can you beat free?

For more information on locating free and low-cost investigative and legal research resources on the Internet, see the newly-revised and expanded 10th anniversary edition of "The Cybersleuth's Guide to the Internet."

Ari Kaplan interviews Klau regarding his work at Google and his role in the Google Scholar/Case Law project.

Librarians Gary Price and Shirl Kennedy have a nice review at their Resource Shelf blog.

Law librarian Richard Leiter weighs in on his blog The Life of Books.

Ernie (The Attorney) Svenson's shares his take on the Google Scholar free case law search on his blog.

California lawyer Dan Friedlander shares his views on the Google Scholar free case law search on his Law on My Phone blog.



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