Category Archives: Access to Law

More sources on Google Scholar case law…

This post originally appeared on

Update Weds. – Monica Bay at American Lawyer Media’s Common Scold quotes Rick Klau with more detail about Google’s sourcing, and has statements from Lexis Nexis and Thomson Reuters.

By way of updates to my own initial take on Google Scholar’s inclusion of cases, here are other early sources about the product launch:
The Official Google Blog now has an announcement and description of the service.

Duke Law Library’s The Goodson Blogson has a nice write-up, includes important notes about Google Scholar’s links to materials available only through library-based subscriptions, and also points out the limitations of this model of searching when compared to the nuance possible (but not always achieved) with Lexis’ or Westlaw’s boolean Terms & Connectors searching. (They also link the Duke Law Library’s useful research guide to Legal Research on the Web.)

The Supreme Court of Texas Blog has a nice illustrated walk-through.

The University of Nebraska’s Richard Leiter has a self-described ‘mini-review’ on his The Life of Books.

Laura Bergus at Social Media Law Student provides a (social-media savvy) 1L’s perspective on Google Scholar’s case law searching. While her critique of Westlaw/Lexis usability is informative and illustrative, I hope she and her readers do understand the limitations of the Google/ranking approach to the high-recall-required search often required in thorough legal research.

Greg Lambert uses the Google Scholar launch as a springboard for discussing the broader potential for new competition in the legal research marketplace.

Jim Calloway notes the inclusion of Hein Online material in results.

Internet for Lawyers’ cites Tim Stanley’s and Carl Malamud’s Twitter comments for likely database scope:

While there is no documentation on the Scholar site yet regarding coverage of the database, a number of other tweets form reliable sources (including Tim Stanley and Carl Malamud) indicate that it includes:
* 1 US 1 (pre 1776)
* 1 F 2d 1 (1924 +)
* F Supp Cases
* US State Cases (1950+)

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Case Law in Google Scholar

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Google Scholar has a new radio-button selection on its front page to search for “Legal opinions and journals.” This development is at least a useful new free way to quickly obtain the (cut-and-past-able, html) text of known opinions with cited opinions conveniently hyperlinked — it remains to be seen what, if any, deeper research value the tool will have.

Based on a few minutes of tinkering, the legal opinions that turn up in searches are full-text, hosted by Google, while journal article results tend to be hosted by third parties and/or have only a “citation” result turning up from the Google Scholar search. The ‘Advanced Scholar Search’ interface also allows the user to limit the search to opinions only from either federal courts or from individual states. The Google-hosted Scholar results do not seem to show up in regular web-search Google results.

Google Scholar searching is citation based, in that the presentation and ranking of results is based on the Google’s crawler’s indexing of the citing documents rather than primarily on the indexing of the document returned by the search (which, indeed, may not even be available in full-text online if it is cited adequately often by crawl-able online content). While Google’s web search obviously looks (more broadly)at linking patterns (an innovation on the Google founders’ part that was informed by their familiarity with scholarly citation analysis) the focus on citations as search fodder in Google Scholar is narrower in focus and much more explicit. As a result, using Google Scholar for cases will differ in important ways from searching in other online, word-searchable, repositories of case law, where results are based primarily on the presence and placement of search words in the actual retrieved texts.

A test search for In re Bilski, for instance, turns up the Federal Circuit’s opinion, and also several of the major patent cases cited in Bilski. This didn’t work all that well — Diamond v. Diehr, for instance, is turned up no where in the results — as Google’s bots obviously have no way of knowing which cited works are either at the top of the authority pyramid or figure most importantly into the analysis of the courts and parties. The citations-based ranking algorithm likely does do much better than Lexis’ or Westlaw’s ‘natural language’ searches in zeroing in on ‘lead cases’ with a fairly crude/simple keyword search — a test search for “business method patent” turned up (appropriately, I’d say)the State Street Bank case as the first result (with other major cases following)while Lexis’ and Westlaw’s ‘natural language’ searches predictably turned up mostly long lists of recent district court opinions.

I’m reluctant to extend an endorsement of Google Scholar as a case-finding tool too far, as any number of secondary sources would, much more reliably (and with valuable provision of context and explanation) direct the researcher to the same lead cases. On the other hand, Google’s citation-based ranking algorithm certainly adds something new to the mix, and provides results that strike me (on limited experimentation) as an interesting contrast to those from web-based, keyword-searched, repositories.

The citation-analysis basis of Google Scholar is also leveraged in the presentation of results. When a judicial opinion result is selected by the user, it is presented in a tabbed display, with the ability to toggle between the default “view this case” tab and a tab labled “how cited.” “How cited” includes ‘blurbs’ from citing resources (hint to Google that offering a way at the, e.g., “83 similar citations,” would be useful for this material) and also a full list of citing documents that Google has unearthed for the case in question. It is unclear to me how these citing documents are ranked as results, and there do not appear to be tools to limit this display to, e.g., cases only (much less to cases by jurisdiction). But at least the germ of a new, free, citator exists here.
It is unclear from precisely where Google is sourcing its judicial material or what the depth or scope of the database is (though Justia notes that opinions from all 50 states are included from 1950). Results do come – in some way – from official reporters and do include marginal notation of print pagination. I can speculate that the Public.Resource.Org compilation of federal case law, much originating with a donation from FastCase, may play a role. State sourcing is even more mysterious — I hope colleagues can fill me in on what role Google’s bulk library book scanning plays, as my sense was that the law libraries involved in the program had not yet been scanned.

Other places with new news and tinkering/experiment results:
Justia’s Law, Technology, and Legal Marketing Blog (and Paul Stanley’s Twitter feed); Harvard Law School Library’s Et Seq. blog; ResourceShelf; and Internet for Lawyers; Rick Klau of Google, on Twitter.

Andrew Plumb-Larrick

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Librarians as key to open-access law reviews…

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Tom Boone, of Loyola L.A., has a useful post on his personal blog regarding the challenges of implementing the Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship, in which a group of directors of major law libraries called on law schools to move to publishing law journals solely in an online, open-access, format. The Durham Statement was drafted by a group of library directors meeting in November of 2008 at Duke Law School. Additional directors, law school CIOs, and other librarians subsequently became signatories to the statement, including our own Kathy Carrick.
Tom’s post usefully reminds us, though, that promoting meaningful and robust subject access to journal content requires more than merely asking our journals to kindly publish online.
Andrew Plumb-Larrick

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Tempest in a legal-information teapot?

This post first appeared on the blog of the Case Western Reserve Law Library.

The posting on a Thomson Reuters blog of videotaped comments by Bob Berring, U.C. Berkeley’s long-time law librarian, distinguished professor, and former interim dean, have created something of a stir among followers of the legal-information marketplace. In the comments featured on LegalCurrent, a blog by West’s parent company Thomson Reuters, Berring expresses measured but profound skepticism of the viability of both directly government-hosted free legal information and of free legal-information efforts based on “volunteer” efforts (i.e. not based on a commercial vendor’s model).There has been a fair amount of online commentary in response to this video, and I’ve tried to articulate a few of my thoughts about the role of the emerging free sources, below.

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