Thursday, July 26, 2012

New Features Make it Easier to Use Google Scholar for Case Law Research

At the American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting in Boston this week, I had the opportunity to see a presentation by Anurag Acharya, one of two founders of Google Scholar.

Mr. Acharya had two goals in setting up Google Scholar's case law database:

1. Everyone should be able to find the law that governs them.
2. The law should be free to search and free to read

Google Scholar contains full text published opinions from the following courts/time periods:
  • U.S. Supreme Court: 1791 to present 
  • Federal District, Appellate, Tax, and Bankruptcy Courts: 1923 to present 
  • State Appellate and Supreme Courts: 1950 to present
Google Scholar has had this case law content for quite a while but it recently changed its look and added a number of features that link together cases and make it easier to use:
  • While scrolling through a case, the case citation floats at the top of the screen, making it easier to pincite 
  • The footnotes link to their accompanying text 
  • Citations to other cases within Google Scholar are now live links to those cases, and significant attention was given to linking up short cites to the cases to which they refer 
  • Level of discussion feature allows reader to see the extent to which a citing case discusses the original case, much like Westlaw Star Treatment. The levels are three bars for most significant discussion, two bars for significant discussion, and one bar for the least significant discussion  
  • Results lists can now also be sorted by date, which could allow a thorough researcher to check the currentness of a particular case or rule of law.
The "new" Google Scholar is still not nearly as sophisticated as its commercial counterparts. It is, however, making headway in becoming a useful tool not just for the average person who needs to know what law governs but also for expert legal researchers.

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