Thursday, December 03, 2009

Google Builds Free Legal Database at Google Scholar – Is it the New Lexis or Westlaw?

If you access Google and choose its Google Scholar , you can find a remarkable feat: Google has made available not only full opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court, but also those from all the federal district courts and the federal appellate courts, too. No bankruptcy court opinions yet, but you know that is a matter of time.

What is the extent of the Texas law library available at Google Scholar?

As for providing legal research options for the states, all 50 states are represented at Google Scholar --- both their appellate and supreme courts. For Texas, a cursory surf through Google Scholar revealed a plethora of opinions from both the Texas Supreme Court as well as the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and many opinions from the various state appellate courts. There’s a lot to be found at Google Scholar, and it’s all for free.

How much does Google already have available?

It’s hard to tell. We couldn’t get any solid feel for how far back in time the precedent reaches (state or federal), much less how fast they update their databases. You also don’t know if the individual case is an unpublished opinion. We did find some cases going back to the 1950s – and Google is nothing if not hard-working and persistent. This time next year, who knows how much will be available to use at the Google Scholar web site.

Of particular note, there are also search results for law review articles and various journal submissions. These are not free, unlike the precedent that Google provides. Usually, you are directed to a site with a synopsis of what the full article provides, and you must paid a small amount to gain access to the complete work.

How do the cases appear?

They are easy to read, and contain hypertext linked in a very user-friendly format. (Case citations within an opinion are cross-linked, for example.) There is also a pseudo-citator (“HowCited”) which seems incomplete right now. It does list precedent as well as secondary sources that mention the particular case, but we can’t confirm its completeness or accuracy here. Clearly it’s no KeyCite or Shepard’s at this point (but given time, that might change).

Does it compare to Lexis or Westlaw?

Time will tell and you will have to be the judge on this one – as of today, a clearer comparison seems to be with Justia or Cornell’s Legal Information Institute. Who knows about tomorrow?