Earlier this week Google announced a slew of new products (check out the official Google Blog for a full list). Of particular interest to lawyers was the addition to Google Scholar that allows searches for federal and state court decisions. This in itself is nothing new, as many websites currently offer access to federal court decisions for free, such as openjurist.org or justia.com. Like these other free offerings, Google hosts the case itself. While such sites are not new, Google’s implementation has the potential to transform legal research.
A more user-friendly search is one of the many ways Google beats out alternative free and pay legal research options. While the search engine is far from perfect, queries can be focused by either state or federal court, and searches can be further refined by “author” and date constraints. This can be a great help when starting a new research project on an unfamiliar topic. For example, if staring research on an ADA question regarding “reasonable accommodation,” a simple query of “ reasonable accommodation” and “Posner” (if you wanted a 7th Circuit decision) in the author field yields useful results. The results are organized by which decisions have been cited most, rather than which decisions are most recent. In contrast to Google, both West and Lexis give search results by the date of the decision, and require further investigation in order to differentiate which cases have significance. Because Google doesn’t make money on content directly, Google has no incentive to locate this information behind an additional pay walls whereas pay sites make money by obfuscating information behind additional clicks—the more one clicks the more they make.