Teensy bit more on Google Scholar
Okay, I can’t help it. I’m going back to Google Scholar (scholar.google.com) to see what else it can do comparable to Lexis and Westlaw (or Wexis, as Fred says). And I am still curious at exactly how far its coverage goes in the legal world so today I thought I’d test it on state court cases, federal district court cases, and legal journals.
I started with legal journals just to see if the search engine could find a student note that was published in Cornell Law Review this year. I typed the author’s first and last name in the Google box and it was the first thing that came up – both as a link to the piece on SSRN and as a PDF from cornell.edu. Pretty nice and much faster than HeinOnline – at least when the author’s not outrageously prolific.
Next I made a quick pit stop in my Scholar Preferences at the top right – mostly because I enjoyed the idea of me being such a scholar as to have preferences! Here there’s some overlap with the regular Google search settings like interface and search languages and result displays. But I could also set my default searching to either articles or legal opinions and journals (if I were too lazy to click that “opinions” button on the search page every time). You can also customize your library links. Last time I was on here and a treatise was cited that was unavailable online, I was given the option of searching libraries for it through WorldCat. Here, I could add Cornell’s library to my library links and I’m guessing that when a resource is available from Cornell Law Library I would be shown that result. It says “Online access to library subscriptions is usually restricted to patrons of that library” and that I should ask a local librarian for assistance logging in with a password or using a library proxy. Probably it would really be worth doing that if I were to end up using Google Scholar regularly – rather than jump into a new window myself to check and see if the book or whatever is in the library’s catalog.
Anyway . . . again pulling from the footnotes of the Hillman Contracts hornbook, I tried a 1970 Hawaii case. I typed “mcintosh v murphy” in the basic search box and lo and behold, again the first citation that pops up. So the 1970 Hawaii Supreme Court is represented here. And the other results on the page all made sense as well – either they cited Hawaii’s McIntosh v. Murphy or they involved other parties named McIntosh and Murphy (including a Virginia case of Murphy v. McIntosh). Not bad.
What about an even lower state court case? I tried just “lichtenfels” for a 1966 Pennsylvania Superior Court case, thinking there couldn’t possibly be many of those. Wrong. Google Scholar found a bunch where Lichtenfels was the first party name, including the case I had in mind – Lichtenfels v. Bridgeview Coal Co. This time my magic case didn’t appear until three down on the list. It came behind a 1963 NC case and a 1984 Ohio case. So I wonder if Google maybe orders them alphabetically by jurisdiction? It’s definitely not date or even number of citations (27, 8, 12) and I can’t see how one “Lichtenfels” can be more relevant than another. Not that it really matters since I didn’t even have to scroll down the page to find the exact case I was looking for.
(Incidentally, I ran the same search of just plain “lichtenfels” in Westlaw and WestlawNext’s search boxes. Besides being expensive because I was searching all state and federal databases, Westlaw’s results weren’t all that impressive. My case still came up (6th down on Next and 127th on Westlaw’s reverse chronological results list), but it took a lot more of my time to pull it out. And, as an attorney kept reminding me this summer, our time is going to something valuable soon so a free search that takes you five times as long might not really be cost-saving for you or your client.)
How about a random federal district court case? In “Advanced Scholar Search” I typed in “PETA” to see what they’d been up to in court and found a ton of cases, including an SDNY case – PETA v. Giuliani – which was filed after PETA was denied a display of its cow design in NY’s CowParade in 2000 (“This case presents a unique question: whether a cow is a forum or a forum a cow, and then when and where such a cow/forum may be found.”). And I noticed for the first time that Google Scholar also nicely hyperlinks its footnotes Wexis-style so that’s handy.
There is one feature that, if I had my druthers (as my grandfather would say) I would improve. When a case comes up as a result, in addition to the “Cited by . . . “ number and the “Related Articles,” there’s a third link choice to “Import into BibTeX.” I saw this crazy BibTeX back in my Bibliography Manager in my scholarly preferences. Basically it seems to format the citation for you. Unfortunately, the citation options included in Google Scholar do not include Bluebook or even ALWD so it’s not much use to legal researchers following those conventions (and I just turned that option off). But can you imagine how great it would be to just click a button under a case and have the proper Bluebook format pop up for you? 1L Lawyering would have been so much easier!
One more feature I really like about Google Scholar? No username and password to constantly forget or have to change! (Take that, Lexis and Westlaw.)