How To Conduct Free Legal Research Using Google Scholar

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Technology has changed the way that lawyers practice law, providing solo and small firm lawyers with innovative and affordable ways to practice law on their own terms. This is very apparent in the field of legal research. In the past, the only research options available were to head over to the closest law library or maintain a costly and space-consuming library at your law firm. Enter Google Scholar, a fully searchable online legal case database. Its research capabilities have improved substantially, making it easier than ever to conduct legal research and check the citations of relevant cases. Learn the benefits and get tips on using Google Scholar for legal research.

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How To Conduct Free Legal Research Using Google Scholar

  1. 1. © 2013 MyCase, Inc. | How To Conduct Free Legal Research Using Google Scholar | www.mycase.com 1 It is indisputable that technology has changed the way that lawyers practice law, providing solo and small firm lawyers with innovative and affordable ways to make their mark and practice law on their own terms. For example, nowadays, Internet-based technology makes it possible for lawyers to remotely manage their practices from their laptops or mobile devices, no matter where they are, 24/7. Cloud-based tools, such as law practice management platforms, make it easier than ever to practice law on the go, providing lawyers with cost-effective, flexible alternatives to the costly, cumbersome server-based software choices of yesteryear. These new technologies have leveled the playing field, allowing the 21st century solo attorney to compete with larger firms in ways never before seen. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the field of legal research. It used to be that the only research options available were to either head over to the closest law library or maintain a costly and space-consuming library on your law firm’s premises. Next came electronic research capabilities, but even then, it cost an arm and a leg to subscribe to the two most popular platforms, Westlaw or LexisNexis. The high subscription costs often made these platforms unpalatable for many solos and small firms. Google Scholar Provides Free Legal Research Enter Google Scholar, a fully searchable online legal case database which went live in November of 2009. Since Google Scholar’s release, its research capabilities have improved substantially, making it easier than ever to conduct legal research and check the citations of relevant cases. So what’s included in Google Scholar’s database? A lot. The Google Scholar About page describes its legal database coverage as follows: Google Scholar allows you to search and read published opinions of US state appellate and supreme court cases since 1950, US federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy courts since 1923 and US Supreme Court cases since 1791. In addition, it includes citations for cases cited by indexed opinions or journal articles which allows you to find influential cases (usually older or international) which are not yet online or publicly available. So not only is its coverage extensive, it’s easy to use. How To Conduct Free Legal Research Using Google Scholar
  2. 2. © 2013 MyCase, Inc. | How To Conduct Free Legal Research Using Google Scholar | www.mycase.com 2 Get Started With Google Scholar To start, simply head over to the Google Scholar home page and check the “legal documents” box. Next, enter your search terms (diag. 1). On the next page (diag. 2), you’ll see a list of cases that include your search terms. Of course, at this point, by default, the results includes cases from every jurisdiction, so you’ll want to limit your search to specific courts by clicking on “Select courts” in the left hand column. Then, you’ll be taken to a page where you can limit your search to specific courts. (diag. 3) As you can see, I limited my search to New York courts. Once you’ve limited your search to your chosen jurisdictions, you can then reduce the results even further by limiting them to a specific time frame by clicking on the choices in the left hand column. In that same column, you can also sort the results by relevance or date. (diag. 4) 1 2 3
  3. 3. © 2013 MyCase, Inc. | How To Conduct Free Legal Research Using Google Scholar | www.mycase.com 3 To view a case from your results, click on it to read the full case. As shown in diagram 4, you’ll see that the case includes hyperlinked cases directly in the decision, so that you can follow the links and review the cited decision. (diag. 5) Get More Out Of Google Scholar A newly improved feature of Google Scholar is the ability to glean useful information regarding how the case you are reading has been cited–in other words, it’s Google Scholar’s version of “Shepardizing.” To do so, you click on “How cited” in the upper lefthand corner, as you can see in diagram 6. 4 5 6
  4. 4. © 2013 MyCase, Inc. | How To Conduct Free Legal Research Using Google Scholar | www.mycase.com 4 You’ll then be taken to the page in diagram 7, which includes a list of cases that have cited your case, with those on the left appearing based on the number of times your case has been cited for a particular legal proposition. On the right, the cases appear based on the extent that the citing case discusses your case. Three blue bars means your case was discussed at length, two blue bars means it was discussed somewhat, and one blue bar means it was discussed briefly. Finally, at the bottom of the right hand “Cited by” column, you can explore all of the documents citing your case. When you follow that link, you land on the following page (diag. 8), which lists the cases that discuss your case the most first, with an excerpt from each case. You can also check the box at the top of the page to search within the citing cases. And finally, last but not least, you can click on the “create an alert” icon that appears at the bottom of the left hand column. 7 8
  5. 5. © 2013 MyCase, Inc. | How To Conduct Free Legal Research Using Google Scholar | www.mycase.com 5 Doing so takes you to this page (diag. 9), where you can fill in the relevant information so that you’ll be alerted if any new cases are released that cite your case. So, there you have it. The ins and outs of conducting free legal research using Google Scholar. About MyCase MyCase, a subsidiary of AppFolio, is an affordable, intuitive and powerful practice management software designed for the modern law firm. Easily organize your firm with a complete solution -- contacts, calendars, cases, documents, time tracking, and billing. Reap the time-saving benefits of MyCase’s integrated client portal so everyone stays informed and connected. Learn more at www.MyCase.com. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus or email us at support@mycase.com. About The Author Nicole Black is Director of Business Development at MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is an attorney in Rochester, NY, and is a GigaOM Pro analyst. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, coauthored the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, and coauthored “Criminal Law in New York,” a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes three legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycaseinc.com. Ready for new practice management software? Get started with your MyCase 30-day free trial! 9

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