Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Google the Laws that Govern Us

Now the common man can search the common law via Google Scholar:
Starting today, we're enabling people everywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar. You can find these opinions by searching for cases (like Planned Parenthood v. Casey), or by topics (like desegregation) or other queries that you are interested in. For example, go to Google Scholar, click on the "Legal opinions and journals" radio button, and try the query separate but equal. Your search results will include links to cases familiar to many of us in the U.S. such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, which explore the acceptablity of "separate but equal" facilities for citizens at two different points in the history of the U.S. But your results will also include opinions from cases that you might be less familiar with, but which have played an important role.

We think this addition to Google Scholar will empower the average citizen by helping everyone learn more about the laws that govern us all. To understand how an opinion has influenced other decisions, you can explore citing and related cases using the Cited by and Related articles links on search result pages. As you read an opinion, you can follow citations to the opinions to which it refers. You can also see how individual cases have been quoted or discussed in other opinions and in articles from law journals. Browse these by clicking on the "How Cited" link next to the case title. See, for example, the frequent citations for Roe v. Wade, for Miranda v. Arizona (the source of the famous Miranda warning) or for Terry v. Ohio (a case which helped to establish acceptable grounds for an investigative stop by a police officer).
Ever since I started law school, I thought Google would be a powerful competitor to LexisNexis and Westlaw and was hoping they'd come up with a service like this that was free to the public. While Google is still lacking many of the features of these two search engines, this is still Google's first foray into a legal search engine and one that is destined to improve and be far easier to use than the competition. Not only that, but it won't cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars to do basic legal research. If I were Westlaw and LexisNexis, I would not be too pleased with this announcement.

To see an example of how it works, here is a search for Powell v. Alabama (the case I mentioned in my post on the 'Scottsboro Boys') and a list of how this case has been cited. Pretty cool stuff... and you can't beat the price.

Eugene Volokh seems to like it too.

It even works decently well on my iPhone. Now if only Google would develop an app for that...

More on this here.

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