Google Scholar: A Review

From Betty Ward, Westmoreland County Law Librarian

Most attorneys are familiar with Google—and use it to research all sorts of information for their practice and daily life. What would we do without it?? Recently a new component of Google Scholar became available, which allows the user to conduct free searches of U.S. case law and more. Google Scholar, which has been specifically geared to scholarly research, now allows searches of general articles and/or patents, full text legal opinions and law journals. Although, Google Scholar is still in the beta testing stage, it shows much promise. The legal content includes U.S. Supreme Court opinions since 1791; federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy court opinions since 1923; and state appellate and Supreme Court cases since 1950. It requires no registration or sign-on, it is as easy to use as Google, it is amazingly fast, and it is free. The display is simple and pleasing, with features such as: highlighted search terms, internal page numbers, “How Cited” tabs, “Cited By” boxes and “Related Documents” lists. Preferences and advanced search options may be selected and results are ranked according to relevance.

Although Google Scholar has garnered much praise, there are some notable drawbacks when compared to Westlaw and Lexis. Google Scholar does not include Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Opinions, statutes and regulations are not available, and it lacks the editorial enhancements of the commercial publishers. For instance, there are no headnotes and there is no citator service (like Shepard’s or Keycite).

However, all things considered, Google Scholar has a lot to offer. It is a great place to conduct preliminary research, view cases (when case history and treatment are not a major concern) and can save money by cutting down on the amount of research time spent using commercial services. It is still in the testing stage, so improvements to the content and features are bound to follow.

Google Scholar is available at http://scholar.google.com.

To learn more about Google Scholar, see: www.llrx.com/features/googlescholar.htm.

Additional information is available at the Westmoreland County Law Library.

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