If it’s been a while since you’ve used Google Scholar to locate case law, you might want to check out some of the new enhancements and features that have been implemented over the past several months.
In May of this year, the Google Scholar blog announced a “new modern look” for Scholar results. In most respects it looks the same, but you can click on “revert to old venerable look” at the bottom left of the screen and decide for yourself!
Settings: First, before you begin your case law research, take a minute to go to Settings at the top right of the screen. From there you can opt to have your results open in legal documents (instead of articles), increase the number of documents that appear on the results page, and elect to have documents open in a new browser window.
Advanced Search Template: On the new Google Scholar homepage you might wonder what happened to Advanced Search. Not to fear. To locate the Advance Search template, just click on the arrow drop down at the search box.
A quick tip here: when using the advanced search template and searching for phrases, use the “all these words” search box and/or put your phrases in quotations. Also, take a look at the Google Scholar Search Tips page for additional ways to refine your search.
Results Page: Once you have retrieved your case results, look at the options available to you in the left column. From here you can further limit your search to a specific jurisdiction by clicking on the “Select Courts” box. If you wish, you can also choose a date range for results returned, including a custom date range. By default results are sorted by relevance, but Google Scholar now also offers the ability to sort results by date.
Currentness: Alena Wolotira, in her post on Gallagher Blogs, suggests that the new sort by date feature could be used by “a thorough researcher to check the currentness of a particular case …” — a helpful tip considering that Google Scholar doesn’t indicate how frequently it adds to or updates its case law database (although it does provide this information regarding articles). After conducting a couple tests for herself, Geri Dreiling reports in her post on Lawyer Tech Review that she has found cases to appear within seven days or less. Check out her post for a nice explication on using Google Scholar for legal research.
Citator Function: Although Google Scholar lacks a true KeyCite or Shepard’s citator function, it does provide a “How Cited” feature that provides subsequent history and related documents. Click on the “How Cited” tab to go to a page listing cases that have cited to your case, divided into the following three parts:
“How this document has been cited” — a list of quoted excerpts from citing cases
“Cited by” — a list of citing cases according to the extent they have discussed your case
“Related documents” — a list of other cases and/or secondary sources relevant to your case
Notice that Google Scholar has changed how the “Cited by” results are listed. Instead of being listed by prominence (the former default), you’ll see that they are now listed according to how much a citing case discusses your original case, with those discussed most appearing first. A bar icon at the left of the listed citing case quickly informs you of the level of discussion. Interpret the bar icons as follows:
- Three highlighted bars = discussed in depth
- Two highlighted bars = discussed moderately
- One highlighted bar = discussed briefly
Available Content: As you read through your case, look for live links to cases that your case cites to. Keep in mind, however, that links are available only for cases within Google Scholar. Remember, the content in Google Scholar is limited to the following:
- U.S. Supreme Court cases — 1791 to present
- U.S. federal district, appellate, tax, and bankruptcy court cases — 1923 to present
- U.S. state appellate and supreme court cases — 1950 to present
Other Features: Some final features to keep an eye out for when researching case law on Google Scholar include:
- A “floating” citation to your case that remains at the top of the page as you scroll down your case
- Page number pincites within the case, as well as listed on the left side of your document
- Footnotes that are linked so that you can go back and forth easily between the text and the footnotes
- Ability to create email alerts for your searches