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Google Scholar Takes on Westlaw and Lexis

Earlier this week, Google upgraded its “Google Scholar” application to include federal court decisions and California state court decisions. Today I was pleased to see that it now includes many state court decisions including Michigan. While the database is not up to the standards of the commercial services, it is very impressive and given the strength of Google will undoubtedly close the distance quickly.

While Google is not quite at the level of taking on Westlaw and Lexis, they very are clearly closing in terms of content. Google Scholar’s content page now says that: “Currently, Google Scholar allows you to search and read opinions for 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 (please check back periodically for updates to coverage information). 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.” As the Columbia Technology Review notes: Google Scholar seems to be optimized for use by members of the public, not lawyers.

Lawyers and other professionals using Google Scholar might wish to start with the
advanced search page. It offers a number of searching options, including the one to limit a search to a particular jurisdiction.

Professor Bob Berring (who is also a law librarian) at the University of California Berkley expressed a similar opinion. He had students research a current U.S. Supreme Court case using Lexis, Nexis, and their choice of free sources. They concluded that the pay databases were still ahead, but most students also found some material in the free services that they didn’t find int he pay services.

Earlier today I tried a difficult Westlaw search that I ran last week (the admissibility of a person’s Facebook or MySpace page against them in Court) on Google Scholar. While the results were not as comprehensive as Westlaw, it did get me the leading law review and case almost instantly. I also attempted to pull up the October 22, 2009 published Michigan Court of Appeals opinion in People v Roper, — NW2d —, 2009 WL 3415879 (Mich Ct App Oct 22, 2009) by name of the decision and rough parameters of the date of the decision. Westlaw found it instantly; Google could not locate it even when I seeded the Google search with information learned by reading the decision (an admittedly inverted process).
Texas Attorney Donald Cruse conducted a similar “test drive” of Google Scholar and blogs about the results of his test search on sovereign immunity in Texas. At present, I am not jettisoning my Westlaw package, but I very well may be adding Google Scholar to searches for a “second opinion.”

For years, electronic legal research was a two horse race between Lexis and Westlaw. Earlier this year, Bloomberg released its competitor The competition is energizing and hopefully will force the incumbent services to reduce the price of their services to remain competitive.