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Google Scholar Offers Case Research for the Masses

Logo for Quora, where Dana Shultz answered a question about Google ScholarThis post about Google Scholar is a bit off-topic, discussing free online legal research, which is not necessarily a startup issue. However, this information is based on my answer to a Quora question that I am pleased to share here. See Where does Google Scholar get its case law (full-text court opinions) from?

I was intrigued by this question, having wondered, myself, how Google Scholar obtained full-text case law (court opinions).

With a couple of hours of (Google) research, I was able to gather enough clues to present a reasonable answer to this question. I am confident that people at Google could provide a more-complete, more-detailed answer. However, I am not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Court Opinions on Google Scholar

As of September 23, 2015, Google Scholar says that it includes the following court opinions:

Currently, 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.

Thomson Reuters and Google Scholar

Thomson Reuters (TR) and Google have established a broad, cooperative relationship. Consider the following portion of a post on TR’s EndNote blog concerning TR’s Web of Science service (emphasis added):

In 2013, Thomson Reuters and Google Scholar collaborated to give researchers an easier and more intuitive way to access and evaluate information. With one search, researchers can find a list of sources, link out to full-text articles, and utilize key metrics that help identify the most crucial sources. This March, we will host a webinar that will help researchers and librarians learn how to get the most out of the feature.

Web of Science and Google Scholar approach academic articles differently, with Web of Science based on published, peer-reviewed content meticulously chosen based on a set of long-standing and publically available standards. Google Scholar, on the other hand, captures a diverse and larger set of citations from publications including not only published articles, but also preprints, theses and court opinions. Each approach has merit, but together they offer researchers even greater value.

National Reporter Service

What is relevant for this answer, however, is that TR also publishes the Thomson Reuters [a/k/a West] National Reporter Service (“NRS”).

I believe – though I have not found independent confirmation of this – that Google Scholar relies on NRS for federal opinions.

State court opinions are more interesting and more varied, however.

Citing Legally has an interesting, informative post about Google Scholar and state court opinions.

That post is too long to reproduce here. However, it explains that Google Scholar obtains state court opinions from at least the following sources:

  • From state court electronic repositories (when issued as slip opinions);
  • From NRS (once printed by TR);
  • For some states (such as California, Massachusetts and New York), from the states’ official reports.
How TR and Google Search Divide the Legal Research Market

One might wonder why TR is willing to provide cases to Google Scholar, which ostensibly is a TR competitor with respect to legal research.

The answer is that they are not competitors, because they have divided up the legal research market: As is explained below, TR sells services to lawyers doing serious legal research, and Google Search provides free services to everyone else (including lawyers doing casual research).

I learned this from a blog post written by Mark Giangrande, Reference Librarian and Lecturer in Law at DePaul University Law Library. Quoting Google Scholar Case Law Evolves (emphasis added):

I remember back when Google Scholar added the case law database that the engineers in charge said it would be easy to create a citator but that their contract with the “unnamed large legal publisher” that licensed the text prohibited that feature.

So, TR provides Westlaw KeyCite – as LexisNexis provides Shepard’s – but Google Search is prohibited from providing a citator.

Given that a citator is essential for ensuring that legal research is up-to-date – i.e., is essential for serious legal research – Google Scholar effectively is precluded from cannibalizing TR’s paid legal research service.

Legal Research