Tuesday, November 17, 2009

U.S. Caselaw in Google Scholar

Last night, an important new feature launched on Google Scholar: more than 80 years of US federal caselaw (including tax and bankruptcy courts) and over 50 years of state caselaw is now fully searchable online, for free at Google Scholar.

This project is the culmination of much work, led by a remarkable engineer at Google named Anurag Acharya. Shortly after I arrived at Google, I heard about a small group of people working to make legal information available through Google. Given my background, I was particularly interested to see if there was a role for me - and thanks to Google's culture of encouraging employees finding 20% projects to contribute to, I was able to not only find a role but to dive in.

It's been a thrill to be part of this project, but most importantly it's exhilarating to know that for the first time, US citizens have the ability to search for - and read - the opinions that govern our society. Matt DeVries, a law school roommate, has a great overview of what this means for him as a lawyer here. Tim Stanley, a pioneer in this space who I first met when he built a search engine to index the articles published in the law journal I founded, said simply, "Thanks, Google!" and then did a good job evaluating what Scholar does (and doesn't) do with the opinions. Rex Gradeless, a law student, pointed out that while this may be of interest for lawyers and law students, the real winner here is citizens who've historically not had comprehensive access to this information at all.

It probably goes without saying, but in case it's not abundantly clear: working at a company that embraces projects like this is incredible. This was a labor of love for a number of co-workers (past and present), all of whom instinctively grasped why this is important and how connected it is to Google's mission. I'm very proud to work at Google today.


  1. Question #2 from this page immediately sprang to mind.

  2. Congratulations, Rick (and Anurag).

    My own quick review: http://tinyurl.com/yewqb3l

  3. I'm really excited about this, and especially pleased that you included state cases in the very iteration. The first thing I did this morning was write up a quick walk-through of some Texas caselaw. (That's at http://www.scotxblog.com/news-and-links/google-wades-into-free-legal-research-for-texas-too/, if you're curious.)

    As a lawyer, I do have some methodological questions that would help me feel better using this as a professional research tool. It would be great if we could access what's included, how fast it's updated, etc. Lawyers obsess about details like that. I'm sure Google is doing its typically great job, but being explicit rather than mysterious about this product will help it succeed. (I think that's true about things like the "Related articles" link, too. As I'm sure you can appreciate, I would be afraid to do much research with an "I feel lucky!" button, even one that was generally reliable.)

    Also, as an app developer in my spare time, I would love to see an API. At the least, I'd like to see a good way to construct URLs that would point to your resources without having to already know your case ID numbers. (Ideally, you wouldn't have to know the West cite, either, since those are not assigned until long after a blogger would want to talk about a newly released case.) I have some ideas about how this might work. if that's not on your product timeline, I will probably come up with my own solution to use with my products.

    Thanks again.

  4. For those of us who have wrestled with this as both lawyers and court administrators, this is one incredible day. Many of us spent long hours educating judges as to why giving West and Lexis a monopoly to the work product of judges being paid with public funds was a very bad idea. Google just proved us all right... 25+ years later. Thanks to all of you that made this happen.

  5. Congratulations! Wonderful work and so glad to see it out in the wild.

  6. I think this is a great development and I commend Google (disclosure - my husband works there, not on this project though). I was surpised at how robust the service is and appreciate the hyperlinks to other cases within the text. Unfortunately, the law review articles can't be retrieved without a Hein Online subscription (which can be had for $150/year at Jenkins Law Library). I would also love to see all state bar codes and ethics opinions indexed and made searchable because these are virtually impossible to find in one localized spot online.

    Of course, I don't think that this service will put LEXIS or Westlaw out of business. But where I see it having an impact is on the margins, i.e., on the "second level" providers like VersusLaw or Casemaker, which were true pioneers, providing low cost legal service at a time when no one else would. Even though I am glad to have a free option, I hope that these other companies will still find ways to remain competitive in this arena.

    Carolyn Elefant

  7. This is awesome! Thank you! I am a lawyer, but I agree with what you say about the most important thing being making this information available to all. I especially like the "how cited" tab and how the use of the case cited is previewed there. And presumably there could also be any number of useful tools third parties could build on this database you've opened up!

  8. "The people who should worry about this news are lawyers. They are about to be “Web-MD’d.” Clients will begin coming to them with reams of print-outs, thinking they know the law, the same way doctors are always hearing from self-diagnosing patients who think they can spot their disease by reading stuff on the Web."


    A lot of my clients were already doing this...

  9. Gyi, I'm a lawyer, and I think clients who do their homework, read, challenge, and ask questions, is a very good thing! Google Scholar will do exactly what you say, I hope!

  10. I love the hanging citation when you scroll down the page, but I wish it were in "blue book" format.

  11. This is absolutely wonderful! Yet another feather in Google's cap in making sure information flows to where it is needed most. Google, not necessarily, the company, but the resources it provides has become a important institution global. I think Google as a company should encourage the creation of courses that will enable folks to utilize the tools that are available more effectively. And it doesn't have to be a brick and mortar institution - GoogleU - and the degree - MGU (Masters in Google Universe).

    I for one would love to have the teaching and presentation information on the cumulation of tools Google provides. It would absolutely be my privilege to conduct it, enable it and foster it.

    Thank you;.

  12. Totally unrelated, but do you know what happened to exit rate reporting in Google Analytics? Was it combined with the Bounce Rate? How do we find out where people are going when they leave our site? I'm befuddled.

    Thank you!

  13. Just started reading your goggle-scholar .Nice site Congrats google