What is Google Scholar? 1
Google Scholar is a free search engine of scholarly literature that allows you to search for articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions.
There has been much discussion, within the Indiana Legal Community, regarding the usefulness of Google Scholar as a legal research tool. Below you will find a review from the University Of Texas School Of Law regarding the Strengths and Weaknesses of Google Scholar for Legal Research. Whatever you end up thinking of Google Scholar as a Legal Research tool, please keep in mind, it’s FREE! So, give it a try and see how it compares to what you are using now. Click Here to start a search of Indiana Case Law and the United States 7th Circuit Court of Appeals using Google Scholar.
When to use Google Scholar:
Once one has reached the stage in the legal research process of searching for law reviews or if one is looking for a specific law review article, Google Scholar is probably the best place to start because it is free, fast, and easy to use. However, access to the full text of any given article depends on the licensing of the institution from which you are researching.
While there may be a cost to access these scholarly articles, case cite searching is free and seem to be very comprehensive to all 50 states Appellate and Supreme Courts plus all US Federal Courts including, US Supreme Court, US District Courts, US Bankruptcy Courts, Court of Claims, Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, Court of International Trade, Tax Court and Board of Tax Appeals. You may select from one court or select all state & federal courts for your search.
To start a general search click here (Google Scholar), select “Legal Documents”, select the “Courts to Search”, select your jurisdictions of interest, click “Done” and then type in your search terms. After your search is complete you may further refine your search by clicking on the “down arrow” at the top right of the screen and select “Advanced Search”. If you set up a free Gmail account you may also create automatic alert notifications as new cases are decided that include your search terms.
If you click the drop down arrow on the right side of the search box, you will see the advanced search options:
- Author search to find a specific article or a body of articles written by one author
- Publication search to find articles published in a particular law journal
- Date search to return articles published within a particular date range
- Additionally, the “cited by” feature that appears under an individual article results retrieves articles (found within Google Scholar) that have cited that particular article. This is another way to build upon your research, akin to KeyCiting or Shepardizing.
Strengths of Google Scholar:
- Allows you to search for law review articles and case cites for free (unlike using subscription databases such as Lexis, Westlaw, or online indexes).
- Does not require you to create a login and password to use the search engine
- Many effective ways to tailor your search results, as discussed above—one of the most useful being the “Cited by” feature
- Updated very frequently—for example, as of February 2011, it returns search results that include law review articles that were printed in December 2010, whereas those articles are not yet available on HeinOnline
- Ability to set up e-mail alerts for searches that you run, which can be a great way to stay updated on new developments in a field that you are researching
Weaknesses of Google Scholar:
- May not give you free access to the full text of articles that appear in your search results, however case law search results are free.
- If you study or work at an institution with a library that participates in Google’s Library Links program, you should be able to access the full text of articles in databases to which that library has licensed access. To check that your computer is configured correctly, go to the Google Scholar Settings page, and then click Library links. For example at Indiana University, if you do not already see “Indiana University” in the Library Links section, you should do a “Find Library” search for it.
- Without being linked to a library however, Google Scholar only displays the first page of articles that are indexed from databases like Lexis or HeinOnline, and you are required to log into these other databases or find them elsewhere if you want to read the full-text.
- Indiana Code is not included in the Google Scholar search results. Free access to Indiana Code and United States Code searches may be found in online databases such as FindLaw.com or from Indiana Code searches only, through the In.gov website.
- Case Cites found Google Scholar may lag as much as 3 to 6 weeks behind the pay services in currency. However, for your initial legal research, you cannot beat the price. It is FREE!
- Exact scope of Google Scholar’s database is undefined and exact means of indexing are unknown
- There is no way of knowing whether the Google Scholar database has omitted important articles that would otherwise appear in your search results.
- Google Scholar’s algorithm will work differently than the databases from which it is pulling content. Thus it is a good idea to search within individual databases directly to make sure you are getting all of the potentially relevant results. (This means, for example, searching HeinOnline after searching Google Scholar, even though Google Scholar has indexed HeinOnline’s holdings.)
While Google Scholar may not be the answer to all of your legal research needs, it is a great place to start your research. ICLEF recommends that you take a moment to try it. It’s FREE!
1 Much of this narrative was taken from a University of Texas School of Law review of Google Scholar – Click Here to read their review in its entirety. The above UT article was modified to reflect Indiana specific issues.
Additional Reviews of Google Scholar
ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN