by Kristine Lloyd
Let’s face it. “Free” usually means you don’t want it—like the abandoned curbside couch with stuffing spewing out the armrests. I’ve reached the point where I rarely bother to look at “free” legal websites anymore. They’re clunky, or the coverage is spotty, or you can’t find anything unless you decode their bizarre search syntax. But yesterday, Google announced a new feature on Google Scholar, the ability to search legal opinions. And not just federal opinions—state appellate and district court opinions too. Naturally, Google being just below air, water and food on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I had to check it out.
My review was not thorough by any means, but here are a few brief observations about this new feature:
- You can search by reporter citation—most free resources only have name / docket number searching
- You can find old stuff (“old” defined here as before I was born)—I found a 1971 Washingon Supreme Court decision
- There’s a nifty “How Cited” tab that shows you cases citing to and quoting your case of interest, and I’m not just talking the citation; I’m talking they give you the whole enchilada of the quote, plus a link to the citing case—it’s no keycite / shepard’s, but pro se’s and poor solos everywhere should be doing a little end-zone dance
- If you have a HeinOnline subscription, you can also search for law reviews
The down-side is that they’re not explicit about the coverage. I guess when you can’t find something, you’ll know it’s not there. Interestingly, I searched for a 1943 Washington Supreme Court opinion that was not available full-text but did have a “How Cited” page. Certainly, there’s no competing with the value-added features on Westlaw and Lexis—features that can only be created by humans who must be paid, but like so much of what Google does, it is a cut-above all of the “free” sites that have launched and fizzled before it. I just wish Google would create an application to organize my closet!