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Must Lawyers Still Pay for Legal Research Services?

Is it possible for lawyers or law firms to now use the free Google Scholar service as their sole form of legal research?

Let me say up front that I have not done any legal research in years and I have no idea. But I continue to see posts from blogs such as Futurelawyer that explain how to use Google Scholar for purposes once reserved for Lexis/Westlaw such as "Finding Significant Opinions Citing Your Case With Google Scholar" or, more bluntly, asking straight up: "Why Are You Paying For Legal Research?"

In the recent "Why Are You Paying For Legal Research?" post, Futurelawyer wrote that Google Scholar is now a "complete legal research solution:" 

It contains the full text of just about every case ever decided, has a really good search engine, and has official pagination, internal linking to the full text of every cited case, a built in Shepard's like citator, which, with one click, will pull up every case that has cited the case you are viewing. $69 addon, CiteStack, creates pin cites, and memoranda on the fly, while you are doing Scholar research.

In a post today, Futurelawyer added that Google Scholar is now moving toward "making Shepard's citations irrelevant" because Google Scholar search results are now "listed by sorting the citing cases by prominence and amount of detail in the citing case. A great feature, and it will make legal research much faster and easier."

The Research Freedom blog reported in late April 2012 that in its own admittedly unscientific test comparing KeyCite and Shepard’s results with Google Scholar's "How Cited" Results for two state cases, the services were quite comparable. 

With respect to both cases, every citator result that affected the validity of the cases (negative citing references) appeared in all citators, including Google Scholar, towards the top of the results. All results that discussed the cited cases appeared in all citators, as well. In connection with these two particular cases, the ordering of results were substantially similar in all citators.

Research Freedom did note that, unlike West or Lexis, Google Scholar does not index most unreported or unpublished cases.

Others have written recently that Google Scholar is still not ready for prime time in some areas. On the Lawyerist blog last week, Josh Camson wrote that despite being a strong advocate of Google Scholar, his small firm has "seen the light" and is now spending some money (under $300 per month) to use Westlaw. 

How close are we to a time when lawyers will not need to pay for legal research? I assume we are not there yet, but please weigh in if you have any insights on this.

Posted by Bruce Carton on June 7, 2012 at 04:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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