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In my online and live CLE on free legal research, I discuss the many benefits of using Google Scholar. This post addresses one of those benefits.

Many free services do not allow users to run searches with proximity connectors. Thus, if you want to find cases where “warrantless” and “search” and “vehicle” appear in the same sentence or paragraph, you generally cannot. But Google Scholar has a little-known proximity connector—AROUND. For some odd reason, Google wants only the in-crowd to know about this search functionality; in fact, it does not even mention the connector “AROUND” on the official Google Scholar Blog.

After experimenting with this super-secret proximity connector, I have learned a few useful tips. First, you can use “AROUND” only to search for a term that appears after another term. For example, assume you need to find federal cases addressing when the police may conduct a Terry stop based on a misdemeanor crime that happened in the past. You could type this search string in the search box:

“Terry AROUND(15) stop AROUND(15) misdemeanor”

In the above string, Google Scholar will search for cases where “stop” appears within 15 words after “Terry” and where “misdemeanor” appears within 15 words after “Terry” and “stop.” It will not find cases where “misdemeanor” appears before “Terry” or “stop.” Second, you must capitalize “AROUND,” have no space between it and the parenthetical, and include quotation marks around the entire search string. Without quotation marks, Google will run a natural language search. Third, the connector “AROUND” does not work for phrases. Thus, if you used the search string “Terry stop AROUND(15) misdemeanor,” you will receive no results.

Despite my praises for this proximity connector, it is far from perfect. Sometimes it will return authorities that do not contain all the terms in a search string. Here is the take home lesson: you should use the connector “AROUND” to limit the number of irrelevant results but do not rely on it to return all relevant cases and legal articles on your issue.

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