Well, I promised you an explanation of why Google Scholar will not put LexisNexis or Westlaw out of business. Here is the promised post.
1. You cannot use proximity connectors. Thus, if you want to find cases where “tortious interference” appears in the same sentence or paragraph as “improper conduct,” you cannot. But Google Scholar does have one little known proximity connector—AROUND. To find cases where “tortious” appears no more than three words before “interference,” you would have the following search terms (with the quotation marks):
“tortious AROUND(3) interference”
2. Although you can cite check a case to find subsequent opinions that have cited your case, you cannot cite check statutes. And Google Scholar’s citation service does not indicate whether a case is still valid or how subsequent courts have treated it. (Of course, you should never rely solely on the colorful signals from the editors of Westlaw or LexisNexis.) Further, you cannot cite check unpublished cases.
3. If you need to search for cases designated “not for publication,” Google Scholar is not the best online service to use. It has a much smaller database of unpublished cases than Westlaw and LexisNexis. Unfortunately, Google does not identify the scope of coverage for unpublished cases, but its database appears to have more unpublished opinions from federal circuit courts than federal district courts. Given its limited number of unpublished cases, if a case was overturned on appeal in an unpublished opinion, Google Scholar may not return that opinion.
4. Google Scholar may have duplicates of the same case. Duplicates can occur when an unpublished opinion is released and then designated for publication. One example is In re Aqua Dots Products Liability Litigation, No. 10-3847 (7th Cir. Aug. 17, 2011). A keyword search of federal cases returns the unpublished and published versions of that case. If you found only the unpublished opinion, you would not have realized that the opinion is binding on federal courts within the Seventh Circuit.
5. It has no database for secondary sources or sample briefs. Although you can search for law review articles and other legal articles, Google Scholar merely provides links to other websites, which often require a subscription to view articles.
For information about the upcoming CLE courses on free legal research on the web, click “CLE Seminars” on the top menu. Those courses have been approved for 1.0 hours of ethics in Alabama.