Last week Google engineer Anurag Acharya sent a shot across the bow of the multi-million dollar legal publishing business. “Starting today,” he wrote on the Google blog, people will be able to use Google Scholar to “find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts.” And in typical Google fashion, these searches will be intuitive and simple. “You can find these opinions by searching for cases (like Planned Parenthood v. Casey), or by topics (like desegregation) or other queries that you are interested in,” he wrote.
That sounds familiar…. That sounds like a service law firms pay bajillions of dollars for every year. There’s been some speculation across the Web that Google Scholar’s new offering is a red flag for LexisNexis and Westlaw.
Robert Ambrogi of Legal Blog Watch writes:
Inevitably, Google’s announcement leads to another round of predictions that 2012 has arrived for Westlaw and LexisNexis. Scott Greenfield wonders whether the news signals the end of the duopoly. Social Media Law Student says this could fast become the preferred tool for “law students and lawyers of the younger generation (and tech-savvy elders as well).” But Carolyn Elefant says Google is unlikely to replace Wexis for some time to come. “Even as free services launch, the premium legal services still continue to improve,” she writes. “So the gap still remains between legal research haves and have-nots.”
We checked in with LexisNexis and Westlaw. They aren’t citing any fear. After the jump, get their reactions and take our poll about your plans for Google legal scholar.
Don Cruse of the Supreme Court of Texas Blog gave it a whirl and has a how-to guide on his site. He’s planning on using it for a few briefs and reporting back. Meanwhile, the Antitrust Review points out some problems:
[T]he inability to search for cases within a particular federal district court or circuit is an odd limitation (especially given the the ability to search for state cases by state). Other limitations: there is no indication if the case has been overruled, vacated, etc. (nor is there a way to Sherpadize a case) and the search tools are not as powerful as those found on Lexis or Westlaw. Hopefully, Google will work to improve this search tool.
A spokesman from Westlaw tells us they’re not worried:
We believe that court decisions, statutes and related legal information should be accessible to the public, and Google joins existing sites such as FindLaw, the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School and scores of others that offer this information free of charge.
These sites are useful for general reference or backgrounding on a particular case or legal issue. But it’s important to distinguish between a free case and a West case, and between a free repository of case law and a purpose-built research tool built expressly for legal professionals.
Our customers rely on us for very specialized and accurate information and legal insight, and use Westlaw to find exactly the right answers on very specific points of law.
We provide the breadth of information and technology tools to help quickly zero in on specific cases and the facts embedded within them. We provide the context, expert analysis from our attorney-editors and links to supporting materials to help users find the right answers, faster. And, Westlaw includes workflow tools so that our customers can use this information as part of their client workstream.
LexisNexis has similar sentiments:
Free case law is not new to the Internet and is included on some of our own sites like lexisONE, LexisWeb and lawyers.com. However, our legal customers generally require more than raw, unfiltered content to inform their business decisions. They look to LexisNexis to find needles in the ever-growing information haystack, not the haystack itself.
Not only do we provide the most complete portfolio of public and proprietary legal content, but LexisNexis enables legal professionals to conduct their research more efficiently, effectively, and with the assurance of accuracy. The LexisNexis legal research service provides critical analysis and commentary such as Mathew Bender, citation analysis like Shepard’s, deep online linkages built over time to relevant content, and unique functionality such as pinpoint searching by topic or by complex legal phrases.
Our goal is to deliver relevant, reliable results that enable our customers to make informed decisions faster.
Both Lexis and Westlaw think their analysis and assurance of accuracy and completeness make them immune to the Google challenge. What’s your take on Google’s new tool? Do you plan to start using it?
Finding the laws that govern us [Google]
The Google Gorilla Enters the Research Game [Legal Blog Watch]
Google wades into free legal research (for Texas, too!) [Supreme Court of Texas]
Google and Legal Search [Antitrust Review]
Shiny Object Syndrome Alert: Google Scholar Now Offers Free Access to Caselaw [Young Lawyers Blog]