Google Embarks on Legal Publishing

An announcement early today from Google Distinguished Engineer Anurag Acharya that Google Scholar now features major cases, as well as an ability to search in legal periodicals for case citations.

I thought initially it was just American, but searching on the following names brought interesting results:

Donoghue v. Stevenson 2380 hits
R. Drybones 849 hits
Delgamuukw 956 hits
Mabo v. Queensland 2770 hits

Google hat-tips “several pioneers, who have worked on making it possible for an average citizen to educate herself about the laws of the land: Tom Bruce (Cornell LII), Jerry Dupont (LLMC), Graham Greenleaf and Andrew Mowbray (AustLII), Carl Malamud (Public.Resource.Org), Daniel Poulin (LexUM), Tim Stanley (Justia), Joe Ury (BAILII), Tim Wu (AltLaw) and many others”.

Google’s official blog comments:

As we worked to build this feature, we were struck by how readable and accessible these opinions are. Court opinions don’t just describe a decision but also present the reasons that support the decision. In doing so, they explain the intricacies of law in the context of real-life situations. And they often do it in language that is surprisingly straightforward, even for those of us outside the legal profession. In many cases, judges have gone quite a bit out of their way to make complex legal issues easy to follow. For example, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court justices present a fascinating and easy-to-follow debate on the legality of internment of natural born citizens based on their ancestry. And in United States v. Ramirez-Lopez, Justice Kozinski, in his dissent, illustrates the key issue of the case using an imagined good-news/bad-news dialogue between the defendant and his attorney.

The Google Scholar Advanced Search feature permits searching by

Legal opinions and journals

Search all legal opinions and journals.

Search only US federal court opinions.

Search only court opinions from the following states 50 states plus DC

It’s a start.

Watch this space


  1. It is, indeed, a start, as you say. The next step might be for Google to talk to CanLII about letting them index case reports. (Legislation is searchable via Google — though you’d really have to use the “” modifier to get any joy out of things that way, and it’s not clear why you’d bother, given CanLII’s fine search tool.) At present CanLII blocks search engines:

    In order to minimize the impact of decision publication on individuals’ privacy, CanLII does not allow external web robots to index decisions published on its Website. In practice, this prevents people from finding a decision on CanLII by querying an individual’s name using search engines such as those of Google, Live or Yahoo.

    Perhaps the fact that it would take a special Google Scholar search to get at court decisions would be enough to persuade CanLII to join LII in this.

    At present, as you point out, you can get citations for Canadian cases, provided that they’ve been cited in journal articles or U.S. decisions; and this could be a handy way to obtain the citation if you’re unable to query one of the commercial databases — and the case is too old to be on CanLII.

    I’m a little disappointed in the URLs that result for a case. A search produces the case report plus the search terms: thus, a search for “Marbury v. Madison” becomes: _case?case=9834052745083343188 &q=marbury+v.+madison&hl= en&as_sdt=2002

    You can strip away inessentials to get a URL of: ?case=9834052745083343188

    which, although not the longest URL emitted by a database, is longer than seems necessary — unless someone can explain why 19 digits are required to identify what is in fact less than a googoplex of instances. And, unlike CanLII, Google doesn’t make the shorter URL available on the page.

  2. In a nutshell, the reason why CanLII blocks Google indexing is the same one that why the courts block them, it is for privacy reasons.

    In the course of the last ten years, a sort of balance was found in Canada about the dissemination of judgments. The judicial system has to be transparent, so it is ok to publish the judgments on the Internet as long as the general search engines could not index them. The idea here is that if someone wants to search judgments, he can do it on the court web site or on CanLII, but nobody want to see divorce judgments springing up when a teenage girl starts googling her friends.

    As you may remember, some in Canada strongly believe that Canadian judgments are much too accessible.

    At the end, this is a compromise. Judgments are accessible, but they are not on Google. I hope this help.


  3. This compromise is surely a very fragile one. It has been a while since I thought about the distribution of judgments by the courts, so I’m not even sure how it’s done nowadays, technically. It’s difficult to see, however, on what basis the courts could treat Google any differently than any other commercial publisher. I don’t see anything about privacy in the Reproduction of Federal Law Order. SI/97-5, and how could they discriminate on the basis of the business model?

    As to retrospective collections, maybe Thomson, Reid Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer aren’t ripe to be taken over by Google, but perhaps some future generation of Applebys or Cartwrights could be tempted. Even a few libraries have retrospective collections to which Google might be able to arrange access.

    It’s interesting to speculate.

  4. There is a fantastic article on Google Scholar in the current issue of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Inside Track newsletter. Google Scholar: Another option for retrieving full-text court decisions? by Bev Butula, manager of library services, Davis & Kuelthau, will tell you all you need to know. Thanks to Nerino Petro for mentioning it to me.