Affordable, or even free, legal research tools can make all the difference for solo and small firm lawyers. The trick is knowing which legal research platforms make the most sense for your law firm. These days, there are more tools available than ever, with Google Scholar leading the pack when it comes to free legal research tools. Because of its increase in popularity, we’re running this 2-part blog post series on the ins and outs of using Google Scholar for your solo or small firm law practice.
In Part 1 of this series we covered how to set up your Google Scholar settings, how to enter the most effective search terms, and how to create search alerts. In this post we’ll cover how to further refine search results and how to save and file search results, among other things. So let’s get started!
Refining search results:
Once you’ve run a search, you’ll notice that the results can be sorted. You can filter the results by clicking on the terms located in the righthand sidebar. You can view “Articles” or “Caselaw,” and can further sort the results by court (in this instance “Federal courts” or “New York courts”) or by date range. Below, you’ll see that the results have been filtered to include only articles. If the article is available and viewable online rather than as an abstract, you’ll see a link to the PDF on the righthand side of the page:
If you’re researching caselaw and a case from the search results sounds on point, simply click on the case title and you’ll be taken to the full case as shown below. Most cases or statutes cited to within the case will be hyperlinked, but not all are.
Exploring case treatment
While viewing a case, as shown above, you can explore case treatment by clicking on “How cited” in the upper lefthand corner of the page. As you can see below, that will take you to a page that lists (in the righthand column) the cases and documents that have cited your case. The 3 horizontal lines to the left of each citing case indicate the strength of citation as it relates to your case. In this case, People v. Kitsikopoulos is the most relevant citing case, as indicated by 2 out of 3 lines being highlighted. Also note that on the left side of the page you’ll find the most relevant excerpts from the citing cases, which also helps you determine which ones are most applicable to the issues you’re researching.
Another way to explore case treatment
If you return to the original search results page, as shown below, you’ll notice that under each search result, there are a number of fields that you can click on in order to obtain additional information about the case. Using People v. Welte, as an example, if you click “How cited,” you’ll be taken to the page shown above.
If you click on “Cited by 5” you’ll be taken to a page shown below that lists only the different cases and legal publications that have cited this case. From there you can click on the links located directly below the citing case. You can either save the citing case or article to your library (by clicking “Save”) or you can obtain additional information about each citing case or article, including links to related articles (by clicking on “Related articles) and the official citation (by clicking on “Cite”). You can also search within the citation results by checking the field located directly underneath the People v. Welte citation right at the very top of the page:
Saving the case to your library
To save the original case to your library, return to the search results page and click on “Save,” located directly under the case citation on the righthand side. Below you’ll see that the first 4 cases, each of which have already been saved (and thus the word “Saved” appears). But People v. Izzo has yet to be saved, so you would click “Save” in order to save it to your library. To view and organize your library, click on “My library,” located in the middle of the lefthand sidebar.
Organizing or exporting saved items
Once you click on “My library” you’ll be taken to the page shown below where you can view and organize saved items. Items are organized by labeling them with descriptive phrases that you choose. The labels are located to the right of the case or article name. You’ll notice that the first 3 cases have been labeled “Ann Johnson Case” and the last 3 have been labeled “John Smith Case.”
When you click on the label, you’ll see a list of the cases that have been assigned that label, as shown below:
From this page you can either export certain citations or add new labels. To export the cases, check each case that you’d like to export and then click on the downward arrow located near the top of the page. As shown below you can then choose the export format for the case citation list:
You can also change the labels for a saved case or add or create new labels by clicking on the tag icon located on the far right near the top of the page as shown below:
Sorting saved items
Finally, you can sort saved items by date by clicking on the date ranges found in the bottom of lefthand sidebar. You can choose from one of the listed years or you can create a customized date range. Below, you’ll see that I’ve sorted the cases by those handed down since 2013:
So that’s how to use Google Scholar to conduct free legal research. Interested in exploring low-cost legal research tools even more? Then make sure to watch the full recording of our recent webinar, “Google Scholar And Legal Research Tips.” Soon you’ll learn everything you need to know about using free or low-cost legal research tools in your solo or small law firm!