How To Conduct Free Legal Research Using Google Scholar (Part 2)

Legal research is something lawyers do nearly every day. That’s why convenient, affordable access to legal research materials is so important.

The advent of computer-based legal research was the first step toward leveling the playing field and providing solos and small firms with access to the incredible depth of materials once only available in academic or government law libraries or in the law libraries of large law firms. But it was web-based legal research that truly gave solos and small firms the tools they needed to compete–and at a price they could afford.

Google Scholar is a prime example of this–it provides free access to a wide range of legal materials, all of which are accessible and searchable via a user-friendly interface. The trick is to set aside time to learn the ins and outs of conducting legal research on Google Scholar. To make this process even easier for you, I’m writing this 2-part blog post series dedicated to how to use it for legal research. Last week, in Part 1, I explained the basics of using Google Scholar for legal research. In today’s post I’ll delve into the more advanced search features and will also cover ways to sort and organize your research.

Let’s start with the advanced search techniques offered by Google Scholar. To use these features, you need to pull up the advanced search menu. You’ll notice that if you hover over the downward-facing arrow at the end of the search box, the words “Advanced Scholar Search” will pop up as shown below:

Once you click on the arrow, a menu will appear. You can then limit your search by term, publication, author and more. As shown below, I limited my search by date:

Google Scholar advanced search page

As you can see, the search returned only one result. But it’s easy to expand on the results by modifying the date restriction. You simply click on the dates listed in the left hand column. In this case, I will choose “Since 2011” in order to change the date restrictions:

Google Scholar advanced search result

Doing so adds a number of cases to the list. I can also expand on the search by choosing other courts or searching for articles that imclude the search terms instead. As shown below, my next step in the legal research process will be to expand the search into articles:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 3.44.26 PM

Once you’ve located the legal research that you would like to save, the next step is to add the results to your research library. You do this by clicking on the word “save” below the item that you want to add to your library. As you can see below, I’ve already saved the first article, since it says “saved” under it. So I’ll click on “save” under the second article to save that to my library:

Now let’s head over to my legal research library so that we can view items already saved and sort them into research folders. You do this by clicking on “My library” near the top of the left hand column:

Here is what my library of legal research looks like. As you can see, I’ve already created two labels, which appear in the left hand column: “Aggravated harassment research” and “John Smith case.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 3.51.54 PM

To view only the items saved with a specific label, you can click on that label. In this case, I’m going to view items saved in the John Smith case:

Google Scholar page showing citations

Once I do that, you’ll see I’ve only filed one case under that label. From this page or the prior page, I can create new labels or modify current labels by clicking on “Manage labels” in the middle of the left hand column:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 3.56.41 PM

Doing so takes me to this page, where I am given the option on the right hand side of the page to edit or delete current labels or I can click on “Create a new label” at the top of the page:

Google Scholar labels

Clicking on “Create a new label” takes me to this page, where I’ll add a new label, “Ann Johnson case”:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 4.04.29 PM

I am then returned to the “Manage labels” page and you’ll see that the new label is now listed. The labels will appear in alphabetical order based on the first letter of the first word of the label. Next, let’s modify that label by clicking on “Edit,” which is to the right of the label:

Once you do so, as you can see, you’re given the option to revise the name of the label:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 4.05.44 PM


And, if you clicked “Delete” instead, you would be given the option to delete the label.

So there you have it: everything you need to know to get started with free legal research using Google Scholar! Any useful Google Scholar tips you’d like to add? Feel free to do so in the comments.

–Nicole Black


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