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Legal Research Process

What is Google Scholar?

Google Scholar is a free search engine of scholarly literature that allows you to search for articles, theses, books, abstracts, and court opinions. The discussion here focuses on it as a resource for finding law review articles on a topic. (Case law on Google Scholar is covered separately.)

When to Use Google Scholar

Once one has reached the stage in the legal research process of searching for law reviews or if one is looking for a specific law review article, Google Scholar is probably the best place to start because it is easy to use. However, access to the full text of any given article depends on the licensing of the institution from which you are researching.

How to Use Google Scholar for Finding Law Review Articles

Once at Google Scholar, you can do a general article search. (If you use Google Chrome browser, you can also add the Google Scholar Button to your toolbar.) If you click the drop down arrow on the right side of the search box, you will see the advanced search options:

  • Author search to find a specific article or a body of articles written by one author 
  • Publication search to find articles published in a particular law journal 
  • Date search to return articles published within a particular date range  

Additionally, the "cited by” feature that appears under an individual article results retrieves articles (found within Google Scholar) that have cited that particular article. This is another way to build upon your research, akin to KeyCiting or Shepardizing.

Google Scholar also offers a "My Library" feature for saving search results. Once you’ve logged into Google Scholar, if you click on “My library,” you should see a “Manage labels…” link which serves as a folders feature. To put an item in a label/folder:

  1. “Save” a result from a Google Scholar search to “My library”
  2. Go to “My library”
  3. Click on article
  4. Then use “Labels” drop down to add it to the label/folder that you want or create a new one

There’s still no folder sharing capability nor does this feature exist within Google Books.

Strengths & Weaknesses of Google Scholar

Strengths

  • Allows you to search for law review articles for free (unlike using subscription databases such as Lexis, Westlaw, or online indexes).
  • Does not require you to create a login and password to use the search engine
  • Variety of search options, as discussed above—one of the most useful being the “Cited by” feature
  • Updated very frequently—for example, as of February 2011, it returns search results that include law review articles that were printed in December 2010, whereas those articles are not yet available on HeinOnline
  • Ability to set up e-mail alerts for searches that you run, which can be a great way to stay updated on new developments in a field that you are researching

Weaknesses

  • May not give you free access to the full text of articles that appear in your search results
    • If you study or work at an institution with a library that participates in Google's Library Links program, you should be able to access the full text of articles in databases to which that library has licensed access. To check that your computer is configured correctly, go to the Google Scholar Settings page, and then click Library links. For example at UT, if you do not already see "University of Texas at Austin" in the Library Links section, you should do a "Find Library" search for it.
    • Without being linked to a library however, Google Scholar only displays the first page of articles that are indexed from databases like Lexis or HeinOnline, and you are required to log into these other databases or find them elsewhere if you want to read the full-text.
  • Exact scope of Google Scholar's database is undefined and exact means of indexing are unknown 
    • There is no way of knowing whether the Google Scholar database has omitted important articles that would otherwise appear in your search results. 
    • Google Scholar's algorithm will work differently than the databases from which it is pulling content. Thus it is a good idea to search within individual databases directly to make sure you are getting all of the potentially relevant results. (This means, for example, searching HeinOnline after searching Google Scholar, even though Google Scholar has indexed HeinOnline's holdings.)