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Legal Research Process

What is Google Scholar?

Google Scholar is a free online resource allowing anyone to search for, among other things, court opinions. (Law review articles on Google Scholar are covered separately.)

Google Scholar's court opinion coverage is limited to:

  • state appellate and supreme courts from 1950;
  • federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy courts from 1923; and
  • the U.S. Supreme Court from 1791.

Google does not make public from what vendor they get their case law, but it appears to index opinions from FDSys at least.

When to Use Google Scholar for Case Law

Google Scholar for case law is most helpful to use after you have already surveyed secondary sources, statutes, and regulations on your topic, but before turning to licensed databases such as Lexis and Westlaw for case law.

Especially when you are unfamiliar with a particular subject, this easy to use resource allows you to perform an unlimited number of searches to get a sense of the keywords used in legal opinions regarding your subject and take stock of what cases are on point, if any.

How to Use Google Scholar for Case Law

Looking for case law on Google Scholar is basically a matter of playing around with different natural language keyword searches.

  • From Google Scholar's homepage, narrow your search to "Case Law." (If you use Google Chrome browser, you can also add the Google Scholar Button to your toolbar.)
  • You can select jurisdictions and then search or, after results have appeared, there are filters on the left to narrow your search by date and jurisdiction or court. The default is to display results by relevance, but you can opt for reverse chronological order to pull most recent cases to the top.
  • When reading a case, case citations are hyperlinked, but not other sources like statutes and regulations.
  • Below each individual case, you will see additional features such as:
    • Cited by: other cases that have cited it; this feature gives some indication of the depth of discussion; one can also search within these results.
    • How cited: language snippets from citing cases
    • ["Related Articles" option does not work well within Google Scholar's Case Law content]
    • All x versions: different online versions available
    • Cite: case's citation with links to different citation management systems
    • Save: If you want to save a case to Google's "My Library" feature
  • You can also create an email alert for your search.

After finding a case on point, you still need to Keycite or Shepardize it to see whether the case you found is still good law.

Google Scholar 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 and Weaknesses of Google Scholar for Case Law

Strengths: Free, easy to use, and no login required. 


  • Coverage:
    • Google Scholar is limited to case law and doesn't include statutes or regulations. Thus references within cases to statutes and regulations aren't hyperlinked.
    • Can have confusing duplication of two versions of same opinion (one as slip opinion and other as reported)
  • Currency: new content is added several times a week, but updates to existing content can take up to six months to appear.
  • Lacks direct history of the case.
  • Lacks editorial content: Google Scholar lacks helpful resources, such as headnotes and annotations.
  • No additional finding tools such as a digest for searching by subject.
  • Granularity: does not have a feature allowing you to break down a opinion into individual parts to search within it (like you can with an advanced field search on say, WestlawNext).