Researching the Research
August 3, 2015 § 5 Comments
Commoditization of legal matters has caused small-firm practitioners to look for areas to cut costs. Lawyers have told me that they have discontinued services like Westlaw and Lexis because they are simply too expensive.
Google Scholar offers a free legal research tool. You can access it at this link. I can’t really tell you how accurate or helpful it might prove to be in the routine practice of law, because I haven’t spent much time with it. I accessed it on a test basis last week and entered “joint custody impractical” as a search term. It returned a bunch of cases, all of them, as far as I could see, on point. It did not return last week’s COA decision in Thames v. Thames, which is the latest case on that issue. Nor did it give me Mosley v. Triangle Townhouses, LLC when I searched for “real estate commission for non-licensed broker,” likewise a COA case from last week. I don’t know the delay between hand-down and reporting on Google.
An article that may help you discern the strengths and weaknesses of the Google engine can be found at this link.
The MS Bar offers access to the legal search engine Casemaker as a benefit of membership, thereby saving you additional subscription fees for that service. You may have had excellent results with it, but I never did when I was practicing, and I have heard other attorneys complain about it; conversely, I have never heard anyone extol it. Your experience may be different.
If you google “free legal research engines,” you will pull up a wealth of links to various services, and you may wish to sample them.
We judges use Westlaw, and in the past have used Lexis when it offered AOC a better deal. Both are good, and produce useful, topical research results. Here in Lauderdale County the supervisors purportedly provide Westlaw as a service to the bar and jailhouse lawyers. The only problem is that access is limited to one person hired by the Sups to do the job, so lawyers are at the mercy of a non-lawyer to do their legal research for them. That’s an entirely unsatisfactory arrangement that could invite malpractice claims, and I don’t know of a single lawyer — other than the writ-writers behind bars — who avails himself or herself of this program. It might be possible for a county to provide a monthly subscription at a terminal for lawyers who pay a set fee for X amount of time, and then are billed for any overage.
No matter what your solution, you have got to have the ability to do legal research if you care to survive any amount of time as a lawyer.
— Thanks to Attorney Marcus Evans for the links to info about Google Scholar
I often use Google Scholar for extracurricular research; however, I have never used to research case law. At work I use Westlaw Next to good effect.
janeslawblog is searchable. It’s no Westlaw but it is free.
… and a great resource.
It never ceases to amaze me how much money Westlaw & Lexis make from providing copies of public records. Shepardizing isn’t as much added value as it seems, since (1) the labels are unreliable and (2) it’s easy to pull up all the later cases citing a case.
But, because my law firm provides Lexis at a flat fee, I rarely look at Casemaker.
Speaking solely from my own experience, Google Scholar is outstanding, but requires time investment. When I use Google Scholar, the results page usually doesn’t tell me what I need to know about whether the case is on-point for my needs. I find Google Scholar most useful when I know the proposition of law but the case name eludes me, or vice versa. For basic research, Google Scholar requires too much time invested; my clients will balk.
Casemaker’s primary virtue, as you noted, is its price point. I would say that Casemaker offers me very little that Google Scholar doesn’t do, faster and at least as well.
The gold standard is Westlaw and Lexis, still. In Desoto County, the library system maintains a law library with Westlaw terminals. I appreciate the effort of the Lauderdale County supervisors, but I agree with you – I will never let a non-lawyer do my research for me.