Google Takes us to Law School

    November 17, 2009
    Chris Crum

As you know, Google’s ultimate goal is to organize the world’s information. With this in mind, it should be no surprise that Google is organizing full-text legal opinions from United States federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts. The company is using its Google Scholar service to do so.

"As many of us recall from our civics lessons in school, the United States is a common law country," says Google Distinguished Engineer Anurag Acharya. "That means when judges issue opinions in legal cases, they often establish precedents that will guide the rulings of other judges in similar cases and jurisdictions. Over time, these legal opinions build, refine and clarify the laws that govern our land. For average citizens, however, it can be difficult to find or even read these landmark opinions. We think that’s a problem: Laws that you don’t know about, you can’t follow — or make effective arguments to change."

You can now search Google Scholar to find opinions by searching specific cases (like Plessy v. Ferguson) or topics (like desegregation). You can type a phrase like "separate but equal" and get results for cases in which such a phrase is in included.

Plessy v. Ferguson

Users can look at cases that are related to others by using the links that say "Cited by" and "Related articles" on the results pages. This is useful for following citations within the opinions themselves.

Google thinks being able to search these opinions will "empower the average citizen" by helping them learn more about the laws that govern them. It does appear to be a great way to educate yourself on legal issues without having to go to law school. Furthermore, it could be of tremendous benefit to students who are actually in law school.

"As we worked to build this feature, we were struck by how readable and accessible these opinions are," says Acharya. "Court opinions don’t just describe a decision but also present the reasons that support the decision. In doing so, they explain the intricacies of law in the context of real-life situations. And they often do it in language that is surprisingly straightforward, even for those of us outside the legal profession. In many cases, judges have gone quite a bit out of their way to make complex legal issues easy to follow."

Google really is working non-stop on "organizing the world’s information". This particular instance may only apply to the U.S. (and such a feature could get awfully tricky on a global scale), but it would not be surprising to see more countries’ data get included in the future.

Related Articles:

> Google News Organizes a Lot More of the World’s Information

> 20,000 Sources Added to Google News in a Year’s Time

> Google Puts News on a Timeline