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Google Scholar for Legal Research: Step-by-Step Guide


When it comes to legal research, Google Scholar case law is a powerful yet often underutilized tool. It can access a vast repository of legal opinions from appellate courts. This tool is essential for ensuring that legal arguments are well-supported by precedent.

Key Points:
1. Google Scholar case law offers access to a rich database of appellate court opinions.
2. Judges make law through written opinions, which Google Scholar allows you to search.
3. Always verify if a case is still “good law” using Google Scholar’s features.

Legal research is a cornerstone of effective legal practice. Accessing relevant case law quickly can make a significant difference, especially for attorneys dealing with time-sensitive cases. Google Scholar offers a user-friendly platform to explore extensive legal documents and case law, making it indispensable for modern legal professionals.

By leveraging the power and comprehensive database of Google Scholar, attorneys can ensure that their case research is thorough and up-to-date without the high costs and time demands traditionally associated with legal research.

Summary of Google Scholar Features for Legal Research - google scholar case law infographic pillar-4-steps

What is Google Scholar?

Google Scholar is a powerful search tool that lets you find a wide range of scholarly literature. This includes articles, theses, books, abstracts, and court opinions from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities, and websites.

Scholarly Literature: Google Scholar is a treasure trove for anyone looking for academic content. You can find peer-reviewed articles, research papers, and dissertations on almost any topic. This makes it an excellent resource not just for legal research but for general academic inquiries as well.

Legal Opinions: One of the standout features of Google Scholar is its access to legal opinions, also known as case law. These are written decisions by appellate courts that explain how laws are applied to specific cases. For example, if you are researching “voter redistricting,” you can find relevant court cases and opinions that discuss the legal nuances of this issue.

Journals: Google Scholar also indexes a vast number of academic journals. These journals publish articles written by experts in various fields, including law, medicine, engineering, and social sciences. For legal professionals, access to these journals can provide valuable insights and precedents that can influence case strategies.

Ease of Access: One of the best things about Google Scholar is that it is free to use. While some articles may require a subscription to access fully, many are available as abstracts or summaries. You can also use features like “Related articles” and “Cited by” to find additional relevant information.

By using Google Scholar, you can ensure that your research is both comprehensive and current, which is crucial for making informed legal decisions.

legal research - google scholar case law

Next, we will explore how to access case law on Google Scholar, including search methods and tips for refining your searches to get the most relevant results.

How to Access Case Law on Google Scholar

Accessing case law on Google Scholar is straightforward. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the process effectively.

Selecting Jurisdictions

  1. Go to Google Scholar: Visit Google Scholar.

  2. Select Case Law: On the main search page, you’ll see a radio button option. Click on the “Case law” radio button to focus your search on legal opinions.

  3. Choose Jurisdictions: You can narrow your search by selecting specific jurisdictions. Click on “Select courts…” to choose between state courts and federal courts. For example, you can limit your search to California courts or the U.S. Supreme Court if needed.

Select Jurisdictions - google scholar case law

Using Advanced Search Features

To refine your search results, use Google Scholar’s advanced search features:

  1. Advanced Search: Click on the menu icon (three lines) in the top left corner, then select “Advanced search”. This will open a form where you can specify your search criteria.

  2. Search Terms: Enter the relevant keywords in the search boxes. You can search for all of the words, the exact phrase, at least one of the words, or without the words.

    • Example: To find cases related to “contract law” but exclude “employment,” you might use:
      • All of the words: contract law
      • Without the words: employment
  3. Citation Search: If you have a specific case citation, enter it directly into the search box. This is useful for finding the exact case you need without sifting through unrelated results.

  4. Exclude Terms: Use the “without the words” field to exclude irrelevant terms from your search. This helps in narrowing down the results to the most pertinent cases.

By using these advanced search features, you can efficiently find the case law you need, whether it’s from state courts, federal courts, or specific jurisdictions. This ensures your legal research is both comprehensive and precise.

Next, we will look at how to navigate your search results and utilize features like the “How Cited” tab to understand the relevance and impact of cases.

Navigating Search Results

Understanding the “How Cited” Feature

Once you’ve executed a search on Google Scholar for case law, you’ll see a list of search results. These results can be overwhelming, but several tools and features help you navigate them efficiently.

Facets on the left-hand side of the screen allow you to narrow your results. You can filter by jurisdiction, which is particularly useful if you need cases from specific state or federal courts. For example, if you’re focusing on a case from California, you can select only California courts to refine your search.

Jurisdiction Filter: Click on “Select courts” and place a checkmark next to the courts relevant to your research. This ensures you are only looking at cases pertinent to your legal needs.

How Cited: At the top of any opinion’s page, you’ll find a link to the “How Cited” feature. This is a powerful tool for understanding how a case has been treated by other courts. It lists other cases in the Google Scholar database that cite your case or are related to it. This feature provides examples of how these other cases have discussed your case.

Related Cases: The “How Cited” feature doesn’t just show citations. It also highlights related cases, giving you a broader view of the legal landscape surrounding your case. This can be invaluable for finding precedent and understanding the context of your case within the legal system.

Citation Analysis: The “How Cited” feature acts like a citator, showing how often and in what context your case has been cited. While not as authoritative as other citators like Shepard’s or KeyCite, it gives a good overview of the case’s legal impact.

Precedent: By examining how your case is cited, you can determine if it is considered “good law.” This means checking if it has been followed, distinguished, or overturned by subsequent cases. This is crucial for ensuring the reliability of the case in your legal arguments.

In summary, using the “How Cited” feature on Google Scholar helps you understand the importance and relevance of a case, making your legal research more thorough and insightful.

Next, we’ll share some tips for effective legal research on Google Scholar to help you get the most out of this tool.

Tips for Effective Legal Research on Google Scholar

Checking if a Case is “Good Law”

When conducting legal research on Google Scholar, determine if a case is still “good law.” This means checking if it has been followed, distinguished, or overturned by subsequent cases. To do this effectively, use the “How Cited” tab.

The “How Cited” tab shows you how other cases have referenced the case you’re looking at. This feature helps you see if the case has been questioned or overruled. For example, a landmark case might still appear in search results, but a later decision may have overturned it. Always verify the current standing of a case to ensure its reliability in your arguments.

Reading and Interpreting Court Opinions

Court opinions are the backbone of case law. Most opinions are organized into three sections:

  1. Facts of the Case: This section summarizes the key facts and background information.
  2. Relevant Decisions, Statutes, and Regulations: Here, the court reviews prior decisions and applicable laws that relate to the case.
  3. Final Decision: This part explains how the court applied the law to the facts and what the final ruling is.

Understanding these sections is crucial for interpreting how the court reached its decision. For example, in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, the court’s final decision overturned previous rulings that allowed racial segregation, setting a new precedent.

Multiple Searches and Synonyms

When searching for case law, using multiple searches with different keywords and synonyms can yield better results. The top results may not always be the most relevant. For instance, searching for “speedy trial” might bring up the precedent-setting case of Hicks v. State, while other important cases might be buried deeper in the results.

Reading Opinions Thoroughly

Good legal research requires reading multiple opinions thoroughly. The final outcome of a case is at the end of the opinion, but understanding the court’s reasoning throughout the document is vital. This includes how the court interpreted statutes and previous cases.

Using the “How Cited” Tab

The “How Cited” tab is a powerful tool for understanding a case’s relevance. It shows other cases that have cited the opinion, helping you see if it has been supported or questioned. This is crucial for determining if the case is still “good law.”

By following these tips, you can make your legal research on Google Scholar more effective and reliable. Next, we’ll address some frequently asked questions about using Google Scholar for case law research.

Frequently Asked Questions about Google Scholar Case Law

How do I search Google Scholar for case law?

Searching for case law on Google Scholar is straightforward. Start by going to Google Scholar. Select “Case law” under the search bar. You can search by:

  • Case citation: Enter the exact citation in quotes, like "276 Md. 580".
  • Case name: Use the party names, such as “Hicks v. State”.
  • Keywords: Type relevant keywords, like “speedy trial”, to find related cases.

For more precise results, use the Advanced Search feature. This allows you to narrow your search by specific words, authors, or dates.

Does Google Scholar have case studies?

Yes, Google Scholar includes case studies along with articles and case law. When you search, you can filter results to show only scholarly articles or legal opinions. Use the “Articles” and “Case law” tabs to sort your results accordingly.

To find case studies specifically, use keywords related to your topic. For example, search for “case study” along with your subject of interest. Google Scholar will display relevant articles and studies.

Is Google Scholar good for legal research?

Google Scholar is an excellent resource for legal research. It offers an extensive database of:

  • State cases: Appellate and supreme court cases from the 1950s onwards.
  • Federal cases: District, appellate, tax, and bankruptcy courts since 1923.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Opinions: Available since 1791.

While it provides a broad range of legal opinions, always verify the information and check if the case is still “good law” using the “How Cited” feature. This ensures your research is accurate and up-to-date.

Next, we will summarize the importance of thorough research and introduce CompFox’s AI-powered legal research tools.


Thorough legal research is crucial for any attorney. Google Scholar offers an extensive database of state and federal cases, making it a valuable tool for legal professionals. However, the process of finding and verifying case law can be time-consuming and tedious.

This is where CompFox steps in. Our AI-powered legal research tools are designed to streamline your research process. Built specifically for California workers’ compensation attorneys, CompFox uses state-of-the-art AI technology to understand your queries, sift through vast amounts of data, and deliver the most relevant cases quickly.

With CompFox, you get:

  • Word-for-word searchable PDFs: Access all en banc decisions, significant panel decisions, and normal decisions.
  • Smart, intuitive search engine: Understands the nuances of your legal research needs.
  • AI-powered quick responses: Get answers to specific case-related questions efficiently.

By integrating AI into your research workflow, you can save hundreds of hours annually, reduce stress, and minimize the risk of overlooking critical information. This allows you to focus more on winning cases and less on the drudgery of manual research.

For more information on how CompFox can enhance your legal research, visit our AI-powered legal research tools page.

Invest in smarter research. Invest in CompFox.


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