Google Scholar – Finding the Laws That Govern Us – A Challenge for Lexis and Westlaw

After several years in Beta, Google Scholar has been launched.  For years, “web-based” services have been nipping at the heels of Lexis Legal Research and Westlaw Legal Research.  Several states have put their case law and statutes on line; so have the federal government.  Some ventures have tried to harness the “free databases” and build usable front end search module.  The result has been a patchwork of “data”, sufficient for the “common man” but lacking in depth, scope and comprehensiveness to be used by attorneys.  There was always the risk of missing the latest slip opinion, amendment, or missing the back information about the statutory and regulatory enactments.

With the release of Google Scholar, a new and very well funded player has entered the arena:  Google.  Armed with billions of dollars and a mission to “do good” while also making money, Google has brought its vaunted search engine to the area of law and statutes.  Read the quoted release below and check it out. The search engine options are still fairly limited, but the scope of the database is enormous.

As many of us recall from our civics lessons in school, the United States is a common law country. 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.

Starting today, we’re enabling people everywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar. You can find these opinions by searching for cases (like Planned Parenthood v. Casey), or by topics (like desegregation) or other queries that you are interested in. For example, go to Google Scholar, click on the “Legal opinions and journals” radio button, and try the query separate but equal. Your search results will include links to cases familiar to many of us in the U.S. such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, which explore the acceptablity of “separate but equal” facilities for citizens at two different points in the history of the U.S. But your results will also include opinions from cases that you might be less familiar with, but which have played an important role.

We think this addition to Google Scholar will empower the average citizen by helping everyone learn more about the laws that govern us all. To understand how an opinion has influenced other decisions, you can explore citing and related cases using the Cited by and Related articles links on search result pages. As you read an opinion, you can follow citations to the opinions to which it refers. You can also see how individual cases have been quoted or discussed in other opinions and in articles from law journals. Browse these by clicking on the “How Cited” link next to the case title. See, for example, the frequent citations for Roe v. Wade, for Miranda v. Arizona (the source of the famous Miranda warning) or for Terry v. Ohio (a case which helped to establish acceptable grounds for an investigative stop by a police officer).

As we worked to build this feature, we were struck by how readable and accessible these opinions are. 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. For example, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court justices present a fascinating and easy-to-follow debate on the legality of internment of natural born citizens based on their ancestry. And in United States v. Ramirez-Lopez, Judge Kozinski, in his dissent, illustrates the key issue of the case using an imagined good-news/bad-news dialogue between the defendant and his attorney.

We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of several pioneers, who have worked on making it possible for an average citizen to educate herself about the laws of the land: Tom Bruce (Cornell LII), Jerry Dupont (LLMC), Graham Greenleaf and Andrew Mowbray (AustLII), Carl Malamud (Public.Resource.Org), Daniel Poulin (LexUM), Tim Stanley (Justia), Joe Ury (BAILII), Tim Wu (AltLaw) and many others. It is an honor to follow in their footsteps. We would also like to acknowledge the judges who have built this cathedral of justice brick by brick and have tried to make it accessible to the rest of us. We hope Google Scholar will help all of us stand on the shoulders of these giants.

Join me on LINKEDin.com and add your comments to the Virtual Lawyer Group.  BTW:  The URL is Scholar.google.com

Toss Out Your Server – No Really!!!

The computer-industrial complex has been on a mad race of hardware, software and services to shape us “users” in their own image.  With the drop in prices for hardware, it seems that a “network” is in everone’s reach.  Microsoft is even shipping a “home server” – instant network in a box.  What is missing in this hardware and software gold rush is that few of us, myself included, are capable of properly managing a network and hardening that network against attack.  And there are a lot of malevolent forces out there ready to attack.  As a result, we find ourselves relying increasingly on the gray wizards of networking, often calling them in when it is too late.

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Going Paperless – The Legal Stuff

Have you ever considered going truly “PAPERLESS”?  If you do, did you plan on telling your clients?  And what do you do with all their STUFF? The answer may lie in your client engagement letter.  So long as you disclose to your client what you are going to do with the documents in his/her case, and so long as you keep originals of those documents you are legally and ethically required to keep, you should be in a position to go paperless without increasing your risk of malpractice.  Wells Anderson and I have developed some model language that you can you in your engagement letter.  We give it with the caveat that while we are lawyers, we are likely not admitted to practice in your jurisdiction, and second we are not offering this language as legal advice.  We are asking you to consider this language and review it in light of your firm’s document retention procedures and your state’s legal and ethical requirements regarding document retention.

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KRONOS – Evaluation Criteria for Software and RocketMatter

I recently engaged in a long conversation with Larry Port of Rocket Matter about the state of software design, and the common disconnect between programmers, marketeers and end users.  It turns out Larry was a specialist in “usability studies” – the new buzz word in software design. He pointed me to TED.  At that time I recalled a series of ABA Techshow and other presentations I made back in 2001 on how legal software should be evaluated. I reproduce my unedited article from 2001 below, with the caveat it is not Web 2.0 aware …. But will in the future revisit some of theses ideas, particularly in a forthcoming review in Technolawyer of RocketMatter.

In evaluating technology, I look for inspiration to the Greeks, and in particular the father of the gods on Mt. Olympus, none other than KRONOS.  I use the following criteria in evaluating all technology:

Keystroke Count. The tool must be easy to use.  A subjective judgment on ease of use can be reduced to an empirical keystroke count.  In comparing similar tools, count the number of keystrokes (or mouse clicks) require to accomplish regular tasks.  The fewer the keystrokes, the better designed the software, and the more likely it will be used properly.

Return on Investment. The tool must pay for itself in increased productivity, improved work product, greater client satisfaction, or more efficient organization and information retention.  Don’t just look at price per seat.  Look at the “total cost of ownership” (equipment requirements, training, support and customization) and compare it to the expected return on investment.

Opulence and Intuitiveness. The tool must be “good looking”.  An ugly interface is often a proxy for poorly designed and thrown together software.  If the developer did not take the time to build an elegant and appealing interface, the developer may also not have taken the time to fully test and debug the software.  Also, if the icons, menus, and screens are not intuitive, you may find yourself spending a fortune on training, and your users may never fully utilize the potential of the software.

Networkability and Integration. The days of stand-alone PC’s are over.  The tool must function in a networked environment, and allow multiple users to access the system simultaneously.  And the tool should be able to communicate with other programs, sharing or exchanging data.

Options and Customization. It should be easy to install software, with a single CD-ROM and a menu of options to allow you to configure the software installation for the requirements of your network/PC.  A good software designer recognizes that each IP practice is unique, and should allow for some degree of customization, whether the addition of custom fields or the ability to modify or add new templates.

Suitability for the Task. The tool must be designed for or configurable for the specific use desired by the practitioner.  A general purpose case manager is a poor substitute for an IP portfolio database.

Correcting Bloated Images in RTF Templates

HotDocs, DealBuilder and GhostFill all work with RTF Templates.  On occasion, a template may include an image for a watermark, a logo, or some other purpose.  Thanks to an ingenious feature of Word, when you some a document to rich-text format (RTF) the images are converted to a useless, but huge windows metafile.  This ensures compatability with ANCIENT word processors, but does nothing for you.  In fact, a simple company logo can expand the size of a short letter from 20K, to 1,200K (or 1.2 MB).  And that is before you start adding text.  The solution is a simple change in the registry for WORD on each machine.

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