Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Electronic Resources #4: Google Scholar

We no longer have to rely on the advance sheets on the Connecticut judicial website to access officially reported Connecticut court cases online at no cost. Thanks to Google Scholar ( you can access court federal and state court cases wherever you have internet access. Chris Roy, one of our courthouse law librarians, prepared a memo in December 2009 on Google Scholar which Attorney Matt Berger thankfully forwarded to me. This is the "point and shoot" camera that anyone can use to find an officially reported case.

Matt Berger contacted me after my previous post which highlighted only the advance release version of officially reported Connecticut cases from 2000 forward, wondering why I didn't mention Google Scholar. I had intended to include Google Scholar in the last post. As I was writing Friday's entry in the late afternoon/early evening, i.e., too late to call on a resourceful courthouse law librarian, I started to cover Google Scholar, when I discovered that Chris Roy's memo was no longer anywhere to be found on the internet. His review of the Google Scholar was a gem that needed to be seen. So I called him on Monday asking him about his review's whereabouts. He recently became aware that just last week his memo was "behind a wall," where only law librarians with a password can access it. At my request he kindly posted his report on Google Scholar on his website,, another wealth of resources on doing legal research. His report, "Google Scholar Opinions: An Initial Look," can be accessed by clicking here.

Have you thanked a courthouse law librarian today?

I am going to assume that you have read Chris Roy's article before reading this post any further. He writes cautiously that Google Scholar won't be replacing LexisNexis, Westlaw, etc. which have highly refined search functions which lawyers need. I want to compare Google Scholar, not to those legal search engines, but to the Connecticut judicial department's advance release of officially reported cases. Folks who currently use the judicial branch's cases may find Google Scholar, except for cases released in the past few weeks, a superior method of finding cases. Because:1) cases from 1950-1999 are available, 2) there are page numbers, 3) one can search for a case caption without going through a year-by-year search, and 4) one can search by a phrase found within a case.

Now I want to play around with how easy it is to find cases. Are you wondering whether it's legal to offer (if you're the applicant) or to accept (if you're the wetlands agency) a bribe, I mean a financial enhancement in the form of cash and in-kind contributions to bolster a possibly inadequate application for a regulated activity? Do you have a dim memory of some case of that sort being discussed? I still remember the name of the case. But I'm anticipating there will come a time when the name escapes me. I was wondering if Google Scholar could help me out. Yes it can.

Once you've gone to Google Scholar and changed the button on "Articles" to "Legal opinions and journals," you click on "Advanced Scholar Search." On the first line where it prompts you for "Find articles with all of the words" I put in "cash contribution wetlands". I put in the word "wetlands," because I did not want to read through all of the dreary years of court cases involving political corruption. (It was dreary enough to live through them.) I then went to the bottom of the page and limited the search to cases in Connecticut. After hitting the "Search Scholar" button, I had the case name, citation and link to the case in a nanosecond, or more precisely, in 0.05 seconds. A few minutes later I was reading how the Supreme Court in Branhaven Plaza, LLC v. Inland Wetlands Commission, 251 Conn. 269, 284 (1999) nixed the notion that the exchange of money for a wetlands permit was proper: "The notion that money and its in-kind equivalent could present the sole obstacle to obtaining a permit would severely undermine the rationale for enacting the legislation and the ultimate purpose of protecting wetlands and watercourses." This is an amazing tool.

One aspect that I don't like is the lack of perceptible order to results of a search, when there are many results. For instance, I entered the phrase "feasible and prudent alternative" (again limiting it to Connecticut cases). I got 60 results in 0.06 seconds. Quite impressive. The first case was from 1993, followed in order by cases from 1981, 1995, 1999, 1993, 1989, 1990, 1992, 2003, 1992 and so on. Yikes! Just like walking into my teenage daughter's room to look for the car keys. When looking for one case, the search functions quite smoothly. If you know the case citation, enter it with quotation marks around it. If you know any word in the case name enter it as follows: intitle:branhaven.

Google Scholar -- a fine tool to be used, highlighted by Chris Roy, one of our resourceful courthouse law librarians.

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