Case Law Research Using Google Scholar

Google Scholar offers access to laws made by the judicial branch, also known as "case law" or "common law." Common law or case law is that body of law based on written opinions by appellate courts.

Youtube: Legal Research Tutorial: Finding Case Law Using Google Scholar from Law Library of Congress

Searching case law via a computer is very powerful, but the results you get are based on the words you enter. The top results may (or may not) be applicable to you.

TIP: Try multiple searches with different words or synonyms. Remember results are based on what the computer thinks you want. The computer has never been in a courtroom.

TIP: The top results may not be the best results. Good legal research requires reading a number of opinions.

When deciding the outcome of a case, courts rely on previous court decisions to ensure that the law is constantly applied. This is known as precedent. From time to time, the court may decide that a previous decision was not correct. For example, beginning in the 1950s the United State’s Supreme Court began to overturn its previous decisions that made it legal to have separate public facilities for people based on their skin color.

You may find these old decisions in Google Scholar. They are still part of the body of law, but these cases are no longer considered "good law" because later court decisions have established a new precedent that future courts must follow.

TIP: Use the "How Cited" tab to see other cases that may have altered, overturned or reinterpreted the decision.

Judges make law by writing an opinion that explains how the law applies to a particular situation. Most opinions are organized into three sections. The first section summarizes the facts of the case. The second section reviews relevant court decisions, statutes, and regulations. The final section explains how the court has applied the law to the facts of that case to issue a decision.

TIP: The final outcome of the case is at the end of the opinion but it is important to read the entire decision to understand the court’s reasoning.

Frequently Asked Questions: Using Google Scholar for Maryland Case Law

What is Google Scholar?
Google describes Google Scholar as a " way to broadly search for scholarly literature." Recently, Google added legal opinions and journals to its collection of scholarly material.

What legal opinions are in Google Scholar?
US Supreme Court opinions since 1791
US federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy courts since 1923
State appellate and supreme court cases since 1950s.

Where does Google get these cases?
Google says that the case law in Google Scholar is licensed from a major legal information vendor.

Can I see if a case is still "good law"?
Yes, Google Scholar includes a list of cases that have cited a selected opinion. Use this feature with caution since results are computer generated and depend on the quality of the citation. Of course you will need to read the opinion to see if it is still "good law."

Can I search for just Maryland cases?
Yes. Choose Legal Document and then Select Courts and choose Maryland..

Can I search Maryland and Federal cases at the same time?
Yes. You can search both at the same time.

How quickly do cases show up in Google Scholar?
It may take up to a month for recently issued Maryland opinions to appear in Google Scholar.

Can I search by citation?
Yes, search the citation either as an exact phrase or in quotes. For example," 276 Md. 580."

Can I search by party name?
Yes, this works very well if the the option to search "in the title of the article" is selected. This is the dropdown box next to the "where my words occur" option.

Can I search on a topic?
Yes, but the results here are very mixed. For example, a Google Scholar search on "speedy trial" brought up the precedent setting case of Hicks v. State, 285 Md. 310 (1979) first. However, a search on "statute of limitations" assault placed the key case, Ford v. Douglas, 144 Md. App. 620 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2002), as number 57.

Can I search by code citation?
Not really. Searching for a code citation in an opinion generally gives poor results, even if the citation is correctly formatted and in quotes.

How do I cite a case I found in Google Scholar?
See Bluebook Rule 18.2 and ALWD Rule 12.15. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to verify the case in the official case reporter.