Gettin’ Googly with the law

Over at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog there’s a terrific discussion of Google Scholar Legal and Online Journals (SLOJ) versus Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis, and Westlaw (“Wexisberg” being Greg Lambert’s clever amalgamation of the two big CALR vendors plus upstart Bloomberg ).

One of Greg’s observations is that:

Google Scholar has three people. Not just on the legal portion of Google Scholar, there are three people total on the entire project.

And one of these three people is less than a full self.  That’s Google’s Rick Klau who recently gave a fascinating guest lecture to our advanced legal research class.  Rick told us that he became involved with the legal project by using his “20% time.”  

[Update and correction:  Rick is not one of the 3 who make up the core team - he explains it best himself, in the comment to this post.]

Rick explained to us that Google is not investing a lot of people-time in the project and the case analysis will be accomplished by what Google does best — automated searching and links. Most certainly Google is not about to hire thousands of editors (like Wexisberg have all done) to carefully craft case summaries and headnotes.   As Rick said, “Google is being Googly” with its underlying search and PageRank tools.

Who was SLOJ designed for?  Rick said he had his mom in mind — as a member of the public who does not have access to Wexisberg.

And the public has found its way to the site.  Before Rick’s talk we gave our class an assignment and one question was to find a certain case on a free website.  We gave this assignment after SLOJ launched and made the press (including a round of discussion on the law school’s internal “law-talk” listserv) — and every student turned to  Google Scholar to answer this question!

Following Rick’s talk, and despite all the disclaimers and comments that Google is not competing with Wexisberg, one student sent us this comment about SLOJ:

First, thank you so much for arranging this talk!  I was hoping it was someone from google.  It seems that they have a very specific market to target and they are trying to stick to it.  As skeptical as he seemed about attorneys using it, though, I think it will be exceedingly helpful.  At the very least, it will be a good, free starting point which can then be used in West/Lexis.

I think she’s right!  Google is impressive and what just a very few engineers have done is amazing.  And they aren’t done either; I am sure of that.