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Making the Most of Google Scholar

March 30, 2011


Google Scholar is a free and popular online search engine, which links to full-text scholarly articles.  As is the case with most search engines, Google Scholar users may wonder whether they are using all of the features to its fullest.     

Google Scholar for Legal Research

Google scholar provides the full-text opinions from both federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts. To search for these legal materials, simply check the “Legal opinions and journals” button below the main Google Scholar search box. Coverage of case opinions is not comprehensive and varies by court. Currently, opinions are available for:

  • U.S. state appellate and supreme courts (1950 - present)
  • U.S. federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy courts (1923 - present)
  • U.S. Supreme Court (1791 - present)

When looking at an opinion in Google Scholar, you can click on the “How Cited” tab to locate other cases that cite to the case you’re currently reading. While this feature is not as robust as either Shepard’s or KeyCite, it can assist with finding other relevant cases or provide a sense of how a case is used by other courts. You can limit your “How Cited” results, as well as any searches for case opinions, by jurisdiction or court using the Advanced Search features.

Looking for analysis and not case opinions? Google Scholar will also locate law review articles relevant to your search. Please note that Google Scholar only indexes a subset of academic literature available online; if you do not locate articles relevant to your research please consult a more robust database available through Penn Libraries or ask a reference librarian.

Full Text Articles through Google Scholar

PennText.jpgWhen you find a relevant article, Google Scholar will often link you to the publisher’s website to purchase the full-text version of that article. Many of these articles are available to you for free through various databases purchased by Penn Libraries. To see if you already have access to the full-text of an article, access Google Scholar through links provided by the Biddle Law Library on the library’s Goat Page, the main A-Z electronic resources list, or here. Once you authenticate with your Penn card information you can see if full-text is available for any article by clicking on the provided “Penn Text” link. 


Google Scholar is a useful free resource to begin your research, but do not rely on Google Scholar to provide comprehensive research assistance for your research question. If you have questions about what resources to consult to dig deeper into your issue, please ask a reference librarian.