- Google has features that are helpful for small firm lawyers.
- You can use some of its existing features in creative ways to assist you in your legal research, for free.
As we all know by now, Google is more than just a website or a search engine. It is truly an information giant with the rather immodest goal of cataloging and making accessible all of the information in the world. Many lawyers use several of the numerous Google services every day. Some lawyers run their entire law firms using Google Apps for Business, which for a reasonable fee provides 24-hour support and increased email security. When I am working on a joint paper with out-of-state colleagues, we almost always use Google Docs so all of us can access the same document, knowing that it is the latest version. (It is a bit strange at first to see someone else live editing the same document at the same time you are writing or editing.)
So this month, we’ll look at some Google tips that are useful for lawyers.
I was inspired to do this when Google made a change that I did not like. My complaint was that Advanced Search, a tool I frequently use, had vanished from the main Google page. Of course, without even looking for it in the various options on the Google “black bar,” I asked Google “where is Google Advanced search” and found www.google.com/advanced_search. I also learned that Google had hidden Advanced Search under the small gear symbol in the upper right-hand corner, and Advanced Search also appears at the bottom of the page when search results are displayed.
I ultimately blogged about the change because I view Google Advanced Search as mission critical. If you know something was posted to the Internet within the last week, why not limit your search to the past week or past month? If you know what you seek is in a PDF file, why not limit your search to PDF files posted online only? If you are stuck on how to illustrate a point in your presentation, why not look for PowerPoint files posted online dealing with the topic? Google Advanced Search also lets you search just a single website by using the Site filter.
Another interesting thing for lawyers to do with Google Advanced Search is search for every website that links to your law firm’s webpage.
You may not consider yourself a Google expert, but every lawyer should be saving time by using Google Advanced search to limit irrelevant material and home in on what the lawyer wants.
Speaking of Google experts, for a comprehensive resource, your attention is directed to the ABA book store, which stocks Google for Lawyers: Essential Search Tips and Productivity Tools by Carole A. Levitt and Mark E. Rosch (2010). The ABA member price is $79.95.
Google calculator is another great time-saver. It is quite easy to use. We know what plus (+) and minus (-) mean in calculations. I often tell lawyers to repeat to themselves as many times as it takes “Asterisk to multiply, slash to divide.” Using the * and / keys is really quite simple. Type something like 3.14159*365 into the Google and Google informs you that 3.14159 * 365 = 1146.68035.
If you are using the Google Chrome browser (which is gaining in popularity) or have the Google Toolbar installed in your browser, then you do not even have to hit Enter and go to Google. The answer appears as a drop down below the address bar or search bar as soon as you type it in. This is quite speedy and efficient.
The conversion tool built into Google is quite useful as well. You can use it to do currency conversions, units of measurement, and more. The word “in” is usually all that you need for unit conversions.
“quarter cup in teaspoons” returns “1 quarter US cup = 12 US teaspoons”
“2 kilometers in feet” returns “2 kilometers = 6 561.67979 feet”
“65 mph in kph” returns “65 mph = 104.60736 kph”
“44 liters in gallons” returns “44 liters = 11.6235703 US gallons”
“15 dollars in euros” returns not only “15 US dollars = 11.3242 euros” but also a chart indicating the fluctuations in price over the last several years.
The Google calculator can also handle complex equations and advanced math like trigonometric functions that most lawyers are happy we do not have to use.
International time and date calculations are available online through several websites. But if you just need to know the current time in another city, just enter time and the name of the city. I note that it defaults to the most notable city by that name, so if you enter “Time Miami” you will get the result for Miami, FL. You must enter “Time Miami Oklahoma” if that is the city you mean.
Tracking the status of airline flights is another interesting feature baked into Google. If you enter the airline and flight number into the Google search box, you will get back the arrival and departure times right inside Google's search results. To see flight schedules to or from a particular airport, you type “flights from” or “flights to” followed by the city or airport. You can also add another location with “to” or “from” and see the schedule for a specific route after scrolling down past the paid ads. (e.g. Flights from Oklahoma City to Denver)
Do yourself a favor and spend a few moments at www.google.com/help/features.html to learn more about some other common Google searches.
Google local search is an area that is growing in popular usage. If you want to find a nearby Italian restaurant, just enter Italian Restaurant and the Zip Code. This local search works for any number of businesses, like bowling alleys or hardware stores or lawyers.
If you didn’t find your law firm when you searched in your Zip Code, you can learn how to make certain it is available there by going to www.google.com/placesforbusiness and logging in with your Gmail address and password. Google Places also allows you to add photos, videos, and other items of interest to potential clients.
Google Alerts allows you to set up email alerts to inform you when new content is indexed that includes a certain search query you have designed. Some lawyers use this to be regularly informed when their name or an important client’s name appears anywhere online.
Google keeps evolving, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. Many lawyers were disappointed when Google closed its “Uncle Sam” vertical search of US government resources.
Google provides free legal research via Google Scholar. Lawyers have not widely used this service because so many lawyers have paid commercial legal research services or a legal research member benefit from their bar association. So I decided to ask Mark E. Rosch for a Google Scholar tip, since he literally cowrote the book Google for Lawyers. He says one valuable use of Google Scholar is expert witness research. He advises that you can use Google Advanced Scholar Search to search by an author’s name to locate the individual’s previous scholarly publications, which may provide some fertile ground for cross-examination of an opposing expert witness or even clue you in to things you may not have known about your own expert witness.