Legal Research Using Google Books

by Roger Alford

For the first time ever I am using Google Books as a resource in my current legal research for my forthcoming article. You have probably read about the Google Books project before, but if you are like me you have not yet incorporated it into your research. Based on my recent experience, I would strongly recommend that you do so. It is by no means perfect, but I have found it a useful tool to add to my research toolbox.

By way of illustration, say you wanted to do research on whether the International Court of Justice’s decision in the Lockerbie case was, as some scholars claim, the Marbury v. Madison of the United Nations legal system. Of course you would check Westlaw, Lexis and perhaps Google for insights into this issue. But if you check Google Books, you come up with specific page references in 21 books, including one book that offered interesting comments from Boutros Boutros Ghali on the subject.

Or say you were interested in the issue of whether corporations are subjects of international law. A query in Google Books provides dozens of books, including whole books on the topic, as well as shorter references in various treatises, casebooks, international law reports, and Hague Academy Lectures.

Currently Google Books is only in beta version and it is not without its problems. I found it particularly frustrating to be able to read the table of contents of a book, but then find that the entire book was not accessible in the database. And of course I am not suggesting that this will supplant the traditional tools of legal research. But it certainly has the potential to be a great new tool for legal research.

2 Responses

  1. Like Roger, I find Google Books very useful for research — especially when I am abroad and don’t have access to a good library, as I am now. But it is incredibly frustrating when books are not completely in the public domain, making them partially inaccessible. It’s always the page that I need most that isn’t available in the database!

  2. Good to know that Google books works well for IL research as well. I know that it’s great for congressional research (most notably, many pre-internet congressional hearings are indexed on it and nowhere else). However, Google strangely thinks that Congressional materials are copyrighted, and does not display the whole document.

    It’s also great for researching points that are tangential, especially historical ones. Its weakest point is for older journals…it rarely if ever has issue information. This problem is compounded if it only shows you snippet view, often making finding the issue information impossible to determine, and making the information more frustrating than useful.

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