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Date Archives: December 2009

Google Scholar’s Legal Search and Fast Flip

The ABA Journal Daily alerted us to “Google Offers Legal Research for Average Citizen… and Lawyers Too” so we had to take Google Scholar out for a test drive.  Along the way, we also stumbled across another Google product, Fast Flip.  Both are free.scholar

Apparently Google wants to dip a toe into the legal research world by adding a “legal opinions and journals” radio button to Google Scholar search.  In our unscientific testing, Scholar did not find a recent Fourth DCA case which was issued that same day.  A “regular” Google search, however, pulled the case right up.  Depending on when you read this, test it out using that same case.  Email when that case makes it to Scholar.

Testing slightly older cases, we searched for a relatively new case, Perez v. Life Care Centers, and obtained no results in Scholar but, again, “regular” Google pulled the case right up.  Even a few cases we tested which date back a few months fail to appear in Scholar but pop right up in Google.

Searches by case names and attorney names seems to work fairly well, although not necessarily in chronological order.  There is even an attempt to reference whether the case has been cited (a rough version of Westlaw’s KeyCite or, for we old-timers, “Shepardizing”).  Like anyone with a  Google search bar and a few moments on his hands, I searched my own name and it dutifully pulled up some appellate decisions but no journal articles.

A good start for a Google Lab project.  We like it.

Also of interest is the current events reader, Fast Flip, which needs little explanation.  Watch the media, they’ll likely pick it up soon as the new internet toy…

JEAC Enters Ethics Fray Over Judges and Facebook… But Florida Wasn’t the First

As has been recently well-hyped, there are certain restrictions on Florida judge’s use of social networks.  It apparently took awhile for everyone to notice a November 17 Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee report but once the New York Times got a hold of it nearly a month later on December 10, the Florida media kicked it into gear with front page coverage the next day in the Daily Business Review (and other publications).  But South Carolina had quietly already jumped into the fray.

While we were expecting some evidence of Internet fear and misunderstanding, both panels appear to have a reasonable grasp on both the zeitgeist of the new media and the purpose of arcane legal rules.

According to Florida JEAC, judges are not supposed to openly “select” and identify friends since the concern is that this creates the appearance that the “friend” sits in a special position.  A minority on the panel apparently felt that the word “friend” has been bent so far (from noun to verb to… nothing) that the implication isn’t there.  However, consider a situation where you are first appearing before a judge only to learn that your jurist is a (published) Facebook friend of your opponent.  Depending upon how heated your case gets, the ugly implication will roost somewhere in your mind.  Or your client’s.

Anyone can be a “fan” of a judge’s page since that does not involve the jurist making a selection.  Again, as the committee wrote, “to the extent that such ["friending"] identification is available for another person to view, the committee concludes that this practice would violate [judicial rules].”

If it sounds a bit heavy-handed, judges knew going into their situation that they would suffer some unusual social burdens and restrictions, as warned under Canon 5a.  Likely, there are far more sticky situations than Facebook.

But, judges can be friends with non-lawyers and lawyers who do not appear before them.  Additionally, judges can be associated with lawyers in other Internet groups, as long as the judge is not selecting/de-selecting the public association.

The South Carolina Judicial Department likewise has some opinions.  In their October 2009 opinion, which received virtually no press until after the Florida story broke, judges may be members of Facebook and be friends with law enforcement officers and employees of the Magistrate as long as they do not discuss anything related to the judge’s position.

How did Florida and South Carolina beat everyone to the punch on these techno-legal issue?  One would expect New York or California on the cusp of this one.