What’s a “legal” search?

A couple of big players have recently come out with new “legal” search engines (for the US market).

There is Westlaw’s WebPlus which, “through a combination, it seems, of editorial selection of sites or domains and an algorithm the engine offers to fetch you from the web a better selection of legally interesting results than a simple Google search might do” (per Slaw) and Law.com’s Quest which “draws results from Law.com sites and ALM publications. The broader search includes legal sites and blogs selected by Law.com staff” (per Robert Ambrogi).

To give them a whirl I tried various “mid-stream” searches, for example:

Westlaw WebPlus search for recorded music copyright
Law.com Quest search for recorded music copyright

WebPlus certainly has a nicer, more familiar-feeling interface. There are plenty of results that come from non-legal news etc sites. One assumes though that, by some deft algorithm, the legal sites are ranked higher all other things being equal. Quest seems to limit itself to “legal” sites, some of which are subscription only; the interface I find tacky. More thorough, in-depth study would be needed for a proper review. If any readers have used these search engines, let’s have your comments.

I concur with Bob Ambrogi that the drawback with these (and any other such custom search engine) is that, unless you know which sites and blogs they index, you are left uncertain of how to interpret the results. We’ve become used to Google etc searching everything, and to how it ranks results, so when someone says “Here’s a legal search engine that gives you more relevant results”, you go “Whoa! I really want to know what you are searching (and what you are not searching) and how you are ranking the results before I’ll swallow your line.”

Incidentally, I plugged recorded music copyright into my Google CSE, Blawgle, which was literally knocked up in minutes (plus a few more minutes from time to time to supplement the list of sites). What is it searching? All UK blawgs. How is it ranking results? Unadulterated Google. Strikes me that despite (or maybe because of) its limited scope it may be more immediately useful than WebPlus or Quest.

WebPlus also very prudishly told me it had no results for sex.

One thought on “What’s a “legal” search?”

  1. The Webplus search engine is powered by Microsoft Live Search, I suspect their index is comprehensive and their ranking is just biasing the results differently than the standard search at live.com

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