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Turbocharge Your Google Searches

By Alexandra Brown | Apr. 2, 2008

Law Office Management

Apr. 2, 2008

Turbocharge Your Google Searches

By utilizing a number of advanced features, lawyers can add a lot more horsepower to their Google searches.

On every lawyer's desk sits a finely tuned, high-performance research tool ready for action: a computer running Google. But many folks fail to get the most out of the world's most popular and powerful search engine-they drive the Lamborghini on the desktop like a Ford Escort with bad tires. Google has a toolbox full of little-known advanced search features, which you can easily access by typing a few additional characters or symbols. These power commands will turn your PC into a lean, mean search machine.
      Most Googlers already know this trick: Put quotation marks around a phrase to search for that exact word string. But many folks forget to use quotation marks when they're most useful, such as when you're tracking down a particular person online. Searching for "Thomas Francis McNichol" with quote marks is much more likely to lead you to the scoundrel you're looking for than searching for the same names without the quotes. And legal terms are often best searched with quotation marks. A search for "separate but equal" with quote marks returns pages that mention the legal concept rather than sites that merely contain all three words somewhere on a page.
      Google's so-called wildcard feature can be a real sanity saver, for those times when you remember an incomplete portion of a phrase, ruling, book title, song, or whatever. You can compensate for your failing memory by adding an asterisk (*) at that part of the phrase or sentence you want searched. For example, a search for I can't define * but I know it when I see it returns the famous Potter Stewart quote about pornography. And this being the Internet, you're only a few clicks away from a site that even Potter Stewart would consider pornographic.
      A surprising number of law-related Internet sites-those run by unambitious law schools and even less ambitious bar associations-have inadequate or nonexistent search capabilities. Good luck finding anything. Google's "search by domain" feature solves the problem by essentially creating a search engine for any particular site you designate. You can access this feature from Google's Advanced Search page (www. Google's advanced search also lets you search by language (more than 40 in all, including traditional Chinese) and by country. You can combine the searches so, for example, you can search results written in traditional Chinese that originated in China).
      Searching for online information from the government can be an exercise in futility. Federal, state, and local government websites are scattered across the Internet, and you often have to pore over a large number of sites until you find what you want-if you find what you want. A good way to separate the wheat from the chaff (or, this being the government, the chaff from the somewhat less chaffy) is to go to Google U.S. Government Search ( ig/usgov). This page is a dedicated Web crawler that searches only federal, state, and local governmental websites, including those with domains such as .gov or .mil, as well as select government sites with .com, .us, and .edu domains.
      Practically every patent lawyer in the country already knows about this one, but it's worth mentioning-Google has an outstanding patent search engine. Google Patent Search ( com/ptshp) includes a massive collection of patents made available by the United States Patent and Trademark Office-about 7 million in all-stretching from the 1790s through mid-2006. Google provides the entire image database of the original patents, so you can also view drawings. Patents can be searched by patent number, inventor, name of assignee, and dates of filing or issue.
      A little-known Google feature lets you retrieve search results containing numbers within a given range. In your browser's search box, type your search term, followed by the two numbers defining your desired number range and separated by two periods (no spaces). For example, the search malpractice settlements 2006..2008 returns a list of only the most recent action in this fast-moving arena, not the boring stuff from ten years ago. And yes, you can search settlements by dollar range, thanks for asking.
      When you want a quick definition of a word, the standard Google search is often the wrong tool for the job; the answer is usually buried somewhere deep in the results. To get an instant definition of a word or technical term, type define: followed immediately by the word(s) you want defined (with no space after the colon). For example, define:convenient will have Google return several thumbnail definitions of the term gathered from various online sources, with links to additional information.
      Sometimes, searching by file format will get you the answer you're looking for faster. Say you want to print out a copy of the IRS's Form 1040. If you do a standard Google search for 1040 tax form, you'll get back a lot of mentions (and rants) about the 1040 form, rather than the thing itself. The answer is to search by file type-in this case, .pdf. A search for form 1040 filetype:pdf instantly returns the printable version of the tax form. After printing it out, you may find yourself returning to those rants about taxation. The filetype: command can also be used to search only for Word documents or Excel spreadsheets.
      Google is a U.S. phone book in disguise-you can look up street addresses and phone numbers directly through the search box. Type in an address or phone number and you'll see the corresponding publicly listed phone numbers and addresses at the top of the results page. You can search by name and address, or by phone number.
      Rather than searching across every page on the Web, sometimes it's more efficient to do a vertical search, drilling down within a specialized field or source. Google lets you perform a number of specific searches within blogs, news, books, catalogs, or scholarly works to find what you're looking for. The Google Scholar search engine (http:// is particularly useful for lawyers-with it you can search peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts, and articles from academic publishers, professional societies, universities, and other scholarly organizations. It's a great place for reliable peer-reviewed information, as opposed to the rest of the Web, which, needless to say, is neither reliable nor peer reviewed.
      Google's online calculator can get you an answer faster than any pocket calculator you can pull out of your desk drawer. The Google search box acts as a calculator-type in a number followed by the add (+), subtract (-), multiply (*), or divide (/) symbol, then type the second number and hit Enter; Google comes back with the answer. The calculator can also handle more complicated math-percentages and raising to a power-and it converts units of measure and currency as well. Get used to the calculator feature and you'll find yourself saying, "Hang on, let me Google the numbers and get back to you."
      Just in case your billable hours aren't adding up to much, there's a Google shortcut to check on how your investments are doing. Type stocks: followed by a space and the ticker symbol, and you'll get an instant real-time quote plus links to additional financial info. For example, type in stocks: goog and you'll be reminded once again, thanks very much, that you should have bought Google stock years ago when it was cheap.
      Tom McNichol is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.

Alexandra Brown

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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