Does Googling Justice Work? | Vol. 29, No. 1

Mar 14, 2024

Online search engines are key providers of legal information. Their responses to people’s search queries can influence whether and how people make use of the legal system to deal with problems like evictions, domestic violence, debt collection, and natural disasters. This article presents a new research protocol to understand and evaluate what search engines are showing to people who are seeking out legal help. Using this novel search audit protocol, the article identifies concerning trends in search engines’ responses to people’s legal queries, including low-quality information, incorrect jurisdiction, and an absence of governmental or legal aid links. The article then proposes technical and policy strategies that may improve search engines’ role in people’s attempts to access the justice system online. In this research paper, we evaluate the search results that Google shows for common legal help queries to determine if the search engine shows jurisdiction-correct, issue-correct results to people seeking help. The paper raises concerns about how the current algorithm’s design connects people to key information when their rights, houses, jobs, security, and family are at risk.