"Nota Bene" means "note this well" or "take particular notice." We at the O'Quinn Law Library will be posting tips on legal research techniques and resources, developments in the world of legal information, happenings at the Law Library, and legal news reports that deserve your particular attention. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and findings and to hearing from you.

N.B: Make a note to visit "Nota Bene" regularly.

-Spencer L. Simons, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law



Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Homeland Security Digital Library

Not often one has to research homeland security issues, but if that is the case, the homeland security digital library is the place to go.  Having just recently opened to the public, it contains the nation’s premier collection of documents related to homeland security policy, strategy, and organizational management collected from a wide variety of sources. The library is divided into eight key sections, ranging from national strategy documents to theses and research reports from the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security, including an exhaustive collection of executive orders and key legislation.
            Open access to over 47,000 documents is available for anyone interested and access to more than twice the amount of information will be made available upon request and approval.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Famous Legal Quotations

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”-- Henry VI, part 2

This line is one of the most famous lines in Shakespeare’s canon, and probably the one line of Shakespeare most people know. This expression is certainly one of the most famous lawyer jokes ever; the implication being that by killing all the lawyers society would be improved.

Understanding by whom and when the infamous statement is spoken, however, changes its meaning. The line is spoken by the character Dick the Butcher, an associate of Jack Cade. The real Jack Cade, as well as the character in Shakespeare’s play, led a revolt during the reign of Henry VI. Although Cade initially succeeded in assuming power over London, Cade’s rebellion eventually was defeated by London’s establishment, with Cade and his followers driven out of the city. Dick the Butcher is thus one of the play’s villains, and his statement about killing the lawyers represents one of the rebels’ top ambitions. By putting the line into the mouth of an evil character rebelling against the established order, Shakespeare clearly informs us of his positive view of the role lawyers play in society. The rebels advocate anarchy; lawyers represent the rule of law. Dick the Butcher is voicing the need to kill the very people who maintain civil society through the creation and enforcement of law. Shakespeare knew that by killing all the lawyers society would collapse into the anarchy demonstrated by Cade’s Rebellion. Shakespeare, and perhaps more importantly his patrons, would be against any form of rebellion, since it was they who formed the establishment. Shakespeare thus had no desire to kill all the lawyers; the proof is in his mouthpiece.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Murder Texas Style

Aside from Florida, no state rivals Texas for strange, crazy, and down- right fascinating murders. Maybe it’s the heat or maybe it’s the money (it’s probably both), but when Texans decide to kill each other they do it in style. The alleged perpetrators of two of the most famous Texas murders were represented by UHLC alum Richard “Racehorse” Haynes.

The first is the murder of Joan Robinson, a beautiful Houston socialite who was allegedly murdered by her husband, John Hill, a well known plastic surgeon. Haynes represented John Hill, but the case never went to the jury due to the judge declaring a mis-trial. However, before Hill could be retried he himself was murdered by a “robber” who broke into his River Oaks mansion. It is alleged that Joan’s father, oil millionaire Ash Robinson, had his former son-in-law killed to avenge the death of his daughter. Ash Robinson was never tried for the killing of John Hill, but an acquaintance of Robinson’s was convicted for arranging the murder of John Hill. The story is told in Tommy Thompson’s best-seller Blood and Money (HV6534 .H8 T48 1976). The book is a superb read and makes a splendid introduction to Houston in its 1970’s era heyday. A TV movie titled “Murder in Texas” also portrayed events, with G.W. Bailey (a native Texan) playing Haynes.

The other sensational murder case comes from Fort Worth and involves oil man T. Cullen Davis. Davis and his wife Pricilla, a “brassy” blonde disliked by Ft. Worth society matrons. They were in the midst of a nasty divorce (when you are rich is there any other kind?) when a man broke into Pricilla’s home and killed Pricilla’s boyfriend and daughter and wounded Priscilla and another man. The survivors all pointed to Davis as the shooter. Davis was acquitted of the murder as a result of Haynes 13 day cross-examination of Pricilla who brought to light her “shady” past. After the trial, T. Cullen Davis was arrested for soliciting a hit-man to kill the judge who presided over his and Pricilla’s divorce. The conversation soliciting the murder was recorded and a photo of the judge “posing” in the trunk of a car was provided. Davis was acquitted of this charge as well, with Haynes once again representing him. Davis later went bankrupt and became a Christian missionary. A TV movie of Davis’ case was titled “Texas Justice,” and the actor Dennis Franz played Racehorse Haynes.

The Davis case is covered in two books in the library, although each takes a different approach to the case. Texas v. Davis (KF224 .D33 C6) is a straight narrative told by a reporter who covered the trials and is referred to as the “definitive book” on the case. The other book, Sex, Murder and the Unwritten Law (KF221 .M8 N433 2009) contends that the Davis case is an example of an acquittal based on the “unwritten law”: that a man may shoot his wife if he catches her cheating on him (which actually was the law in Texas until 1973).

My descriptions of these stories in no way does them justice, as these are two of the most fascinating “true crime” stories out there. Both prove that the cliché “everything is bigger in Texas” applies not only to the land, and money, but also to murders.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Thomson Reuters Checkpoint

The new and improved Thomson Reuters Checkpoint (previously RIA Checkpoint) was launched this week with a major overhaul of the database's interface. Among the changes include:
  1. Search by citation templates have been consolidated with new templates available in State & Local Practice area.
  2. The table of contents and search options have been moved to the top of the page.
  3. A new feature that informs the user of possible misspelled search terms with suggestions has been added.
  4. The documents tools option (i.e. printing, etc.) has been moved to the top of the document page.
  5. Document display (i.e. font size, etc.) and navigation controls have also been relocated to the top of the document page.
  6. Keyword search can be modified directly from the search results page.
  7. The newsstand collection has been renamed to "news" and there is now a drop-down menu available on the "news" page for quick access to a particular source.
  8. History of searches is now listed by date.
The law library's subscription to Checkpoint contains among others, the following materials:

A. Primary Sources:
  • Internal Revenue Code (IRC)
  • Treasury Regulations
  • Tax Cases
  • Revenue Rulings/Revenue Procedures
  • Agency decisions (i.e. private letter rulings, technical advice memoranda (TAM), etc.)
  • Legislative history materials
  • Archives of IRC (from 1990)
B. Secondary Sources:
  • United States Tax Reporter (USTR), explanations and annotations
  • Federal Tax Coordinator 2d (FTC)
  • Warren, Gorham & Lamont (WG&L) treatises
  • Warren, Gorham & Lamont (WG&L) journals
  • Newsletter library
  • Update with Cym Lowell
  • WG&L Tax Dictionary
C. Citator
  • Citator 2d
Thomson Reuters Checkpoint still has the capability of linking primary sources such as the IRC and Treasury Regulations with relevant legislative history documents, other primary sources, and secondary sources such as the WG&L treatises and commentary from the USTR and FTC. Keep in mind that Westlaw contains many of these secondary sources on its' platform. Checkpoint is available by selecting "RIA Checkpoint Tax" from the drop down menu under "legal databases" on the law library's website. You will need to have the law library's VPN installed in order to access it from your laptop at home.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

U.S. Statutes at Large Volumes 95-115 Now Available on FDsys

The Federal Depository Library Program has announced that the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) has now made available volumes 95-115 of the U.S. Statutes at Large, which contain the acts in the form in which they passed Congress, through the Federal Digital System (FDsys). These volumes include the acts passed from 1981-2002 (97th-107th Congress), meaning now that FDsys contains the Statutes at Large materials from 1951-2007 (82nd - 110th Congresses).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Some First Thoughts on LALS (Part 3)

Today, I will conclude my critique of LexisNexis for Law Schools BETA (LALS). If you have not already read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I strongly recommend you take a moment to examine my comments there before continuing on with this Part. In this posting, I will identify a few additional problems with LALS and offer some concluding remarks.

Problem with Word Wheel

In Part 1, I mentioned that LALS offers a "Word Wheel" that suggests terms or citations as the user types in the search box, but I also mentioned that there was a problem with it. In order to explain this problem, I'll use the example provided by LexisNexis' marketing department: Let’s say you want to find information on "eminent domain", and you start to type it into the LALS search box. By the time you’ve typed in the fourth letter, the Word Wheel is already suggesting the search eminent domain, and hitting the Enter key will automatically place those search terms in the search box. And that’s the rub: It doesn’t place the phrase "eminent domain" in the search box; it places the terms "eminent" and "domain" in the search box. They are not enclosed in quotation marks, and there is only a space between them (which, if you'll remember from Part 2, is now [usually, see below] treated as an OR connector). Accordingly, if you take the time to go back and place the two words in quotation marks (i.e., "eminent domain") and search for the phrase, you'll get over 75,000 cases. But if you make no alterations and run the search exactly as suggested by the Word Wheel (which is what I believe LexisNexis clearly expects its users to do; more on this below), you'll retrieve over 130,000 cases because, technically, the system is looking for any cases with either the term "eminent" or the term "domain". Granted, due to its Relevancy algorithm, the first cases listed deal with "eminent domain", but that still seems like a major inefficiency to me. What if you select from the Word Wheel eminent domain proceeding, right of eminent domain, or easements through eminent domain (keeping in mind that "through" is not treated as a noise word in LALS)? If you don't take the extra step and place the words in quotation marks, you're going to get a lot of completely unhelpful results. Thanks for making searching easier and faster, LexisNexis!

[As an aside, take a look at Question 10 in LALS' Faculty FAQs. I'm pretty sure that whoever wrote the answer didn't understand the question. The same goes for Question 11. The answer to both questions, as I understand them, should clearly be "No", not "Yes".]

Problem with Search Syntax

As I discussed in Part 2, LALS generally treats a space as an OR connector. This is a dramatic change from the search syntax used by lexis.com, and is the same search syntax used by Westlaw. But there's a problem (or at least a frustrating inconsistency) with the LALS search syntax. Feel free to follow along at home:

In the initial LALS search box, type (without quotation marks) pet dog cat; we want to find documents dealing with pets (feel free to add other animals as you like). Clicking the search button will retrieve over 280,000 cases. Why? Because the system is looking for ANY of the terms: "pet" OR "dog" OR "cat". Now, let's go back to the initial search box (or you can use the search box that appears in the top left corner of the results screen; this is not a focus box) and add NEAR/10 attack to the end of the original search. If this was Westlaw (and it used the NEAR/n Connector), the system would now search for the term "attack" to appear within 10 words of either "pet", "dog", or "cat". However, in LALS, this search will retrieve zero results. Why? Because now that we've explicitly entered a Connector, the search syntax has reverted back to the lexis.com syntax: It is looking for "attack" to appear within 10 words of the phrase "pet dog cat", which, of course, does not exist in any case, statute, brief, etc. So, to remedy this, if you're going to use any Connectors, you've got to put in all appropriate Connectors: pet OR dog OR car NEAR/10 attack (which retrieves over 5,000 cases).

In other words, lexis.com users need to be prepared to use three different search syntaxes: One for lexis.com, a second for simple searches in LALS, and a third for LALS searches that are more than simple. Of course, if the developers had stuck with the syntax that lexis.com users are already familiar with, there wouldn't be a problem.

Correction/Clarification Regarding Folders and History on LALS

In Part 1, I briefly discussed the folder system that LALS employs and discussed LALS' extended History. However, I misstated the facts or was vague about the connection between these two features. Up to 500 searches and individual documents can be stored in the folders, and once stored, they remain accessible until deleted. But the term "accessible" is the catch. Since, under the new pricing paradigm utilized by LALS (and WestlawNext, see below), searches don't really incur charges, any search stored in the folders can be re-run free of charge at any time. Documents, or (as LexisNexis refers to them in their marketing materials) "purchased content", stored in the folders can be accessed without incurring additional charges only for the 90 days that it would be available through the History. After that, such items will still be listed in your folders, but viewing them again after that 90 days will require you to re-purchase them!

Shift in Pricing Paradigm

Just like West has done with WestlawNext, LexisNexis shifts the pricing paradigm for LALS. Previously, on both Westlaw and lexis.com, pricing was based on the search: generally, the larger the database, the higher the cost of the search. Although users may have had a problem with the actual price of a particular database (or the fact that a search that retrieved zero results still resulted in a search charge), no one had a problem with the logic behind such an arrangement. It was understood that searching all federal and state cases at once would cost more than searching just in a particular state's cases. And the understanding went both ways: LexisNexis understood that, with this paradigm, once you ran your search, you could spend as much time as you wanted examining the results (assuming you were using a transactional ID), which allowed for actual research. In Customer Support, we were encouraged to lead customers to the smallest database that would satisfy their needs, have them run one broad search, and teach them how to use lexis.com's Focus feature to sift through the results.

Now, in an obvious attempt to gouge their customers for as much as they can, both services are shifting the paradigm from search-based pricing to document-based pricing. The logic is that, since you're searching everything at once, basing the charge on the search would result in an unreasonably large number. But, they would have us believe, basing the charge on what you actually do with the results is much more reasonable. And that means charges are incurred just for looking at a document! This goes against everything both services have purposefully ingrained in the legal research community for decades! Both services will argue that, especially with regard to law schools, everyone will be on flat fee subscriptions, so you're not actually getting charged for looking at each document. But that misses the point! Are we expected to believe that, when renewal time comes around, they won't say "we've got to raise your price because, jeez, look at how many documents you looked at"?!

And, I believe, that explains why the search syntax has been changed in LALS. Knowing that professors and law students are likely to click into a large number of documents to see if they satisfy their research needs, what better way to generate revenue than to throw an inordinate number of documents at them! If LALS provided the capabilities to search with specificity that lexis.com currently employs, then you might find what you need after clicking into only a few documents. But if you have to sift through thousands of mostly meaningless results to find those few helpful documents, that increases the chances you'll click into more documents, thereby generating more charges. Genius!

According to the Judiciary Information Technology Fund Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2006, PACER brought in over $62 million, most of that at 8 cents a page! And most of that was generated by people who knew exactly what they were looking for, got in, grabbed it, and got out; PACER isn't usually thought of as a resource to go fishing in. Yet, LexisNexis and Westlaw are going to charge us anywhere from $13-265 just to look at a document. "Oh, you also want to print that document? Well, that's going to cost extra." How is that conducive to effective quality legal research?! If they're going to force this pricing paradigm shift on us, the least they can do is keep the pricing reasonable. If PACER can bring in that kind of money, considering it's limited clientele, information, and tools, then LexisNexis and Westlaw should be able to lower their charges and still bring in much more.

Disgruntled Former Employee?

After reading this series of posts, I can imagine some readers might be thinking, "He's just a disgruntled former employee." Am I? If by "disgruntled former employee" (DFE) you mean someone who hates a company because they were fired or who angrily left the job because of some dissatisfaction or sense of disrespect, then no, I am not a DFE. Yes, I am a former employee of LexisNexis (as mentioned in Part 1), but I left on good terms to pursue my MLIS. And yes, I am currently disgruntled, if by "disgruntled" you mean "displeased", "discontented", "disappointed", or "dismayed", but I am not a DFE. As I admitted in Part 1, I have a strong preference, perhaps even a fondness, for lexis.com. But I also have a fondness for quality legal research, and that, I believe, is what is fueling my animosity towards LALS (and WestlawNext for that matter).

That is not to say that these musings aren't influenced by other prejudices as well, namely my natural aversion to change-for-the-sake-of-change (mentioned in Part 1) and my abhorrence of marketing distortions (which, if you were paying attention, has been alluded to throughout this series).

Case in point: As mentioned in Part 2, LexisNexis claims that the Lexis Advance platform "is a response to our customers' research needs" and that "over 30,000 customer interactions drove the development of Lexis Advance" (see Faculty FAQs Q3). However, this clearly cannot be the case. I cannot believe that any current LexisNexis customer, assuming they have actually performed legal research before, would ask for Lexis Advance. In my estimation, since it is clearly not "a response to [LexisNexis'] customers' needs", at least one of the following five statements must be true: 1) 30,000 customer interactions didn't drive the development of this platform; 2) they didn't ask the right people; 3) they didn't ask the right questions; 4) they misunderstood the answers they were given; or, 5) they purposefully ignored the answers they were given and went with what they thought the higher-ups wanted (or, to put it another way, 30,000 customer interactions didn't drive the development).

How can I be sure that at least one of those five statements is true? Just look at the product! No professor or law librarian (of any type) worth their opinion could possibly support or endorse the use of this product as it currently stands. Moreover, it should be clear that LALS is currently just Lexis Advance for Solos rebranded, as if slapping a Mustang decal on a Ford Pinto is going to improve the quality of the car (sorry; imperfect analogy #3).

I have heard the claim that Lexis Advance is meant for new customers, but, as pointed out in Part 1, they are already planning on "retiring" lexis.com once the Lexis Advance platform has been rolled out to "all segments" (see Faculty FAQs Q2). If that happens, and these shortcomings remain a part of LALS, the consequences will be dire.

Some First Thoughts on LALS (Part 2)

Today, I will continue with my critique of Lexis Advance for Law Schools BETA (LALS). In Part 1 of this critique, I established my personal biases and pointed out some of the good aspects of LALS. In this Part, I will address some of the issues I have with it. For those who missed Part 1, I strongly suggest you read it before continuing on to this Part.

So What are the Problems with LALS?

Most of the issues I have with LALS stem from its search functionality. As alluded to in Part 1, I believe research requires specificity, and specificity requires control. Many people like to compare research to digging for treasure, but I believe a more apropos comparison is to surgery or astronautical engineering: You wouldn’t want your surgeon taking a swing at you with a machete when you need your appendix removed, and I’m sure many an astronaut is thankful that the people designing their spacecraft or determining how much rocket fuel to include didn’t decide to round the numbers. Yet, that is basically what LexisNexis is expecting its customers to accept as "quality legal research". They have confused "search" for "research" and are expecting us to be satisfied with that.

Stripped away from LALS are ALL of the tools researchers used to rely on to actually perform "research": Sources, Segments, Commands (such as ATLn, ALLCAPS, UNANNO, PLUR, etc.), and most Connectors. Under this new platform, for example, you cannot search just in "[State] Federal & State Cases". You can restrict your search to just Cases and to just the desired state and "Federal", but that still searches ALL federal, regardless of district or circuit. In comparison, WestlawNext has a checkbox on its Jurisdiction restriction screen that allows the user to select a state and "Include Related Federal". (Of course, according to LexisNexis, LALS "is not a response to WestlawNext, it is a response to our customers' research needs" (see Faculty FAQs Q3).) Similarly, it is currently impossible to just search in a particular court (including the US Supreme Court) or in one of the two dozen secondary sources currently available. Evidently, what LexisNexis learned from "over 30,000 customer interactions" is that there is no need in law schools to restrict a search in any meaningful way. And, evidently, they learned that law schools have less of a need to search regulatory materials (including the CFR) and most secondary sources (including ALR and law reviews) than to search the all-important content types Briefs, Pleadings and Motions, Jury Instructions, Jury Verdicts and Settlements, Expert Witness Analysis, and Dockets. As one of my colleagues rhetorically asked, when do you need Expert Witness Analysis in law school? Granted, regulatory sources and more secondary sources will be added in the future (maybe as early as October 2011, but most aren't scheduled for addition until sometime in 2012 (see Faculty FAQs Q5-Q7)), but if this is a product designed FOR law schools, why is it currently limited to materials used primarily by Solos and Associates?

More examples of what one can easily do on lexis.com but not LALS: search for opinions by a particular judge (no segments); restrict searches to the text of statutes (no Text segment or UNANNO command); require that a particular term appear a minimum number of times (no ATLn command); require that only the singular or only the plural form of a particular term be retrieved (no SINGULAR or PLURAL commands); or control the capitalization of search terms, such as RICO instead of Puerto Rico (no CAPS, ALLCAPS, or NOCAPS commands). For all you legal research instructors, gone is the classic "aid vs. AIDS" exercise. You also cannot restrict the date until after the initial search has been run.

LALS also removes most Connectors and makes three startlingly unnecessary changes. Gone are the W/S (within sentence), W/P (within paragraph), W/SEG (within same segment), and PRE/n (preceded by n words) [my personal favorite] Connectors, as well as the NOT forms of those Connectors. On one hand, I can understand why the developers got rid of the W/S and W/P: Everyday when I worked in LexisNexis Customer Support, we would get calls from customers who were confused. They had run a search using one of those Connectors, but their terms weren’t showing up literally in the same sentence/paragraph, and they demanded to know why. The answer was because LexisNexis never got around to actually tagging the beginnings and endings of sentences and paragraphs, and instead relied on an algorithm that “approximated” the length of a sentence or paragraph. In a way, W/S and W/P were promises of certain results that were never kept. Knowing this deficiency, I’ve always relied on the W/n and PRE/n Connectors, and I have always encouraged others, whether customers calling LexisNexis Customer Support or my school's students, to do likewise. On the other hand, however, not including these connectors (and especially not the PRE/n Connector) is just pure laziness on the part of LexisNexis developers. There is absolutely no legitimate reason to remove them. So what if they "were used infrequently"? (See Faculty FAQs Q8.) By definition, that means that they were [and still are] being used. If LALS "is a response to our customers' research needs," then what would the frequency of use have to do with anything? Does that mean LexisNexis customers in Maine should be worried because Maine-specific resources clearly are not used as frequently as those of most other states? Should law libraries throw away their copies of the Congressional Record because they are not used frequently enough? Were these less-used Connectors taking up valuable space in LALS' coding? [But click here for an update on Connectors.]

Unnecessary Change #1

The first unnecessary change from lexis.com to LALS is the shift from the W/n Connector to a NEAR/n Connector, which works exactly the same way as W/n does in lexis.com. Why the change? According to the LALS marketing, it’s because, for the Lexis Advance platform, they have "moved to the new web standard set of Boolean connectors" (see Faculty FAQs Q8).

And what exactly does "new web standard set of Boolean connectors" mean? Who established this standard? Neither Westlaw nor WestlawNext utilize this "new web standard". Neither does HeinOnline, Fastcase, Casemaker, Factiva, JSTOR, Dialog, ProQuest, or even Google. How "standard" can it be? In fact, according to my quick examination of these systems, the majority utilize some form of the W/n Connector. Even if there was a "web standard" for Boolean connectors (which, outside of AND, OR, and NOT, there clearly isn’t), why would a major legal research system step away from what is apparently the standard for legal search engines, a standard their dedicated customers have used for decades?

Unnecessary Change #2

In the second unnecessary change, LALS changes the universal characters that LexisNexis users have relied on since the beginning. In all LexisNexis platforms before LALS, the exclamation point (“!”) was used as a root expander, and the asterisk (“*”) was used as an individual universal character. Now, with LALS, the asterisk is the root expander and the question mark (“?”) becomes the individual placeholder. Although I seem to remember a time when Westlaw utilized the asterisk/question mark combination, even they now use the exclamation point/asterisk formulation. So, for no intelligible reason whatsoever, LexisNexis expects their customers to shift back and forth between two different sets of universal characters, at least until they are forced to change their thinking when LexisNexis pulls the plug on lexis.com. [But click here for an update on universal characters.]

Unnecessary Change #3: The Most Annoying One

Finally, the most egregious change from lexis.com to LALS is the actual search syntax itself. One of the things I love about lexis.com is how logical it is (or, I should say, how logical it seems to me). For example, if I enter the phrase eminent domain, without quotation marks, lexis.com treats the space between the words as, well, a space. In other words, because there is no Connector between the two words, the system assumes I want those two words to appear next to each other in my results; there is no need to put phrases in quotation marks. Similarly, if I want both term A and term B, or either term A or term B, to appear in the results, then that is what I enter: term A AND term B, or term A OR term B (although it is not necessary to use all capital letters for the Connectors).

With LALS, however, if I, a lexis.com user being forced to transition over to this new product from the same company, were to enter the same eminent domain search (again, without quotation marks), I get completely different results. And it's not because of some WestSearch-like, value-added algorithm running behind the scenes. It's because LALS generally treats that space as an OR Connector (but see Part 3 for a frustrating inconsistency with this syntax). That's right, ladies and gentlemen: The "innovative solution" utilized by LALS in "response to our customers' research needs" (see Faculty FAQs Q3 (emphasis added)) is the exact same search syntax used by Westlaw!! While some may think this is too petty to call it "the most egregious change", to steal an analogy from one of my colleagues, this is tantamount to the Ford Motor Company one day deciding to switch the placement of the gas and brake pedals on all of their new vehicles.

Imperfect Analogy #2: LALS = New Coke

Now, I'm not a businessman. But if there is one thing I know about business, it is that you cannot increase market share simply by copying a competitor. In fact, you usually can't even win by comparing yourself to them. Who has ever been persuaded by "Buy Product X; we’re just like Product Y!" without some other force (e.g., lower price, greater availability, etc.) playing a role. You don't have to have a MBA to learn from the "New Coke" debacle. (Although I thought of this analogy independently, I've had conversations with several other people who thought of it as well, although my take on it may be different from theirs.) It wasn't just that "New Coke" betrayed all of the good will invested in the company by consumers who were used to the flavor of original Coke, but, even worse, it was nothing more than Coca-Cola's attempt to duplicate the flavor of Pepsi. It wasn't a step up; it was a step down. All things being equal, why would any consumer choose the fake-Pepsi of New Coke when you can have the real thing (pun intended)? And to make matters worse (both for lexis.com fans and, more importantly, Reed Elsevier shareholders), LALS in essence copies Westlaw, not WestlawNext! (Of course, as mentioned above, LexisNexis marketing wants us to believe that LALS "is not a response to WestlawNext, it is a response to our customers' research needs" (see Faculty FAQs Q3).)

Why?! Why would a company not only demand that their customers transition from one product to a far inferior one, but at the same time demand that they relearn all of the search techniques that have been so helpful to them in the past? This is way different from the transition from the software to lexis.com: The logic behind the dot commands of the software did not conflict with the online processes. From the perspective of loyal LexisNexis customers, the transition from dot commands to lexis.com was a necessary, albeit painful, step forward in the evolution of electronic legal research. The transition from lexis.com to LALS, from that same perspective, is a painful and unnecessary step back (or, at best, a painful step sideways); it is a repudiation of any good will LexisNexis has cultivated with its customers.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 3 of my critique, where I will discuss some other problems with LALS and provide some concluding remarks.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Some First Thoughts on Lexis Advance for Law Schools (Part 1)

This week, I will be providing some information about LexisNexis for Law Schools BETA, as well as some personal commentary on what I like and don’t like about this new platform.

Preliminaries

Before I begin delving into the topic of these next few posts, I feel it is necessary to provide full personal disclosure. First of all, the opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the University of Houston Law Center, the O'Quinn Law Library, or any of our faculty, staff, or students. [I usually frown upon these types of statements because it's usually obvious from the context that the writing is solely the thoughts of the author (I mean, just because your author's footnote states that you work for a particular entity in no way implies that you are speaking for that entity unless you expressly state as much, so there is no need to include such language in every law review article you write; if it were otherwise, your work would be published by that entity, not a law review), but since this post is not appearing on my personal blog, I think it is called for here.]

Secondly, it should be known that, between graduating from law school and attending library school, I worked for nearly six years in the Legal Search Customer Support Department of LexisNexis. During that time, I attained the position of Sr. Legal Consultant, which means, inter alia, I was one of the people that other call-takers would contact if they couldn't find something for a customer. Accordingly, due to my intimate knowledge of the product, I have a strong affinity toward lexis.com, and an almost equally as strong aversion to Westlaw. Don't get me wrong: I know how to use Westlaw and my feelings about Westlaw have nothing to do with my opinion of the business practices of West Publishing; I just believe that the search syntax employed by lexis.com is easier to use/teach/understand/remember than Westlaw's and that the organization and functionality provided by lexis.com allow for greater specificity and granularity in searching than does Westlaw. As a result of my personal biases, I frequently tell students that, if they hear me saying something positive about lexis.com or negative about Westlaw, they should take it with a grain of salt, but if I say something negative about lexis.com or positive about Westlaw, it's a good bet they should really take note.

Thirdly, although in some ways, it is an improvement over Westlaw, I also dislike WestlawNext. I’m sure part of the reason for this is because I am naturally change-averse. However, I believe that most of the positive differences between Westlaw and WestlawNext are merely cosmetic, superficial changes that easily could have been incorporated into the Westlaw platform (e.g., universal search, extended history, easier access to directory of sources, etc.), but then it would have been harder for the company to justify the paradigm shift from search-based pricing to document-based pricing. I believe that, by its nature, quality legal research demands a certain level of specificity, organization, discipline, and thoroughness that WestlawNext prohibits, intentionally obscures, or encourages its users to ignore. Although it may be fine for practitioners (and I’m not sold that it is), the vagaries of WestlawNext’s search algorithm should be of great concern to every legal researcher. I share most of the concerns raised by Ronald Wheeler in his excellent draft on WestlawNext, but this isn’t about WestlawNext; it’s about Lexis Advance for Law Schools (LALS). And, in my opinion, WestlawNext is superior to LALS.

Imperfect Analogy #1

Granted, LALS is technically just a Beta at this time, and so there is a chance that much of what I will describe will change, but I can't hold out hope for that. To analogize, it reminded me of the time I saw the first Twilight movie: I hadn't read the books, but I could tell that the things that made me dislike the movie were clearly a part of the books as well (and I'm not just talking about the dialogue). Since I felt the movie was a waste of my time, I knew I shouldn't waste my time on the books (unlike, for example, the Swedish adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which made me want to immediately buy and read that entire series of books).

Certain problematic aspects of LALS are built in by design, and, knowing what I know about the internal product development process of LexisNexis and the intense amount of power the LN marketing department exerts on corporate decisions (anyone remember LexisNexis® Research on Call?), I cannot imagine LALS changing much, because it would basically require them to scrap the whole thing and start over. Unfortunately, LexisNexis has already decided to force LALS down our throats (see Faculty FAQs Q2), so I can't just decide to walk away.

The "Good" News

Let’s start with the good aspects of LALS. [Please keep in mind that some of these “good” things may be things I personally don’t find particularly exciting, but that I’m sure other users will absolutely love.]

First of all, just like WestlawNext, you don’t have to choose a source before running a search. If desired, you can restrict your initial search by Content Type (CT), Jurisdiction, Practice Area/Topic, or any combination of these three. Unfortunately, at this time, once you restrict the initial search, that becomes the default until you change it back. So, once you run a one-off search in Statutes and Legislation or Ohio, that becomes the default until you change the restriction.

Unlike WestlawNext, the initial results screen does not display the top two hits from all the different types of authority, but shows the first 10 documents, sorted by Relevancy, in the default CT. (The number of documents displayed at one time, how the documents are sorted, and what the default CT is, all can be changed according to the user’s preferences.) If sources from more than one CT were searched, the other CTs are accessible through a line of tabs that appear just above the results. Unfortunately, the tabs do not inform you of how many of each CT were retrieved, so it is necessary, at this time, to click into each CT results list to find that out. It would be helpful to have an idea of how many of each CT was retrieved, as that can sometimes give you a clue as to whether you should start in caselaw, statutes, secondary sources, etc.

Second, just like WestlawNext, faceted search functionality allows the user to narrow the results by particular classifications. These Narrow by filters are provided in the left gutter. There are quite a few different filters to choose from, including, where appropriate, a graphical timeline for helping decide how to restrict by date. If you restricted your initial search by Jurisdiction or Practice Area/Topic, these restrictions will appear as the only choices in the relevant post-search filters. Unfortunately, at this time, you cannot do a focus search within the results [but click here for an update on Focus]; instead, LALS provides a Keyword filter with selected keywords that can be used to narrow the results. This list of keywords is apparently based on the Core Terms found in the first 1,000 documents, per Content Type, when ordered by Relevancy, and is limited, at this time, to 20.

Third, just like WestlawNext, there is no limit on the number of results you can retrieve. While all users of lexis.com are familiar with its 3000 results limit, LALS has no such limit. If there are 130,596 cases that satisfy your search query, that's how many will be retrieved.

Fourth, unlike WestlawNext, LALS provides a "Word Wheel" that automatically suggests terms and even citations as you enter your search in the search box. While I'm sure some users will love this feature, there is a problem with it that I will discuss later.

Fifth, some, but not all, of the lexis.com noise words are searchable on LALS.

Sixth, just like WestlawNext, LALS provides a system of folders that allow the user to organize and manage their research by saving documents, entire searches, and even user-generated notes into separate folders. This is the biggest feature that I personally have no use for but that I'm sure others will find very helpful. One caveat: Although there is no limit to the number of folders one can create, nor a limit on how long items stored in folders will remain accessible, there is a current limit of 500 for items stored in the folders. That is currently a fixed number and has nothing to do with the size of the 500 items you have saved. Once the limit is reached, you will not be able to save any additional items without first deleting ones already stored.

Seventh, each step you take down a path of research opens up a separate tab so it is easy to toggle to different steps in the path without losing the information. For example, let's say you run an initial search; the results are on one tab. Then, you click into a particular document; LALS opens up another tab to display that text. If it was a case and you want to see the Shepard's Report for it, clicking the Shepard's signal opens yet another tab. When you're done with a particular step's tab, you can close it, but if you think you might need to look at it again, you can leave it open and just click on a different step's tab.

Eighth, just like WestlawNext, LALS provides an extended History. On lexis.com, past searches and Gets are archived for only 30 days, and only those performed within the last 24 hours can be re-accessed/re-retrieved without incurring new charges. With LALS, the History has been expanded to 90 days, during which time no additional charges are incurred for re-accessing the search. In addition, you can save any activities performed on LALS to a folder for an unlimited time (provided you don't exceed the folder limits mentioned above). [But see Part 3 for additional discussion.]

Finally, LALS also reformats the Shepard’s Report so that it looks more like a KeyCite report, with the Appellate History, Citing Decisions, and Citing Law Reviews, Treatises… appearing on different tabs. Unlike the Content Type tabs in the LALS search results, these tabs identify parenthetically how many entries are on each tab. Each tab also has various Narrow by filters in the left gutter, as well as a Terms within results search box that allows focusing (also unlike the CT tabs).

As you can see, there are some good things about LALS. Unfortunately, most, if not all, of the positives listed above could (and, in my opinion, should) have been incorporated into the lexis.com platform, just as most, if not all, of the good things about WestlawNext could and should have been incorporated into Westlaw. But the differences between lexis.com and LALS go much deeper than the differences between Westlaw and WestlawNext, and LexisNexis' decision to abandon the lexis.com platform has led to some serious deficiencies in LALS.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my examination of Lexis Advance for Law Schools BETA where I'll discuss some of the problems I have with it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Specialty Search Engines

When I need to search the web, I will often start with Google. Given that the majority of search queries conducted come from a Google site, many of you probably rely on Google as well. However, a broad Google search may not be the best choice if you really need to search within a specific type of content. In these instances, it may be better to search using a specialty search engine.

There are a number of law related search engines you can use to target various types of legal websites. If you want to search the legal web generally for things such as legal commentary and news, you can try tools such as LawCrawler or LexisWeb. If you need help getting started with your research, try the Legal Research Engine from Cornell to find legal research guides on your topic. BlawgSearch will allow you to search through the content of almost 6,000 legal blogs, law school websites can be explored through a search engine from CALI, and Fee Fie Foe Firm searches law firm websites. Finally, if it is government information you are interested in, try Google Uncle Sam for content from federal, state, and local government websites.

These are just a few of the many search engines available, so next time you aren’t getting the results you need with a regular search engine, think about trying a specialty search engine.