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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On the Different Types of Lexis Sources

A couple of months ago, the good people at Lexis Advance finally added pre-search source selection functionality. And that's a good thing! I would like to applaud them for taking this step toward making Lexis Advance as good a legal research tool as lexis.com. Unfortunately, I don't believe they went far enough with this step, but to understand my criticism, you must first appreciate the different types of sources that LexisNexis has.

Five Types of Sources

Officially, there are only two types of sources available through the LexisNexis legal research systems: Individual Sources and Group Sources, the latter being merely a collection of the former. To prove this point, if you were to go to their Searchable Directory of Online Sources, you would notice that, at the bottom of the search form, it asks whether you want to "Display Individual Sources" or "Display Individual and Group Sources". However, unofficially, there are three other types of sources, and I would like to describe in more detail each type of source.

The Individual Source: In normal parlance, an "Individual Source" is usually thought of as the smallest source available, and in most instances, that is correct. For example, the source named U.S. Supreme Court Cases, Lawyers' Edition is an Individual Source that contains, as its name suggests, only US Supreme Court decisions; there is no smaller source.

Now, let's examine a source such as 9th Circuit - US District Court Cases. At first blush, most would consider this a Group Source, considering it contains the federal district court decisions from nine different states (plus those from two territories). But it is, in actuality, an Individual Source. [If you don't believe me, check it out yourself: Go to the Searchable Directory; select Cases under Publication Types and US Federal District Courts under Regions of Coverage; leave it set to Display Individual Sources; and click Submit. The district-courts-by-circuit sources are at the bottom of the list.] I have no idea who decided this was an Individual Source, but its roots go back to the dark ages of the Library;File system of the old Lexis software. Yet all of this might make you wonder: If district-courts-by-circuit sources are Individual Sources, what are state-specific federal district court sources?

The Partial Source: Sources such as TX Federal District Courts are officially Individual Sources, but they are really Partial Sources. For example, if you run a search in TX Federal District Courts, you're actually running a search in 5th Circuit - US District Court Cases, but the system automatically knows to display only those results from the Texas district courts. From the end-user's point of view, the difference may be irrelevant, but the importance of the distinction between Individual Sources and Partial Sources will become apparent below.

The Group Source: As mentioned above, the Group Source (generally) is simply a collection of Individual Sources, making it easier to search through multiple, yet similar, Individual Sources at one time. For example, the TX State Cases, Combined source is a Group Source containing four Individual Sources: TX Court of Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals Cases from 1892, TX Court of Criminal Appeals Cases from 1879, TX Supreme Court Cases from 1840, and TX Unpublished Cases from 2004. Some Group Sources may combine very few Individual Sources, while others may combine dozens or even hundreds of sources; for example, the TX State Cases, Combined source, as just mentioned, combines four distinct Individual Sources, while the US Law Reviews and Journals, Combined source searches nearly 700 different Individual Sources.

The Special Group Source: Again, officially, a Group Source is a Group Source; there is no official distinction. But there is also no official distinction between Individual Sources and Partial Sources in any LexisNexis documentation that I am aware of. Yet, Partial Sources do exist. What makes a Group Source a Special Group Source is the inclusion of Partial Sources. State-specific federal-and-state-cases sources are good examples of Special Group Sources. For example, the TX Federal & State Cases, Combined source contains the four Individual Sources included in TX State Cases, Combined, plus the U.S. Supreme Court Cases, Lawyers' Edition source and the 5th Circuit - US Court of Appeals Cases source, but it only contains "Selected Documents" from the 5th Circuit - US District Court Cases source, namely those from Texas federal district courts. Again, the relevance of this type of source will become apparent shortly.

The Mega Source: Finally, there are the Group Sources that are best imagined as combining several Group Sources; these are the Mega Sources. For example, Federal & State Cases, Combined is the quintessential Mega Source; its software designation was even MEGA;MEGA! Now, to be fair, these sources technically contain all of the relevant Individual Sources (in this example, for caselaw), and therefore are technically and officially merely Group Sources. But it's much simpler to list the relatively few Group Sources that cover the same territory rather than listing the hundreds of Individual Sources they make up.

Why Is This Important? What Does It Have To Do With Lexis Advance?

As mentioned at the outset, Lexis Advance recently added the ability to choose specific sources to search in rather than searching everything at once. And this is great! If you know you need cases from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals or articles from the Houston Law Review, why should you search everything and then sift down to your desired source?! But, as I hinted at the beginning of this post, there is a problem: You can only choose Individual Sources to search!

At first glance, this makes complete sense. Why waste the space adding in the Group Sources when they can be recreated by selecting the appropriate Individual Sources or, in some instances, by using the Pre-Search Filters. For example, if you want to search only in Texas state cases, you can either choose the four Individual Sources (if they're all needed; if you don't need criminal cases, you could leave out the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals source) or you could use the Pre-Search Filters to limit your search to Content Type=Cases and Jurisdiction=Texas. They definitely didn't need to waste space by adding in the Mega Sources; that's what the Pre-Search Filters were designed to replicate.

But there is one problem with this: They only included the Individual Sources; they did not include the Partial Sources nor the Special Group Sources. Accordingly, if you want to search TX Federal District Courts or TX Federal & State Cases, Combined, it still cannot be done at this time!

Yes, I work in an academic setting and, therefore, am not the company's main target. But wouldn't practitioners want, indeed need, to focus their search efforts in just the Texas federal district courts? Is it so strange to imagine that practitioners would want to search in all relevant federal and state courts at one time, or has the Erie doctrine suddenly become a nullity?

Granted, once segments are introduced to Lexis Advance, this "problem" will (hopefully) go away. [And I've been guaranteed segment-searching will be added sometime in the future; but then again, when I was promised pre-search source selection would be added to Lexis Advance, I mistakenly assumed that all sources available through lexis.com would be added, so we'll see.] But considering the whole point behind Lexis Advance was to make searching easier, not harder, for practitioners whose time is precious, wouldn't making at least the Partial Sources available, if not all lexis.com files, accomplish that goal?

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