Today, I thought I'd discuss some cool aspects about Bloomberg Law (or BLaw), the latest attempt to compete against the West/LexisNexis duopoly's control of online legal research. Before I begin, however, I should make some clarifications, especially considering my critique of Lexis Advance when it was first released.
First of all, I have not delved too deeply into Bloomberg Law yet; accordingly, these are very superficial comments. Secondly, BLaw is not being rolled out as a replacement for a far superior Bloomberg product and, therefore, I have nothing to compare it to (other than competitor products). Similarly, because Bloomberg doesn't have an older product for me to have developed an appreciation of, I really don't have any attachment that might lead me to examine BLaw more closely and more passionately. In other words, although I am in favor of more competition in the online legal research service market, I am not emotionally invested in BLaw and don't really care whether it succeeds or not.
So don't expect a Lexis Advance type diatribe from me here (at least not yet). Instead, I'd like to point out a few things about BLaw that I think are cool and offer a few suggestions for where they can improve it in later releases.
Connectors on Bloomberg Law
The first thing I really like is how they've incorporated flexibility into the connectors the system recognizes. Of course, BLaw offers it's own version of some of the usual connectors. For example, where you might use /10 or w/10 as a "within 10 words" connector on Westlaw or lexis.com, BLaw's version would be N/10; similarly, BLaw's version of the "within the same sentence" connector (/s, w/s, or w/sent) is S/, and its version of "within the same paragraph" (/p, w/p, or w/para) is P/. However, if you are a Lexis or Westlaw user moving over to BLaw, you can (for the most part) keep using the connectors you're comfortable with, and the BLaw system will recognize it. (I say "for the most part" because some connectors, such as w/seg on lexis.com, are too unique, and BLaw does not seem to recognize the "preceding"-type connectors for sentences and paragraphs, such as pre/s on lexis.com or +p on Westlaw.)
When searching in legal content on Bloomberg Law, just as in Westlaw or lexis.com, you can use universal characters to help retrieve variations on a word. As with the other two services, the asterisk (*) serves as a wildcard, or single-character placeholder, and the exclamation mark (!) serves as a root expander. However, BLaw explicitly points out that, on that service, you can also use the exclamation mark in the middle of a word as a multiple-character placeholder!
I think this is very cool, but it also requires me to admit some ignorance on my part. I thought this feature was unique to BLaw, but it is not: lexis.com also allows this use of the exclamation mark. And, as a former LexisNexis customer support representative, I am ashamed to admit that I did not know this! Even the lexis.com Help screens hide this use, stating only: "Use an exclamation mark (!) to find a root word plus all the words made by adding letters to the end of it." (As an aside, the asterisk, not the exclamation mark or question mark, serves as a multiple-character placeholder on Lexis Advance.)
But it's not all rosy in BLaw (in this blogger's humble opinion). For some reason, the news sources on BLaw utilize a different set of universal characters: Here, the question mark (?) is the wildcard and the asterisk is the root expander, except that this root expander cannot be used in the middle of a word as a multiple-character placeholder. Why they decided to create two different sets of universal characters is beyond me!
Just like Westlaw and Lexis, Bloomberg Law allows searchers to utilize an AT LEAST frequency command (recognizing both ATLx and ATLEASTx). However, unlike the other two services, BLaw also offers an opposite command: The AT MOST command. Whereas the ATLx command helps a researcher find documents that deeply discuss their issue, the ATMx command allows the researcher to find documents where a particular term is used, but where it's not the focus (or not the only focus) of discussion. How useful this is in practice, I don't know, but I think it's cool nonetheless.
Bloomberg Law includes most of the staples of quality Terms and Connectors searching, but there are a few tools that I hope they will add in the future. First of all, I would like to see them add case sensitivity commands (such as CAPS, ALLCAPS, and NOCAPS) as well as commands that allow the searcher to control whether singular or plural forms of terms are retrieved. Also, I would like to see them add a "search within results" functionality much like the FOCUS feature in lexis.com or the Locate feature in Westlaw. The ability to narrow a results set with additional terms (as opposed to post-search filters) instead of doing another search is incredibly useful to experienced researchers.
Bloomberg Law is a good start, but I hope they keep adding functionality to the product.