"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

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Don't Panic! It's All Part of the Plan" - Your Friend, The Joker

As I explained at the beginning of my first ever Lexis Advance post, I am a former employee of LexisNexis. However, as I tried to explain at the end of my third post (the conclusion of the initial series), I do not consider myself a "disgruntled former employee" as that phrase is typically used. Indeed, my passion for attacking Lexis Advance stems entirely from my passion for lexis.com. I love lexis.com!! And yet, from the first mention of Lexis Advance, many LexisNexis representatives and employees have explicitly stated that the plan is to "retire" lexis.com once they’ve rolled Lexis Advance out to all segments of the legal market.

"It's All Part of the Plan (Even If the Plan Is Horrifying!)"

That stands repeating and clarifying: Once Lexis Advance has been rolled out to everyone (regardless of whether "everyone" wants it or not, or even whether it actually satisfies the legal research needs of its users), they will pull the plug on lexis.com. Not "Well, we'll keep it out there for those who prefer it." Not even "Well, we'll stop supporting it, but if you really want to keep using it, you can." No; once Lexis Advance has been shoved down everyone's throats, with its predatory pricing structure, its confusing search syntax, and its "but I thought you wanted millions of documents to sift through when you asked for information on eminent domain laws in Illinois," lexis.com will cease to exist. I've literally seen the graveyard in Miamisburg, Ohio, and its symbolic tombstones for all the other LexisNexis products that have been "retired".

Why is LexisNexis working to destroy its flagship product? Because it wants to fleece the legal community for as much as it can! And the only way they can ensure that is to force its customers to stop using lexis.com. You see, LexisNexis thinks they've learned the lesson from the attempts of the US government to switch to a one-dollar coin, but they haven't learned it entirely.

People Hate Change: The Lesson of the $1 Coin

The federal government has made several attempts to replace the one-dollar bill with a one-dollar coin. Many arguments (whether or not valid) have been made in support of such a change, such as coins last longer than paper bills and are easier and cheaper to produce in the long run. And yet, despite these arguments in favor of coins over bills, despite the many attempts to get the public excited about one-dollar coins, they have failed to be accepted by the public at large.

Why? Because people hate change. No, I don't mean "change" in the "change is progress" or "change is inevitable" or "change or die" kind of way; I mean "change" as in "coins". Most people, unless they're numismatists or children dazzled by shiny things, hate to be bothered with coins. That's why the charity boxes or tip jars at fast food restaurants and coffee shops are full of coins. We'd rather dump those annoyances in the nearest receptacle than be bothered with having to lug around a pocket- or purse-full of clanking metal. Even when it's almost a dollar's worth: If we're about to pay $X.01, we pray there's a "take a penny" tray nearby, or that the clerk will eat the one cent and give us a full dollar back, and when we're not that lucky, we find ourselves tempted to just dump that fist-full in the nearest jar. It's no surprise that people willingly dump their jars of coins in Coinstar machines despite being charged almost 10 cents for every dollar!

Here's why the government's attempts to switch to a dollar coin have failed: These introductions of dollar coins have not been accompanied with an immediate cessation of dollar bill printing. As long as the government isn't going to force us to accept the dollar coin by at least ceasing production of the dollar bill, if not an all-out and immediate removal of the dollar bill from circulation, then all of us change-haters will simply refuse to switch. And that's the lesson LexisNexis apparently learned: If you want people to switch, you've got to remove their options.

In addition, to be fair, they have their own experience to back up that concept. When they introduced lexis.com, they didn't immediately phase out the software version of LexisNexis, and many "power users" absolutely refused to switch to lexis.com. The company at first tried to encourage software users to make the switch voluntarily, but, ultimately, they ended up having to strong-arm most of the hold-outs over to the new platform. This time around, they're not giving customers the option. And once lexis.com is out of the picture, they're putting all their money on people switching to Lexis Advance, even if begrudgingly, rather than to a competitor.

Let's not forget: This was the same strategy employed by Coca-Cola when it tried to force all of the Coke drinkers over to New Coke. And how did that work out?

Here's the difference: Not only is a one-dollar coin equal to a one-dollar bill in value, it arguably is better! Coins last longer than bills; they don't get torn or otherwise rendered useless. If you accidentally leave a coin in your pocket when you throw that item of clothing in the laundry, it is not harmed and can still be used.

Similarly, lexis.com was, at its core, no different than the software and arguably better. You could still access all the same sources and perform the same functions on lexis.com as you could on the software, but you were no longer restricted to computers that had the software downloaded to them. You could use LexisNexis on any computer that had access to the internet!

So here's the important question (at least in my mind): Is Lexis Advance at least equal to lexis.com? At this point in time, I cannot answer that question in the affirmative, just as no one will ever be able to convince me that New Coke was at least as good as Coke. And that's why I rail against Lexis Advance: I can't stand idly by while one product I love is destroyed and a far inferior product is foisted upon us.

But, to be fair, the same is true of WestlawNext: Once it has caught on, Westlaw will be retired as well.

A True(?) Paradigm Shift

What I continue to find frustrating is the legal community’s reaction to both Lexis Advance and WestlawNext regarding their new pricing paradigm. Even if either product was as good as its predecessor, I would still be opposed to its adoption due to the change in philosophy required by the new pricing scheme.

In business circles, the phrase "paradigm shift" gets tossed around so much that it has become, at best, meaningless, and at worst, a laughable insipidity. But if anything in the business (or legal) world would qualify as a paradigm shift, it is this new pricing scheme, independently but, coincidentally, simultaneously created by the duopoly.

As I explained a year and a half ago, both Westlaw and lexis.com charge by the search, and once you have a results set, you can take your time examining the results or running narrower searches within that set. In fact, customers were actively encouraged, by both companies, to run broad searches and then rely on the features and functionality of those tools to manipulate the results sets without incurring additional charges. It was a search strategy that both companies encouraged for decades, so much so, that it became ingrained into every legal researcher's bag of tricks and, subsequently, ingrained into every law school's legal research program. But WestlawNext and Lexis Advance invert this pricing scheme: Now, you can search for free, but doing anything with a particular document retrieved by the search, even just looking at it, results in a charge! This is a foundational change that can only have negative consequences on the quality of legal research and, in turn, the legal community as a whole.

The reason for this stems from the difference between Search and Research. As I explained in my first ever post to this blog, Search is an act while Research is a process, namely, a process that involves taking the results of a Search and doing something intellectual with them. Westlaw and lexis.com are Search tools: You input some terms and they retrieve documents for you. WestlawNext and Lexis Advance are Search tools as well; they do the same thing as far as that goes. But there is a difference: Westlaw and lexis.com, with their pricing structure, give the researcher the time and freedom (and functionality) to do cost effective Research using the results retrieved via the Searches. WestlawNext and Lexis Advance do not. On the legacy platforms, the researcher can take those results and read as many as needed, to compare them, to contrast them, to compile them, to synthesize them, to extract meaningful information and meaningful relationship from them, without worrying about breaking the bank. WestlawNext and Lexis Advance, with their pricing scheme, actively discourage such a process to unfold the way it should, the way both companies have told us it should be done for decades.

I find that unacceptable, and that is why I am not a fan of either WestlawNext or Lexis Advance. And considering the current state of financial affairs, I am shocked more members of the legal community do not feel the same way.

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