Blog Article:Legal Research Tournament, Round 1, Game 3: Lexis Advance vs. Critical Thinking

From the blog of The Arthur J Morris Law Library
Welcome once again to Round 1 of the Legal Research Tournament, where 8 teams (or legal research resources) will begin the competition to answer the question: If you had to pick just one resource to use for all of your legal research, which one would be the best? For a description of the rules of the tournament, the teams competing and the tournament seedings and bracket, please see our previous post, The Legal Research Tournament Begins!

[Opinions expressed during this completely objective competition are solely my own, and not those of the UVA Law Library, UVA Law School, or former and still champion LawDawgs softball team.]

And on to the third of this week’s four matchups!:

(2) Lexis Advance vs. (7) Critical Thinking.

Out of respect for its age, we’ll give Critical Thinking first shot in this matchup. People have been using Critical Thinking to figure things out for eons. No different with lawyers. Before the internet, before computers, lawyers have been finding precedent and critically analyzing how it should apply to their clients. Even now that sophisticated databases make finding legal information easier than ever, the need for critical analysis of what you have found is no less. Just ask some judges about the importance of being able to critically analyze cases in your research and not just find them. As a future attorney, you may not know which legal research database you’ll get to use in your practice. Armed with a focused critical mind, however, it should not matter, as you will be able to find the information you need and apply it to your client’s situation no matter the resources available to you. That’s a good tool to have.

Lexis has been competing with Westlaw for the bulk of the computerized legal research market for decades. LexisAdvance, the company’s foray into the new world of search had inauspicious beginnings. It has improved since then and, like WestlawNext, benefits from the huge breadth of legal resources Lexis is able to provide. From cases to annotated statutes to regulations to law review articles, Lexis Advance provides access to just about any information a lawyer would need, all fully searchable. The problem is it is not always easy to figure out how to do so. Unlike WestlawNext, Lexis Advance does not feel intuitive and user-friendly. It often feels like a database that has been pasted together from disparate parts: a bunch of fixes on top of fixes on top of fixes—the Millenium Falcon approach to constructing a legal database.

Granted, for basic searches, it works o.k. I can plug the term “felony murder” into the main search box and then narrow down by legislation and jurisdiction to easily pull up Virginia’s felony murder statute. Great! However, what if I want to look at LexisAdvance’s treatises on employment law? Where are they? When I click on Browse Sources I am confronted with LexisAdvance’s A-Z list of every single source it has. After regaining my orientation, I can use Narrow By to reduce my options to Secondary Sources and Treatises, but that still leaves me with an unmanageable list of hundreds of options. Now what? The only other option to Narrow By is jurisdiction, and employment law covers all jurisdictions. I suppose I could use the Search Sources option, but for what? Do I search for the word labor? Or employment? Or occupational? All three? Where am I? How did I get here? This is not my beautiful house.

Lexis Advance too often leaves me with questions. When I use Critical Thinking as a resource, I want it to generate questions: Have I uncovered everything I need for this problem? Am I using the best source for this information? What precisely have I found in my searches? Unfortunately, using Lexis Advance doesn’t allow me to answer those types of questions satisfactorily. I never feel comfortable enough with the database to know I have found all the information I need. Lexis Advance will be adding enhancements in mid-February, but that’s too late for this tournament. Maybe next year! And we have our first big upset of the tournament!

Winner: Critical Thinking.

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