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A Law Student’s Preliminary Thoughts on the Lexis Advance User Experience

This is a republished guest post by Scott Kuhagen. Scott is a third year law student at Temple University Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia. You can find his blog at scottkuhagen.com.

I’ve been tinkering some with Lexis Advance, the updated version of the Lexis legal database, and thought I’d offer some initial thoughts on the user experience.

Two things I should state up front:

  1. When I began law school, I was very much in the Lexis camp. I had used LexisNexis Academic and LexisNexis Congressional as an undergraduate and in jobs before law school, and I was comfortable with the vaguely similar interface. I also strongly preferred Shepard’s Citation Service over Westlaw’s KeyCite feature, which I found unnecessarily unwieldy.
  2. When WestlawNext came out last year, I began using that much more often because it was a significant improvement over Lexis and so-called “Classic Westlaw.” I’ve since grown to like it very much, but am mindful that in practice, the price of using WestlawNext can be very high—$60 for a search, and $15 for each document opened from a search, according to an article by Professor Ronald E. Wheeler, Jr., Director of the University of San Francisco Law Library – h/t Law Librarian Blog)—so I’m trying to not get too used to it!

So far, I’ve used Lexis Advance to do some basic research and test out how it compares to regular Lexis. For the sake of illustrating some of my points, I conducted an intentionally very broad search for “modified categorical approach immigration 3d Circuit.”1 This was an attempt to get relevant results about how the Third Circuit has applied this (admittedly difficult-to-explain) doctrine to examine whether a criminal conviction fits within a potential removability ground in the Immigration and Nationality Act, if the statute under which the person was convicted is phrased in alternative elements and only some—not all—of those elements could constitute removable offenses.  Here are some initial thoughts about what I’ve found:

Starting Your Search

Just like Google, Bing, or even WestlawNext, you can start your search by typing it into a single search box. If you want to immediately narrow your search at this point, there are numerous options for restricting by practice area, jurisdiction, and source type; as you might expect, Lexis has also included advanced options for constructing Boolean-type searches. I do not really have a strong reaction to this part, as those are standard features of many other websites and academic databases, but compared to what I’ll call “regular Lexis,” it does remove the step of selecting databases that you want to search up front.

The new Lexis Advance search box.

Narrowing Down Your Search

I like two of the new changes designed to facilitate quicker access to the documents you’re seeking: (1) the date range slider; and (2) the choice of source tabs at the top.

Lexis Advance date slider for cases.

The slider makes it easy to restrict your search by a specific date range.2 This graph also gives you an idea of how popular the search terms have been over time. With respect to the choice of source tabs, once you’ve received search results, the ability to quickly change the type of results you want to look at depending on what type of source you need—for example, switching from cases to analytical materials or other secondary sources—without having to select new databases to search, is also helpful:

Different tabs at the top for different types of documents after search results are returned.

Endnotes in PDF Versions of Lexis Advance Documents

When you either email yourself a PDF of a document, or download a PDF version of a document, the endnotes in that document are not clickable (i.e. you cannot click a endnote and be taken to the end of the document to read the note). In longer law review articles or treatise sections, this is highly inconvenient. I have—many times—sought out a document on Westlaw or WestlawNext specifically because they provide this function, which makes navigation far simpler within the document. In Lexis Advance, if I want to read the endnote, I have to scroll to the end, find the right note, then scroll back up to continue reading; this is quite disruptive to the overall reading process and absolutely untenable if you intend to read documents on an E Ink reader like the Kindle. Granted, this is also a problem in regular Lexis.

Copy and Cite

In Lexis Advance, when you highlight text and choose “Copy Clip to Clipboard,” the resulting citation is missing a pinpoint citation. Both regular Lexis and WestlawNext supply the pincite when copying clips. In Lexis Advance, you’re given only the generic full citation without the specific page reference to where your highlighted text appears. I would hope this type of functionality arrives soon.

The Tabs

They’re kind of interesting, and are one of the most noticeable changes to how a user actually uses the service compared to regular Lexis. They seem useful for managing several different documents at once, especially when it prevents you from leaving a document when you click another citation or link. But I must confess to finding them distracting because the entire page has to reload in order for the new document to be displayed in a new Lexis Advance tab. On some level I’d prefer to just open an entirely new browser tab, rather than have multiple documents open in Lexis Advance tabs within the same browser tab. But it seems that it’s difficult to even do that. When I press Control and click a link, which should theoretically open a new browser tab in Chrome, a new Lexis Advance tab opens in the same Lexis Advance tab instead. This might be my own somewhat neurotic web browsing preference, but I suspect there are others who deal better with one document per browser tab. On the other hand, Kyle Courtney, a law librarian at Harvard Law School, praises [PDF] the numerous document tabs within a single browser tab, opining that they make it “easy to toggle to different steps in the research trail path without opening 34 windows and losing track.” Reasonable minds can differ!

What I like: separate Chrome browser tabs for separate documents, even if there are a lot of them.

What I’m not so impressed with: multiple documents within the same browser tab.


I know I have not engaged in a rigorous examination of Lexis Advance’s search capabilities compared to Lexis Advance or other databases, but Dan Baker at the University of Houston Law Library has more developed thoughts in this area, and his two posts on the subject are worth reading (especially his second post).

At this point, I expect that I will continue to try to use Lexis Advance and get used to it, but I’m hard-pressed to say why I’d use it over regular Lexis for basic legal research. Someone conducting more intense and sustained research over a longer period of time may feel differently. The single search box is nice, but if I have to select specific databases, that’s not the end of the world for me. Otherwise, the changes, while appreciated, do not seem major enough to the user experience to entice someone away from regular Lexis.

  1. I realize, in retrospect, that including “3d Circuit” in my search terms might have been an imprecise attempt to force a focus on Third Circuit cases, mostly by hoping for hits on “3d Cir.” or other such permutations in the citations of cases. Unfortunately it appears that in the jurisdictions tab on the single search box in Lexis Advance, one can only choose “U.S. Federal,” not individual federal circuits, along with specific states. []
  2. Although LG Editor-in-Chief, Josh Auriemma, points out  that this is both similar to and slightly less useful than Fastcase’s 3D graph visualization. []

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Zac November 6, 2011, 9:30 am

    This is what I find most disappointing about Lexis Advance. Let’s say I want to pull a citation. So I hop on Lexis Advance, type in some citation (e.g. 531 U.S. 98). I click “search” and wait for what seems like an eternity just to get a list of results. If I type in a specific citation, then I should be taken directly to the document I’m requesting. Why Lexis Advance doesn’t incorporate the standard “get citation” feature is beyond me.

    I also find the interface to be unattractive. But I suppose that’s solely a matter of personal preference.

  • Joshua Auriemma November 6, 2011, 1:01 pm

    Interesting, Zac. I had no idea that feature was missing. That would probably annoy me more than any other inconvenience listed in the article.

  • Vythees February 7, 2012, 9:27 am

    I think you are missing ‘shep:’ before the citation. So if you do ‘shep: 531 U.S. 98 ‘ it takes you to the shpeards document.

  • Jon March 29, 2012, 7:41 pm

    Not being able to use segment searching in LexisAdvance is a pain. I don’t like switching back for forth to the different cites to do different tasks so I don’t see a need for LexisAdvance. I’ve also always had printing problems when using Lexis.com and LexisAdvance doesn’t seem to answer those problems either.

  • Dan De Man May 29, 2013, 12:34 pm

    On the tabs: Reasonable minds can differ? WTF? “They’re kind of interesting…” Why are you so reluctant to lambaste this feature? Were you paid off? I’m sorry, but it is definitely an abuse of discretion to even suggest that the lexis tab system is useful in the least. First of all, every major web browser comes equipped with it’s own, far superior, tab system, (which lexis inexplicably renders useless). Secondly, rather than simply leaving the page open on each tab, the page must totally refresh! How is that an “advance”? It’s not. It’s a huge step backwards in terms of usefulness.

    Also, I really don’t have any idea what the Harvard person was talking about. Apparently our nation’s most prestigious law librarians don’t understand the difference between opening a link in a new tab versus opening it in a new window. (ever heard of Ctrl+click?) But then again, you validated this inane comment by quoting it, so maybe you don’t either.