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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]