With the introduction of Bloomberg Law, UVA Law students now have access to five different general legal research databases: WestlawNext, Westlaw.com, LexisAdvance, Lexis.com, and Bloomberg Law. With so many choices, which one should be your go-to information resource? If you know that your future employer uses one of these databases in particular, it would be a good idea to practice using it yourself. Better still would be to practice them all and be “multidextrous.” It’s true, though, that some of these databases work better than others for different types of legal research. In the law school world, where you have free access to all five, it may be useful to know which work best.
Here is our collective opinion as librarians on how you might rank these databases in order of currently most useful:
1. WestlawNext. At this point, WestlawNext is the most well-developed and easy to use of all the choices for general legal research. With its sophisticated digest system, West has long had an advantage for case research. WestlawNext has preserved that advantage in a user-friendly interface that provides easy searching of cases, statutes and secondary sources such as law review articles. If we had to pick one database to use for most of our legal research, this would be the one.
2. Lexis.com. Lexis.com is of the previous generation of legal databases and may soon be obsolete. However, it’s still a good database for some types of information. Its news searching is comprehensive and sophisticated, providing easy access to papers such as the New York Times,Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. It also contains a number of legal treatises, such as Lex Larson’s Employment Discrimination, that you won’t find elsewhere. We don’t like the case searching features of Lexis as much as Westlaw’s but if you know that your future employer uses Lexis, this is still a good general legal research database to use for case, statutory or secondary source researching.
3. Bloomberg Law. At this stage in its development, we don’t use Bloomberg Law for our general case, statutory or law review searching as it doesn’t compare to WestlawNext in those areas. However, Bloomberg Law is a great resource for some specific types of information. Through Bloomberg’s Docket Search, you can access filings from all the federal courts and get documents such as complaints or orders you will not be able to access through Westlaw or Lexis. It also has useful practice treatises on several business-focused legal topics. Before entering the legal world, Bloomberg focused on news and business information, so those areas of its database are already well-built. We frequently turn to Bloomberg Law for this type of information, which we cannot get as easily through Westlaw or Lexis.
4. Westlaw.com. Like Lexis.com, Westlaw.com is a previous generation database and will inevitably give way completely to WestlawNext. Since WestlawNext has done a nice job of preserving the useful search features of Westlaw.com in a more user-friendly format, there are few reasons to use Westlaw.com for basic case, statutory or law review searching. Even if your future employer is committed to keeping Westlaw.com for now, it shares its advanced search techniques with WestlawNext so that you can switch between the two databases with ease. However, WestlawNext has not yet incorporated some of Westlaw’s resources, such as foreign and international legal materials, and features, such as WestClip. Since the migration to WestlawNext is not complete, there is some research that requires a return to Westlaw.com for now.
5. LexisAdvance. In our opinion, its searches produce too many documents without enough ways to narrow retrieval or achieve confidence in your results.
– Ben Doherty