Welcome 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.]
Without further ado, on to the first of this week’s four matchups!
The 4/5 matchup is always a tough one to call. On the one hand, we have Bloomberg Law, a new player in legal research databases, but backed by the research power of the Bloomberg company and featuring established practice guides and treatises from BNA. On the other hand, we have Google, which owns Search, and gives us completely free access to state and federal cases, statutes and regulations.
Bloomberg Law is a nice database. It is user-friendly, easy to navigate and visually appealing. For basic legal research, Bloomberg Law is not bad—at least as useful as a database like Fastcase. It allows for basic keyword searching of all state and federal cases, or easy access to more sophisticated Boolean searching, including proximity connectors, through its Search Help pop-up. It also provides easy access to current federal and state codes, either by browsing or searching. However, Bloomberg’s codes are not annotated, a problem for two reasons. The first is that the code annotations are a great way to easily find those all-important cases interpreting a code section—without them you have to look the cases up separately on your own. The other is that when you search code sections without annotations, you have to be completely accurate in wording your search or you won’t get any results. For example, a search of the Virginia Code Annotated in either WestlawNext or Lexis Advance for “felony murder” will get you to the right statute even though technically it is called “felony homicide” in Virginia because plenty of the case annotations use the more common term “felony murder.” Doing the same search in Bloomberg Law, you get no results because there are no annotations. The other big hole in the Bloomberg Law lineup is law reviews—a great source for background research when confronted with a legal issue new to you. They have some law reviews, but relatively few compared to the other major legal research databases (although they are working on it).
Bloomberg Law makes up for those gaps in coverage somewhat with great access to federal court dockets. They have a great system for mirroring PACER, the federal courts’ electronic records system—just go to Search Dockets under the Litigation & Dockets tab. As lawyers know, a lot of important legal developments occur in filings that are never published in traditional case reporters. Through Bloomberg you can easily access everything that has happened in a federal case and track new developments. It is a nice feature, and one that Bloomberg does better than either Westlaw or Lexis.
Bloomberg Law also provides access to all of the great BNA daily and weekly newsletters on specific practice areas. These are among the most valuable resources out there for staying on top of developments in an area of law so that you can anticipate your clients’ needs.
Google, on the other hand, has the advantage of being free to everyone: law students, lawyers, the general public—everyone. And everyone knows how to use it. In particular, Google Scholar allows nice, free access to just about all federal and state cases in an easy-to-search database. It has few of the bells and whistles for case research you’ll find in the other databases, but for just doing some introductory case research or looking up a case when you know the citation, it is easy, effective and cost free. Google also allows easy access to state and federal statutes. Just Google “Virginia Code” and you can get right to the online Code of Virginia provided by the legislature. O.k., Google doesn’t really own those codes, but it is the tool that gets you there. As long as you are attentive to what you are seeing, there is a surprising amount of legal research you can do through Google for free: case law, statutes, regulations, and law review articles. Legal research does not necessarily requiring signing onto an expensive database.
All in all though, in this matchup, Bloomberg Law has the advantage. It may have gaps in its content, but overall it allows for more sophisticated legal research, without having to jump around to different sites on the web for different legal resources. Google and Google Scholar are nice places for the public to do legal research or for a lawyer to do some preliminary looking, but Bloomberg Law provides more of a one-stop shop, with the added bonus of the easy docket access.
Winner: Bloomberg Law.
Tomorrow’s match-up: (3) Hein Online vs. (6) Books in the Library.
– Ben Doherty