Law students have at their hands a variety of good databases and other resources to use for legal research, including WestlawNext, Lexis Advance, Bloomberg Law and HeinOnline. With free access to them all, law students tend to gravitate towards one or another of these databases, but is the one they choose truly the best database for legal research, or just the first one they learned or the one that offers the best rewards prizes?
We thought it would be useful to address the question: If you had to pick just one resource to use for all of your legal research, which one would be the best? However, picking “the best” out of so many good choices poses a methodology problem. After all, each database or resource has its pros and cons, and each resource operates a little differently. Is there really one method we could use to single out a database or resource as hands down better than all the others? Fortunately, we did some of our own research and found that among other governmental institutions, there is a preferred method for determining who or what is “the best.” We found that the NCAA, the National Football League, the Australian Open, Pokemon and King’s Landing have all settled on a format known as a “tournament”—that familiar, objective format for leaving only the best team standing. With the format decided, on to The Legal Research Tournament!
The eight top teams, or legal research resources, will face off against one another in a three round, knock-out tournament. The teams will compete head to head, in draws based on their seeding, with the winner moving on to the next round. The winner of each matchup will be determined by a completely objective comparison of their features until all teams are eliminated except for our Champion. Simple. [Any views expressed in these competitions are my own and not necessarily the views of the UVA Law Library, UVA School of Law, or the former LawDawgs softball team].
The Eight Teams
Listed in order of their seeding:
(1) WestlawNext. Every tournament has its favorite. When it debuted, WestlawNext was the 2011 American Association of Law Libraries’ New Product of the Year. It has evolved since then, making helpful changes in response to user suggestions, continues to win awards, and seems to be the choice of most UVA Law students. WestlawNext is highly favored to win the tournament, so much so that they fired hundreds of their employees shortly before this tournament began.
(2) Lexis Advance. The other big power in the computer-assisted legal research business. Westlaw and Lexis have set the standard for computerized legal research for decades. LexisAdvance has struggled in its introduction, but is backed by a company with a long history of providing legal research solutions. It is hard to imagine Lexis Advance will not go far in this tournament.
(3) HeinOnline (now featuring Fastcase). HeinOnline has long been a favorite of cite-checkers, providing original source PDFs of a large volume of legal documents. It recently made a step up by partnering with Fastcase so that Hein can now offer access to all federal and state case law and not just Supreme Court decisions. It may make Hein more of a one-stop shopping experience.
(4) Bloomberg Law. Bloomberg is best known as a business research and media company, but recently successfully entered the legal research marketplace by offering a user-friendly interface and partnering with BNA to provide popular legal practice guides and tools. Bloomberg Law is dangerous in this tournament because it provides free access to federal court dockets by mirroring the PACER system—a great feature.
(5) Google. Wait . . . Google? For legal research? When we have all of these other fancy, expensive databases? Yes. Why not? You use it for everything else. Actually, Google Scholar has the best free-for-everyone federal and state case law database available right now. Google is also the gateway to all sorts of other free legal resources. You can do a lot of legal research online without having to pay a dime to some of our more heavily-favored competitors.
(6) Books in The Library. Lawyers have been using the books for legal research since long before computers were invented. All online research systems are actually based on the books. Ok, maybe it takes a bit longer than online research, or even a lot longer. What happens, though, when you are doing last-minute research for a major brief you have to file tomorrow and the power goes out? Books are still a player.
(7) Critical Thinking. People have been using critical thinking to solve problems since long before books were invented. Like books, it doesn’t require electricity; and it can be applied in almost any situation. Critical thinking might be a low seed, but don’t sleep on it.
(8) Fastcase. Our law students are generally unfamiliar with Fastcase because we do not offer it at the law school. However, it is offered to many lawyers, including Virginia lawyers, at no extra cost as part of their bar membership. It does not have all the features you’ll find in WestlawNext or Lexis Advance, but it is a pretty good database for basic legal research. Yes, it has partnered with HeinOnline, another tournament team, but we’ll give it its own shot at victory.
(1) WestlawNext vs. (8) Fastcase.
(2) Lexis Advance vs. (7) Critical Thinking.
(3) HeinOnline vs. (6) Books in The Library.
(4) Bloomberg Law vs. (5) Google.
(1)/(8) winner vs. (4)/(5) winner.
(2)/(7) winner vs. (3)/(6) winner.
Round 3 – The Championship!
Remaining two teams square off for the championship!
Stay tuned for Round 1!
– Ben Doherty