The Legal Research Tournament, Round 1, Game 1: Bloomberg Law vs. Google

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!

(4) Bloomberg Law vs. (5) Google.

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 


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Ben Doherty

Ben Doherty

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The Legal Research Tournament Begins!

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 Rules

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.

The Bracket

                Round 1

                (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.


                Round 2

                (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  

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Ben Doherty

Ben Doherty

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