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Column No. 26, April 1997
Copyright 1997 Robert J. Ambrogi
First Look: Lexis-Nexis Web-based Research Service
By Robert J. Ambrogi
I feel as if Im being followed.
Three years ago, in search of an affordable research alternative to Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw, I first ventured onto the Internet. I had left a job that gave me virtually unlimited access to online research and returned to solo practice, where the services I had become accustomed to were no longer within my budget.
I was immediately fascinated by the research potential of the Internet, but I knew just as quickly that, when it came to legal research, the Net was no match for West or Lexis. These several years later, despite the phenomenal growth of legal resources on the Web, the Internet remains a scrappy second fiddle to Wests and Lexis extensive and sophisticated libraries of legal materials.
Thus, there was a sense of irony in the news that one of the libraries whose loss had sent me to the Internet in the first place was now following me there.
Beginning April 1, Lexis-Nexis put its research service on the Internet, by way of a service designed for solo lawyers called Advantage for the Web. The service was initially available for 18 states, with all others and the District of Columbia to follow sometime this year.
Advantage allows individual lawyers to search and download their state cases, statutes, legislative materials and court rules through the World Wide Web using any standard browser software.
Lexis had said last October that it would release the service by the end of last year in three states North Carolina, Illinois and Indiana with other states to follow. The introduction was delayed while Lexis "worked to make sure the product was stable," a spokesperson said.
Late in March, Lexis announced that the product is now available in 18 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
Lexis had initially said that Advantage would be for lawyers in firms of 1-10 attorneys and would cost $40 a month for a single lawyer and $25 for each additional lawyer. In the more recent announcement, the company described Advantage as being for sole practitioners and said the monthly cost would be $65, which can be paid using a major credit card.
State Cases, Statutes
A subscription allows access to research materials for a single state, including the states case law, statutes, codes, legislative materials and court rules. It does not include federal district or circuit cases for the state.
Subscribers are given a URL or Web address at which to access the service, as well as a username and password which they must enter upon arriving at the Web site.
"Small law firms and solo practitioners now can afford to conduct legal research using familiar, off-the-shelf browser software yet avoid the waiting and frustration of trying to access multiple different Web sites," said Paul Brown, chief operating officer of Legal Information Services at Lexis. "Lexis-Nexis has created a product that opens up computer-assisted legal research to the vast majority of attorneys in the United States who until today had neither the resources nor training to use online services."
Because Advantage uses a standard Web interface, Lexis says, it requires virtually no training and is as easy to use as filling out a simple form with a legal cite, a name or a concept.
An Advance Look
I was given an advance look at Advantage late last month and found it to be a quick and easy way to conduct research, especially for anyone who has become more comfortable with a Web browser than with more antiquated forms of online access.
Advantage shares many of the qualities of its older cousin, the dial-in Lexis-Nexis service. This is both good and bad.
What is good about it is that you are searching a database of legal materials that you know you can trust. For Web researchers, this is not always the case. And you are obtaining cases with full citations, since Lexis is licensed by West Group to use its star pagination system.
What is disappointing about Advantages similarity to the dial-in service is that it fails to take advantage of the Web medium by failing to employ hypertext. West has said that when its research service becomes available on the Web which it announced in January would be sometime this year cases will be fully hyperlinked, meaning you will be able to click on a citation and jump immediately to the cited document.
Documents in Advantage, by contrast, are straight text, using no hyperlinking. In fact, they appear almost exactly as they do on the dial-in service. For example, with the dial-in service, footnotes are placed within documents rather than at the end. This makes some sense for the online service, since the footnote is there to read along with the screen-sized page of text. But it also makes for a jumbled up document if you attempt to print or save it, since it is sometimes hard to tell where a footnote ends and the text resumes. On the Web, footnotes could be placed neatly at the end of documents, and hyperlinks could allow the reader to jump quickly from reference point to footnote and back to reference point.
To use Advantage, you point your browser at its URL and then enter your user name and password. The first screen you see is a list of states to which you have access, presumably on the assumption that some lawyers will subscribe to multiple states. Click on your state to go to its main page.
There, you are prompted to choose between searching case law or statutes, codes and rules. Choose case law, and you jump to a fairly standard Web search form. You can choose to search full text or by citation, party name or docket number. You can also choose whether to search a single court or all courts available for the particular state, and you can limit your search to within a range of dates. You enter your search query either by using Boolean and proximity connectors or by concept.
Searches were quick, and returned a list of citations of matching cases hierarchically by court and, within each court, in reverse chronological order. Click on a case to bring up its full text, or use the "KWIC" feature familiar to Lexis-Nexis users to bring up only excerpts in which the search terms appear.
Once you have retrieved a case, you can save it to your hard disk or print it using your browsers save and print commands. You can search the document using your browsers "find" command.
Searching statutory material was similar. You can choose to search full text or by citation, section number or heading. You can choose to search at once your state code, legislative service, constitution and court rules, or select any one of these to search.
More information about Advantage and updates on available states will be available at: http://www.lexis-nexis.com/smalllaw.
Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., is editor of legal.online, a monthly newsletter about the Internet (http://www.legalonline.com). He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (978) 546-7898.