Legal Research at Your Fingertips: Lexis Views, Bestlaw, and Google for Lawyers?

Near the end of our Advanced Legal Research course, we like to bring in a small panel of legal practitioners, ideally representing different types of legal jobs and at different stages of their legal careers, to discuss their legal research practices with our students. It is typically a well-liked event. Our students probably pay better attention to our guest speakers than they do to their instructors (!) and they generate good questions during the Q&A.

While I won’t say that we “coach” our speakers per se, we do suggest talking points such as the types of resources they use (print v. electronic, Westlaw v. Lexis), the typical time spent on research, and their approach or strategy when confronting a research task.  In general our panelists do an excellent job discussing these topics (although we did have one speaker tell our class she “doesn’t really do legal research.” *facepalm*  With some coaxing, she (a very new associate) came to realize that she in fact does quite a bit of legal research, just not of the cases/statutes variety. She spends the bulk of her day with form books and practice aids. Oy.). This year, one of our panelists admitted to the class that she heavily uses Google in her research. *double facepalm* She quickly qualified her admission by emphasizing that her research does not begin and end with Google, but that Google is often a quick starting-off point and can in some cases be a time saver when you’re in a crunch. She then went on to discuss her equal use of Lexis, Westlaw, and her favorite bankruptcy treatise.

Like many, perhaps most, research instructors, I try to steer my students away from Google in our course, admonishing them not to use it at all in their assignments. It’s not that I feel that Google should be looked down upon—I use it quite often for reference questions—but the purpose of our course is to help them master a variety of legal research resources, not Google. Toward the end of the semester, I include a lecture on free and low-cost legal research tools, focusing on Fastcase, Casemaker, and Ravel Law.  But because I know the reality is that they will continue using Google in their research practices in addition (I hope!) to the resources they’ve learned in our course, I have recently wondered whether Google and integrative browser add-ons like Lexis Views and Bestlaw ought to be incorporated into our course in some fashion as a topic of their own. Why daydream of a world in which lawyers never use Google? Better to embrace the reality and improve upon it.

lexis viewsWhen Lexis Views first came out, I added it to Chrome to see how it worked.  For anyone unfamiliar with Lexis Views, it is a browser add-on for Chrome or Safari (Firefox coming soon) that allows you to search and access Lexis Advance content while you’re researching on other websites. For instance, if you have Lexis Views activated while running a search on Google Scholar, results from Lexis Advance will also display in your results list. If instead you were reading an article in Wikipedia, a pop up at the top of the screen might tell you that Lexis Views has found a matching document for you. If, like our panelist, our students are most comfortable beginning their research in Google (and provided they subscribe to Lexis at their place of work), Lexis Views could prove a useful tool for getting them to reliable legal information once they’ve used Google to get a preliminary framework for the research topic.

bestlaw-barGoing in a completely different direction, Bestlaw is a browser add-on for Chrome or Firefox that integrates into both Lexis Advance and Westlaw. In addition to adding certain usability features to the document you’re viewing in Westlaw or Lexis Advance, such as a distraction free reading display or adding a table of contents, Bestlaw also includes a Search feature that allows you to search for the document you’re viewing in Casetext, LII, CourtListener, Google, Google Scholar, Wikipedia, or Ravel Law.

While I have found both tools to have their usefulness in research, I’ll admit I’ve had to disable them after learning the hard way that they’ll pop up even when you don’t want them to, for instance in front of a classroom of confused students!

Beyond these two research enhancement tools, there is something to be said for including Google in your legal research instruction rather than banning it altogether.  (I should qualify that by saying that I still firmly believe it’s useful to ban Google from assignments, where the purpose of the assignment is for the students to practice using the legal research tools you have been teaching in class.) And of course, you could always plug one of the Google-related books out there, such as Google for Lawyers. With our course drawing to a close in just a matter of weeks (where di the time go?!?), I don’t think I’ll be making any changes for this year’s class, but I am considering adding a lecture in the Fall, when all substantive topics have been covered, that brings everything together and discusses Google’s appropriate place in legal research—not as a crutch, but as a stepping stone. Do you incorporate good Googling practices into your legal research course? Please share!

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About ashleyahlbrand

I am the Educational Technology Librarian at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law. I am deeply interested in exploring how emerging and existing technologies can be used to enhance library services and legal education.
This entry was posted in Google, Legal Research, Legal Research Instruction, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Legal Research at Your Fingertips: Lexis Views, Bestlaw, and Google for Lawyers?

  1. Sally Waters says:

    I take the opposite view in my Advanced Legal Research class, and spend quite a bit of time showing the students how to use Google, especially the advanced search features. Why? Several reasons: it’s free, so they can all afford it once they go out into the world (and my class is meant to show them how to actually do research, efficiently, in the practice of law, where not everyone can afford the full-blown Lexis or Westlaw access they get in law school.) It’s also a way for them to find out good search terms, names, etc. to use once they do go online to WeXis and look for other authority. I show them how use Google Advanced Search to narrow their searches to pdf files only, which can be useful for finding pleadings, newsletters, very recent articles not available in databases yet, and more; they learn how and why to search for information within specific domains, which can get them quickly to government information. We go over how to use various other features, and how to evaluate and use other free search engines.

    And hey, we even talk about Wikipedia – how to evaluate an entry, and even the ‘talk’ tab, then go to the footnotes and primary authority cited for that entry, and rely on information from THOSE sources, not Wikipedia, to find what the law (or other type of information) really is.

    I like to think – and my students who’ve kept in touch after the class is over agree – that when they get out into the Real World, they need to be efficient and cost-conscious. I teach them how to find some things free, how to evaluate what they do find, and how to then more efficiently and effectively do their database searching, armed with some information and ideas before they ever start on the pay services.

  2. somcak says:

    Like Sally Waters above, I extensively teach Google and how to use Wikipedia correctly. In fact, we spend the first third of the semester on Information Literacy and advanced search features using Google! I set up my class by using not only AALL Principles and Standards for Legal Research Competencies (http://www.aallnet.org/mm/Advocacy/legalresearchcompetency/principlesstds), which focuses on what I think of as expensive sources, and the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education(http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency), which is more theory based.

    Once my students have mastered advance research skills, we then move on to the cheaper alternatives for legal research: FastCase, Florida Law Weekly, CaseMaker, Google Scholar (for cases and patents). Only then do we start in the Big 3. The final 3 weeks of class then go back to “Google only” to remind them that some of the things they were looking for could be found cheaply and easily and may not be on the Big 3: property ownership, historical weather, business ownership and value, etc.

    Like Sally Waters above, my Real World students love it! They can find anything without relying on the Big 3, and have excelled at their internships, externships and careers because they can research so efficiently.

  3. Pingback: Links We Love Weekly Round-Up — April 18, 2016 | Charlotte Law Blog

  4. Pingback: Legal Research at Your Fingertips: Lexis Views, Bestlaw, and Google for Lawyers? – Veille juridique

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