After graduating law school back in 2007 and practicing in a small firm, local government and solo settings, I decided to become a law librarian. So far, it has been a great fit in my life, much in part to the law librarianship program at Catholic University, which I absolutely love. I honestly have no complaints except for one, the involvement of vendors, specifically LexisNexis.
In contrast, in law school there was never a day when either LexisNexis or Westlaw was not in my life. The relationship was great. I enjoyed full access to both vendors – more than I ever needed. They would even pay me reward points for daily visits to the LexisNexis website or attending one of their “advanced” search classes. I could then exchange the points for goods that seemed a little too extravagant, even a chance to win a car, but I am not one to pass up free lavish stuff. All of this I thought was just a way to encourage law students to use their services in the future. Although this worked out great for me, I honestly have no idea why they did this.
I seriously doubt as an attorney that I would ever have been in the position to influence a decision between Westlaw and LexisNexis. In addition, given the attrition rate in the legal field, this conclusion seems to apply to most of my classmates. Even if I were in the position to make such a decision, I doubt the gift cards that I won while in law school would affect my decision… unless they gave me a car, which then would make me a lifetime customer.
In my case, until I started the law librarianship program, I have used neither LexisNexis nor Westlaw electronic services since I graduated law school. My first two jobs did not require it and I could not afford it as a solo. The times that I did need to research anything outside a state statute, I was told “we keep it old school” by my managing attorney, which meant I had to walk to the public law library and crack open a book.
So now, I am sitting in an Advance Legal Research class preparing to learn my future craft, which includes an expert proficiency of both Westlaw and LexisNexis. On our first research assignment I logged into LexisNexis to look up my first case, but instead all I got was a screen that stated that the “document was not available” because it was not “within the subscription agreement.” I then tried another citation, which produced the same result. Eventually I just gave up and just used the tried and true old-school method.
Two weeks later, we had a LexisNexis representative visit our class to give us a basic functionality presentation. However, as she was giving us the presentation, all we could do was watch, because a lot of what she was demonstrating we did not have access to. Eventually one of my classmates figured out the problem, the search did not allow us to enter cases by code, only by name. I know how absurd that sounds, but it is true.
Now I completely understand that these services cost a lot of money even for law schools, and it is LexisNexis right to limit access due to cost – which I guess is a large part of the problem. However, I think that LexisNexis needs to take into careful consideration of our demographic when they determine licensing agreements.
I, as most of my classmates, will have a greater chance to influence vendor decisions than most law students will. Further, over the course of our careers, we are more likely to be the heaviest users of electronic legal databases. Most of all, given the size of the enrollment of all the Law Librarianship programs put together, it just seems that LexisNexis and Westlaw could make concessions without breaking the bank. I would bet that the maybe hundreds of library students in law programs across the country will have more influence over their profits than the ten of thousands of law students that they cater to every day.
In order to be a good law librarian, I realize that I will need to have expert knowledge in both LexisNexis and Westlaw’s products and services. However, at this time my class performance trumps my willingness to find workarounds to LexisNexis’ shortcomings. If Google Scholar, Westlaw or the old-school method produces a better work product, then that is what I am most likely to use. When I graduate and move on, the database that I will advocate for is the one I am most comfortable using, and frankly, LexisNexis does not seem to want to be in that race.