[Note: Please Welcome Guest Blogger Rich Evans]

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.

  • Anonymous

    "…the search did not allow us to enter cases by code, only by name. I know how absurd that sounds, but it is true."

    Huh? What search is that? To what codes are you referring?

  • I think the relationship between vendor swag and law students isn't as direct as "here's a gift card…now you'll use our product." The vendors get law students to take the quizzes, go to the classes, etc to get the points and then gifts. As a result, the law students become more comfortable with a service and will choose to use it in the future. (West's "do you know your librarian's name" ad of last year shows that in some firms, at least, attorneys have the option of going around information professionals to get at subscription databases.) I'm still a newer librarian, but I've seen plenty of evidence that has shown me that students feel most comfortable (and prefer to use) the system that we teach them first. I think it's because law school is such an emotionally trying time where students are constantly reminded of their ignorance that they grab onto anything that makes them feel competent again – lots of training does that.

    As for your lack of Lexis access, that seems to be more something your library school program should have taken care of – it's not up to Lexis to educate you.

  • Have others had experiences like this? Did anyone bring up this problem to the instructor or the Lexis rep? What was the response? I audited the legal research class in my MLIS program and everyone in my class had the same access as law students for Lexis and Westlaw – I didn't find anything that I wanted to do for class that I couldn't.

  • Ruth

    I think your Lexis rep should definitely have been prepped on what kind of access you had before she came.

    As for my experience, I took a legal lit class last semester in which I had both Lexis and Westlaw access. I ran into more brick walls in Lexis than I did in Westlaw. I get why a library school can't afford to pay as much for access, but I'm not sure why Lexis wouldn't make some accommodations.

    Many firm librarians never went to law school (from what I've read), so library school is the place to get them sold on their system.

  • Rich Evans

    "Huh? What search is that? To what codes are you referring?"

    It was a typo, I was referring to US Codes, but for purposes of clarity I should have used "citations."

    "As for your lack of Lexis access, that seems to be more something your library school program should have taken care of."

    This was brought to their attention. However, my point was less about out access, but to contrast my experience with both Lexis and Westlaw as a law and MLIS student.

    "As for your lack of Lexis access, that seems to be more something your library school program should have taken care of – it's not up to Lexis to educate you."

    I disagree. How am I, or anyone else for that matter, supposed to understand their proprietary commercial product if they don't educate me? Yes, although I agree that there are somethings that we should be able to figure out for ourselves, Lexus is not one of them. Their product isn't something that I can just read a couple of manuals to master their dynamic and sometimes complicated services -especially at the cost they charge for a mere click.

    "everyone in my class had the same access as law students for Lexis and Westlaw "

    I was just writing on my sole viewpoint and really can't account for yours. However, the differences in experiences demonstrates a lack of conformity when it comes to law librarianship programs. I, for one, believe that this just additional evidence of a lack of interest by Lexis to invest in future law librarians.

  • I agree – Wexis training by reps is very valuable. But the point I was trying to make was that your library school should have made sure you had access to the full range of Lexis products if they wanted you to learn the system as part of a class.

  • Rich Evans

    As I stated, Lexis is aware of the problem, but they have yet to address it. I'm fairly certain that the program has nothing to do with it given the exchange that I personally witness in class.

    Further, as I also stated in my post, given the size of most programs, perhaps Lexis and others should consider making sure that all law librarianship programs have access…but that's just my opinion, which admittedly doesn't count for much.

  • This was also my experience at SJSU, and I complained bitterly at the time. While I got a great theoretical overview of Lexis and Westlaw, and luckily, I was Interning at an academic law library for most of my library school career, but if I did not have access to these databases at work, I would have been in a real tizzy, because the one legal research class offered at SJSU did not provide us with access to very many databases on Westlaw or Lexis.

  • I've never had trouble getting passwords to either service for law librarianship students; those passwords have always been full-access, same as the accounts that law students have. I don't doubt that the experience of running into brick walls is frustrating, particularly if you can't get it resolved w/ the vendor, but I'd want to rule out the possibility that this is an isolated incident before calling it a failure with respect to law librarianship graduate programs generally.

  • Katrina Perez

    I am wondering if there is a difference in access to Lexis (or Westlaw, for that matter) between library schools at universities with and without law schools? I'm not saying that's an excuse, but I can see how it could have an effect on whether or not a library school has access, or the extent of it.

  • Anonymous

    I have not had a problem getting access to either Westlaw or Lexis when teaching in a library school. However, your school needs to be in touch with the right people in both organizations. Lexis for law is not the same as LexisNexis for the rest of the university and someone in the library school apparently doesn't get that.

  • Rich Evans

    "I have not had a problem getting access to either Westlaw or Lexis when teaching in a library school"

    The problem isn't just about access, it's treatment. Given the chances that there will be a close relationship with law librarians in the future, I think that the need to do a better job in reaching out to us.

    Also, although you had no problems doesn't mean that there isn't a problem. Give that there is fragmentation in user experiences, shows that there's an issue in the involvement of Lexis in law library programs. If they were committed, the programs and services they offered would be more unified and less fragmented.

  • Anonymous

    Sounds like a school problem more than a Wexis problem. It is up to the school to ensure you have the tools needed to be an expert in all legal research matters. Would it be a publisher's fault if your school did not purchase the new volume of a reporter? SOmething maybe you should have investigated before choosing where to go to school.