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Lexis Advance: Legal Research for the 99%
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Posted On December 15, 2011
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LexisNexis announced that Lexis Advance is to be released to all current Lexis.com users at no extra charge over the next several months. In addition, traditional Lexis.com will continue. Two premier graphical features will be available to current users free only for the rest of their Lexis.com current contract, but the search capability is not affected.

How refreshing that I can now search more sources than are in my current contract—lots more—with a friendly, and especially forgiving new search protocol, and I am not being asked to pay more. It just doesn’t get better than this.

Lexis Advance searches more materials than many (if not most) current Lexis.com contracts provide. Subscribers can access any of these expanded materials if they decide to pay for it based on an informed decision. The searcher gets to preview these additional materials (significantly more than a “snippet”), learn the price, and then pick and choose the items s/he wants, and can decide to either buy on the fly, or save the result list and decide later whether to pay for it and open it up. This is a refreshing option since most of us want to see everything we can get free—before deciding we need to spend for premium content—and Lexis makes that easy to do.

What are the kinds of materials that some LexisNexis users may not have already? Courtlink; expert witness files; briefs, dockets, pleadings and motions from courts nationwide; forms; jury verdicts and settlements. In addition to these legal resources, as well as the traditional array of primary law (cases, codes, etc.) and Matthew Bender and other secondary materials, along with Shepard’s citator, Lexis Advance added news and web materials to searches. Don’t want an avalanche of news and/or web materials? That’s OK, because each type of content is presented discretely—not dumped in with everything else. In addition, the web items are retrieved exclusively from LexisWeb, which “includes several hundred thousand internet sites that have been editorially vetted to include legal content,” according to Clemens Ceipek, the LexisNexis vice president in charge of Lexis Advance. For more information on LexisWeb, see www.lexisweb.com/Lexis_Web_User_Guide.pdf. Everyone already has free access to LexisWeb search at www.lexisweb.com/.

So What Does it Look and Feel Like?

You are greeted by colorful floating screens, with names such as Spport, Alerts, Welcome, Search History, Recent & Favorite Filters, and My Folders. Robert Ambrogi’s blog post has a great collection of representative screen shots of these and other features of Lexis Advance.

The screens are fairly self-explanatory, and while we have all saved searches and alerts, it is nice to have them right at our fingertips while logged into Lexis Advance along with recent searches and groups of folders of documents—especially for updating searches before an important meeting and/or court date. No iternet access? You can download your folders, and read and work with all of your downloaded documents anywhere. 

The next thing you notice on getting to the main page is the huge red search box—without a list of libraries cluttering your screen.

As I pointed out in my Searcher article comparing Lexis Advance for Solos with WestlawNext and Bloomberg Law (January/February 2011), the searching is almost intuitive. Solo practitioners, after all, don’t have time for training sessions and elaborate lists of libraries. They just want to get in and find the legal information they need—quickly and easily. Lexis Advance was designed initially for solos and busy people. (With this release the brand becomes simply Lexis Advance—no longer separate Lexis Advance for Solos or Lexis Advance for Associates.)

Looking at the search box, there are hanging tabs where you can “click” to limit the jurisdictions and/or areas of practice that you want to focus on. So, if you are in California and just want materials relevant to your jurisdiction, you can “click” on the hanging tab “All Jurisdictions,” and then choose from the list of all American states and territories, U.S. Federal, and the District of Columbia. Foreign jurisdictions are coming on board later.

If the information you are looking for is more easily limited by practice area, then you can “click” on the hanging tab called “All Practice Areas & Topics” so you can search for relevant information limited to those subject(s) you choose. If you retrieve too much, you can always narrow it down later with the post-search limiters (see below).

Of course, if you expect a deluge of information, you can also “click” the “All Content Types” to further limit your search results to just some content types: cases; statutes and legislation; administrative codes and regulations; forms; briefs, pleadings and motions; jury instructions; jury verdicts and settlements; and/or expert witness analysis. My personal favorite is “Analytical Materials” which I have flagged—that means that this type of content is displayed on top whenever my search results come back. Sweet.

Beginning the Search

Let's focus on the big search box. Yes, it is reminiscent of Google—without the doodle. As a librarian, I want to know what is behind it. So, I ran a few searches and noticed that some traditional Lexis.com niceties still work: common abbreviations for the word I keyed in are considered hits (highlighted in the search results). So, property retrieves “prop.” and if that is not what I wanted, I can re-search using “property” in quotes and (whew!) results only include hits that use that specific word. If I key in prop* it will retrieve anything with that root.

NOTE: The truncation and wild card commands are different in Lexis Advance. In Lexis Advance, to search a root word and all extensions you use an asterisk (*); to insert a wild card for one letter, use a question mark (?), and to insert wild cards for more than one letter, use two question marks. Hence: analy?e would pick up American and British variations of analyze; and analy* would pick up analyze, analyzed, analysis, etc. In the same way, in??net will pick up multiple characters where two wild cards are—such as internet, intranet, Inabnet, InfiNet, and Infonet.

Since I was originally testing with the search terms missing property I noticed that I also snared as “hits” in my search results the state abbreviation “Miss.” as well as “missing.” Therefore, I put quotes around “missing.” When I keyed in “missing property” I got the exact type of hits that I was looking for. This is a quick learning curve—slightly different connectors, wild cards, and other more or less intuitive devices than traditional Lexis.com. There is a quick guide, a variety of demos and search tutorials. These are all helpful, but you can learn on your own for the most part.

I recommend that you play around with the words you usually use, and as always with any new system, scan your initial results to be sure the assumptions that you are making are the same assumptions the search algorithm is making. Generally, I appreciate Lexis and Lexis Advance picking up the common abbreviations for the terms I use—unless they are the same abbreviations as states in the Union. Ultimately, I settled on the search: (“missing property” “unclaimed property” “abandoned property”) near/10 escheat. This worked terrific.

The most notable differences from traditional Lexis:

  1. Two or more words in sequence are treated as having an “or” between them, unlike traditional Lexis.com, which treats several words together as a phrase; and unlike Google, which presumes an “and” between multiple words. According to Ceipek, “Initially, when you type in multiple search terms Lexis Advance begins with an “or” criteria to cast the broadest net for natural language searching consistent with the customer imperative to be complete or inclusive. Using Boolean or Filtering results allows users to narrow his/her searches.” So, entering the terms: Gorbachev Reagan Berlin, would be treated as “Gorbachev or Reagan or Berlin.”
  2. Connectors: Unlike Google and other systems, connectors, if you use them, must be lower case to register as a Boolean connector. Capitalizing “OR” or “AND” treats the word as a search term—and is so common it would be filtered out as a noise word. So, Gorbachev or Reagan and Berlin would be treated as (Gorbachev or Reagan) and Berlin. Note that Gorbachev OR Reagan AND Berlin would drop the OR and AND as noise words and treat the string as if there were no connector at all (as in the first example). Carol’s rule: Never use caps in Lexis Advance!
  3. Proximity connectors are more limited in Lexis Advance: and, or, not, near/x (where x is the maximum number of words between two terms).
  4. The default priority of connectors. Lexis Advance treats connectors in the following order: NOT, OR, all proximity connectors (left to right)*, AND. According to Ceipek, “*This is different from Lexis.com. In Lexis.com the proximity connectors are ranked based on the closeness of the proximity. A w/5 operator has more power than a w/10. [S]o in Lexis.com, duty w/10 fiduciary w/5 executor becomes duty w/10 (fiduciary w/5 executor), but in Lexis Advance, that query becomes (duty w/10 fiduciary) w/5 executor.  “The query breach and duty near/5 fiduciary or executor [In Lexis Advance] becomes: breach and (duty near/5 (fiduciary or executor)).[Emphases added.] For more on traditional Lexis.com search order, see: http://web.lexis.com/help/research/gh_search.asp#priority. This kind of change will take some getting used to for power searchers who are Boolean warmongers.
  5. Phrases: According to Lexis, “Lexis Advance automatically interprets many common legal phrases, such as "limited liability partnership" or "summary judgment" as phrases, rather than as individual search terms. However, if you want to be sure a phrase you are searching for is interpreted as a phrase, enclose it in quotation marks.”

There is no one right way to do a search. I could have used: (“missing” or unclaimed or abandoned) near/5 property and escheat. In fact, a search such as: missing unclaimed abandoned property escheat would have been just fine for casting a wide net to catch the right documents.

After a short time I couldn’t remember all of the variations in search terms and collections I had used, so I checked my history in “My Workspace,” and it appeared graphically. I liked the ability to see a map of my research—which requires downloading Microsoft Silverlight. I downloaded it at the office and on my laptop, and had no problems other than needing to re-boot my computer at home.  

We can all participate in improving this cutting-edge total re-vamp of traditional LexisNexis. They have already consulted and queried more than 36,000 lawyers, law librarians, and legal professionals in order to build this product. If you have any suggestions for Lexis Advance there is a “feedback” button on the top right hand side of the screen.  I have already used it a couple of times.

In addition, the investment in High Performance Cluster Computing (HPCC) and Enterprise Control Language was significant—see the techie discussion of these data analytic technologies in Three Geeks and a Law Blog. According to Ceipek, with “HPCC, we can now do a lot more with automated relationship identification at a much faster pace. This allows us to identify a much broader and comprehensive range of entities, attributes, and topics that we didn’t have the ability to recognize before. E.g., the deployment of HPCC technology in Lexis Advance allowed us to add over a hundred million new links to law firms and individual lawyers thereby making related documents much easier to find.” I can see a lot of links and relationships among companies, judges, and other people, corporations, concepts, and things that weren’t matched up before.

Back to Our Search Result

Once you have settled on your search terms and received relevant results in your chosen “Content type” you have the option of “clicking” into any of the other types of documents. So, I examined my search results in “briefs and pleadings,” “jury instructions,” “news” and “web.”

So, rather than give you a jumble of search results, Lexis Advance breaks them down by the type of content. From there you can sort it by relevance, or alphabetical order, date, and other breakdowns— within the different content types.

If I am still having problems with too many results, I can “search within the results” for a different term—like a “focus” in traditional Lexis.com, which peels away the “mostly relevant” to get to the core that I need.

Post-Search Limiters

I really like the post-search options! These are constantly available on the left hand of the screen, with the ability to limit by publication type, subject, geography, timeline, and even “In plan” or “Out of plan” (if you’re really desperate). The various limiters you have available almost always indicate the number of hits you will get with that option—so you can see whether it will take you to a more manageable number of results.

Select too many of these limits and you could get yourself to zero—so Lexis Advance put at the top of this left column a list of all your limiters, with the ability to undo each, one at a time—or all at once.

The types of limits are different for each type of material that you are examining. So, for analytical you will find you can choose from content type (law reviews and journals, or treatises, or jurisprudences or practice guides). On the other hand, in briefs and pleadings, one can limit by type, practice area, attorney, law firm, and court (trial or appellate).

Timeline is a limiter in just about every type of material—and the volume of new content in a year is displayed as a graphic—so if a topic was hot in 2001, the timeline would peak (like a stock market chart) over 2001. You can literally see the birth, rise, and even fall of a legal concept, and it is handy to see before you limit some of the most relevant time period(s) out of your results!

Almost Done

You can view the California cases as PDF versions of the official reports, since Lexis is the official publisher for California appellate and Supreme Court opinions.

Shepardizing is easy in Lexis Advance and provides all of the essential information as to the status of cases, codes (including pending legislation in the current legislature), etc. You can view the subsequent history of a case in a list form (like traditional Lexis.com), or in a map which looks like a map to a treasure chest as cases go up and down the appellate ladder. There is even a Shepard’s grid—for the Wolfram Alpha statistics junkies—showing how different jurisdictions have treated the case or document over time:

Now you want to save your search—and it is simple. You can go to the top of your results under each of the types of materials. If you have selected just a few to save (by checking the little box beside each entry you want) then you can move them to the folder icon (and name your folder, create a new folder or sub-folder); or “click” the printer icon for a quick print, or the letter icon to email the results. Of course, if you want them all, just check the top box and it will “check” all of the little boxes for you.

In The End

Lexis Advance is so much more than a Google-ized version of LexisNexis. The new links and relationships, the additional out-of-contract resources, and novel presentation graphics that illuminate your findings are truly dynamic.

If you have a Lexis account already, you can expect to be able to access Lexis Advance sometime between now and the first 3 months of 2012. It will be free to explore for the rest of your contract period. And once it has been rolled out to you and your organization, you can download it for your iPhone or iPad here: http://www.lexisnexis.com/newlexis/mobile/.

The Major Differences

There are major differences between Lexis.com and Lexis Advance. This is really a giant leap forward.

Rather than selecting the libraries you know in Lexis.com, Lexis Advance searches everything, then lets you discover information that you didn't even know was available in any library—especially in the case of libraries to which you never subscribed. This is a good thing. Casting a wider net than I ever imagined delivers not just more fish—but fish I never knew existed and therefore would never have sought out. Not only that, but while in traditional Lexis.com I might try to choose lots of libraries to catch the same kinds of documents as retrieved by Lexis Advance, some libraries and/or files couldn't be combined no matter what. Other libraries were out of my plan and so hidden from me—even if I was willing to pay to get them. And, in traditional Lexis, if I wanted to search the web as well as the other products, I would have to go to LexisWeb and do a separate search with web-like search construction. With Lexis Advance, I can search everything in one fell swoop, pick and choose the types of information and jurisdictions, and sort my results with a dizzying array of options, including alphabetical (by individual attorneys, judges, companies) as well as relevance and other means.

It is a whole new world. And, I have not even touched upon the graphical research map and Shepard's Graphical history of citing decisions. You will have to see these to believe them—I especially love the research map so I can find my way when I am lost, wandering among the many riches I have retrieved. Aside from mapping my way back to previous searches, it reveals the libraries I have searched, the steps I have taken, and I can see whether I have covered all of the bases that would make my research complete.

Welcome to the new age in legal research.


Carol Ebbinghouse is law library director at the California 2nd District Court of Appeals and the "Sidebar" legal columnist for Searcher magazine.

Email Carol Ebbinghouse
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