Have you noticed the subtle nips and tucks updating both Lexis and Westlaw over the past few years? First, they freed us from the shackles of six measly tabs. No more redecorating your 6-tab limit to fit your current research need. Now you can have loads of tabs, and you can even customize your very own tab. You can select multiple databases and search across them. No need to walk into each room to see if what you’re looking for is there. No, now it’s like one big, beautiful, high-ceilinged loft where you can take it all in at once. The question is: will you still be able to find your slippers?
If you’ve been too busy to notice the new furnishings, it’s time to take a look around: the online legal research world as we know it is about to change. Like an anticipated Blockbuster release, WestlawNext is headed to a terminal near you on February 1st. And later in the year, Lexis will unveil its brand new interface, New Lexis. It’s such big news, even the mainstream papers like the New York Times are covering it. Blame it on Google, but it was bound to happen sooner or later. And let’s face it, it’s not all bad. These tired old hags needed a makeover. If you’ve tried teaching your new associates about the antiquated Directories and Folders system to blank stares and horror, then you anticipate this with eagerness. And perhaps a twinge of angst as you imagine how you’ll break the news to all those bibliophilic partners you finally taught how to find a case online!
I guess the question is this: will it be better, or will it be a mess? Can legal research be simplified into a one-box search-all kind of process? As online legal research providers transition their clunky sites into more simplified search interfaces, the logic behind categorizing and labeling results becomes overwhelmingly complex. Take IntelliConnect as the poster child for what not to do. Sure, the search interface itself is better. Running a quick search across all of the content is a breeze, but how do you make sense of the results when you’re not sure of the difference between explanations and treatises? Hopefully, the years of R&D that both companies have invested in developing these new interfaces will circumvent many of these pitfalls. Check out the ABA Journal’s in-depth review of both new interfaces for more detailed information.