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Lexis Advance: A New Tool for Online Legal Research

When they were originally released, both Lexis and Westlaw were innovative online search systems. But as search engines like Google have grown increasingly more powerful, legal research tools have had some catching up to do. Lexis has responded with their new Lexis Advance program. I took it for a test-drive, and overall, I think it’s a significant improvement the prior version of Lexis.

Here are the features I find most useful in Lexis Advance:

New Search Algorithm

The biggest change over the old system is the new “relevance” algorithm. This propriety algorithm produces more accurate searches by ensuring the document the user expects to find appears as one of the first five results. Some of the features employed to ensure this accuracy include:

  1. Automatic phrase recognition
  2. Case name recognition
  3. Implied phrases between connectors
  4. Proximity search between the terms
  5. A ranking algorithm based on the judicial importance of the case

Single Search Box & Sessions Tab

While the new algorithm goes to the heart of Lexis Advance, the feature I’ve been interacting with the most is the new search box. Unlike the old system, where users selected which source to search, Lexis Advance uses just a single search box that queries across all Lexis content. Combined with the relevance algorithm, this streamlines the research process, while ensuring users don’t miss out on that “silver bullet” cited in a treatise somewhere.

Keep in mind the search box works much like a Google search. Quotes can now be used to narrow searches and Lexis Advance can decide for you whether terms and connectors or natural language search is appropriate. You can still elect to use terms and connectors, but I find anything other than “and” or “or” now unnecessary.

Furthermore, every new search opens a “sessions tab” within Lexis Advance. This feature is great if, like me, you find yourself crowding your browser with a separate tab per search.  One complaint I do have is the considerable load time when switching between tabs. This problem is even worse when using the iPad app.  While still a great system I hope it’s made snappier in subsequent iterations.

Legal Issue Trail & Case Browsing

Another new feature is Lexis Advance’s patented “Legal Issue Trail”. When activated, it shows important connections between cases by highlighting important legal precedent. When you click the highlighted portion, the Legal Issue Trail lists both the cases that cite to that passage, as well as which case the citation came from. Unlike headnotes, which are tied to legal arguments, this system accounts for dicta, dissents, and anywhere else legal precedent may originate.  The result is a more comprehensive system that lies out, with clarity, where the precedent comes from.

A feature I really enjoy is the new “jump to” function. With the old system, I often found myself scanning the document for what I wanted.  Now, you can easily use a pull down menu to jump to opinions, outcomes, case summaries, and much more.

Work Folders & Apps

Another goal of Lexis Advance is to better serve the needs of users accessing LexisNexis on the go. A new key feature in Lexis Advance is work folders. They allow researchers to manage, store, and create personal annotations on documents they choose to save.  Accessible indefinitely, these folders allow users to take their documents anywhere by way of the new Lexis iPad and iPhone apps (Android app coming soon).

I do feel the iPhone app is much more responsive then the iPad version. Lexis attempted to build out the iPad app more, while keeping the iPhone version more streamlined. Personally, I wish they had used the latter approach on both versions since I find myself only using Lexis on iOS devices for quick case access, whereas most of my research is still done on my laptop.

When to Switch & WestlawNext

While the old Lexis system is still around, it will be phased out within the next three to four years. Currently, nearly all of Lexis’ content is up on Advance, but they do expect to have two more releases this year, with the finished product targeted for this winter. If you are a current Lexis subscriber, access to Lexis Advance comes at no additional cost. It’s a much improved system and definitely worth the switch.

On a final note, keep in mind Westlaw has also released their next-gen service, WestlawNext. I’ll be doing a review of this system soon, so check back for my review.

Mark passionately believes the legal industry is in desperate need of new solutions focused around technological innovation. While receiving his B.A. in Economics from UC Berkeley, he worked at the CA Superior Court helping litigants prepare for trial. Now in law school at UCLA, Mark hopes to put his programming background to use in eventually developing “hacks” to streamline aspects of the legal industry. While not nerding out over legal and tech news, Mark spends his time mountain biking and watching Star Wars.

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