Sunday, February 12, 2012

Let Me Count the Ways

girls fight kindergarten
Once upon a time when I was young(er), I had two girlfriends.  OK, we were in kindergarten and I had a toy they both, in a way - because I had the toy and they wanted the toy, they wanted me.  Yeah, I was 6 and that's how a guy's head works, OK?!  Anyway, there I am with the toy of envy and these two girlies say to me, who do you like better?  I suspect they were just playing me and it didn't matter who I gave the toy to, I was going to end up having someone hate me.  So, I kept the toy and the girls decided they both hated me which was ok - I mean, they did have cooties and what 6 year old boy wants to be seen hanging around girls anyway?!?

Now that I'm a Law Librarian I get asked that question a lot  - which (resource) do you like better?  Specifically, the two products that I get asked about most often are my preferences between Westlaw and LexisNexis.  Short answer: I really don't like Lexis and while I'm not head over heals in love with Westlaw, it is a lot easier to like than Lexis.  Let me elucidate. 

I want to say at the start of this that I don't own stock in Thompson Reuters and they are NOT giving me a kickback for writing any of this.  That said, a key difference between Weslaw and Lexis is that in order for Lexis to recognize a particular citation, you have to have darn near PERFECT citation notation.  Otherwise, Lexis will say - I don't know what the heck you are talking about.  In Westlaw, as long as you get the major points (volume, reporter, page), it figures you're working hard enough and it will cut you some slack and will sort out what you were looking for.

For example.  If you were working in Westlaw, you could type 134ca3d121 and Westlaw would know you were looking for volume 134 of the California Appellate Reporter, 3rd series, page 121.  Lexis on the other hand would give you an error message because you failed to type in perfect citation notation:  134 Cal.App. 3d 121.  The problem is that when most people are flying through research, they're not thinking about perfect citation notation (and most people don't know what the true blue book citation should be).

Another problem with Lexis is how their system accepts Boolean search syntax.  In both Westlaw and Lexis, you can search for information using natural language (which is what you're reading here) and Boolean syntax.  If you search using natural language, you might find what you're looking for but most likely not (imagine a tiny needle in a huge haystack).  If you use a Boolean syntax, you can narrow your search exponentially.  Example of operators include:  "/#" = within a number of words; "/s" = within a sentence; "/p" = within a paragraph.  So, for example, if I ran a search in Westlaw for:  (pit /2 bull), that would say I'm looking for "pit" within 2 words of the word "bull". 

The problem is that Lexis requires you have to add a "w" to every operator as such: w/2 or w/s or w/p to suggest "within /2 words" or "within/a sentence" or "within/a paragraph" - it's a
insane crazy mind numbing problems
royal pain in the neck (especially when you have your boss breathing down your neck and you're trying to crank out a search syntax and the the #%@#%@ thing won't work because you forgot the #%@#^@$^ "w" before the syntax.  It's enough to drive anyone a little nutsy. 

There are dozens of other things that bother me about Lexis but to summarize my feelings on the subject - if you want to save yourself a migraine later (or you have the cash to buy only one online license) stick with Westlaw because as the fortune cookie said, "man who plays with two women gets what he pays for."