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This article was originally published in June 2018 with updates made on March 9, 2023.
Conducting efficient, high-quality legal research is critical to the success of any attorney. You’ve likely spent years honing and mastering your research skills—but when is the last time you considered whether your legal research platform is helping or hindering you?
Because winning or losing often depends on the extent and quality of your research, the tools you use shouldn’t be taken lightly. As with any technology, legal technology evolves rapidly, making it crucial to keep yours updated to match your own competence.
A variety of factors often weigh into the critical decision of what legal research platform to use, such as ease of use, built-in features, and volume of content. However, for many law firms—especially small to midsize firms (firms with less than 50 attorneys)—cost factors in most heavily on the decision-making process. It can be tempting to choose a free service, like Google Scholar’s case law search. But before you opt for Google Scholar as your primary source of case law, ask the following questions:
It’s possible that you may find Google Scholar provides you with everything you need. However, conducting a thorough review can help ensure you are set up for success and, in turn, that you won’t lose money in the long run.
To help with your decision-making process, we’ve compared Google Scholar to LexisNexis®. Specifically, we’ll examine how Google Scholar case law search compares with the capabilities and cost of Lexis+®, the premier legal research software offered by LexisNexis.
When did Google Scholar begin offering case law search? How long has LexisNexis been in the legal industry? What other options are available?
Before we begin our comparison of LexisNexis vs. Google Scholar, we’ll answer these questions by providing a brief background of recent developments in legal research technology. Legal research has come a long way in a relatively short period of time, moving primarily online in recent years. Additionally, new developments in the realm of artificially intelligent search, APIs, and data analytics continue to shift the way winning attorneys conduct research.
Today, legal research is typically conducted on one or more of the well-established, pay-to-access, platforms, like Lexis+®, Westlaw Edge, or Bloomberg Law -- but not always. In the 2000s, the industry began to see a rise of legal technology marketed as affordable or even free, including Google Scholar, which began offering free case law search in 2009. Today, attorneys may find themselves wondering how Google Scholar case law search stacks up against a paid service like LexisNexis.
To conduct a thorough comparison of Google Scholar Case Law Search vs. LexisNexis, we will look at the following variables:
The primary appeal of Google Scholar Case Law Search is that it’s free to use and accessible to everyone. While this could be appealing, attorneys often approach managing and growing their firm with the sound understanding that success requires investment.
So, if you’re looking for a balance of cost-savings and long-term efficacy, LexisNexis should be considered. Pricing is determined using multiple factors, including size of the firm, the amount of content needed, add-ons, and features you want to use. LexisNexis packages can be purchased online, however, we recommend reaching out to a sales representative to get the best deal for your firm.
The remainder of this article will help you determine if the features offered by Lexis+ are worth paying a subscription to a legal research service.
Which legal research solution is easier to use? Google Scholar’s interface is simplistic, with a search bar and an opportunity to search specific courts. In the search bar, you can search by topic or a specific case. Once you’ve entered a search term, you have a few post-search filter options, including jurisdiction and time range.
With one search bar and limited filter options, Google Scholar case law search appears to focus on minimalism instead of analytical features that aide in navigating the results.
So, how does LexisNexis search compare in terms of being easy-to-use?
Similar to Google Scholar, Lexis+ has a singular search bar, with options to search by jurisdiction. Lexis+ also similarly allows for “natural language search,” meaning you can search using a term, case, or even a straight-forward question. The primary difference between the two search bars is that you can also filter by content type on Lexis+®, because it offers primary and secondary content beyond case law.
(Lexis+ Home Page; Click to Enlarge)
After searching for a term, in Lexis+, you have the option to view your results in four different ways:
Full view is similar to the straight-forward view you see in Google Scholar. Additionally, you have access to a variety of post-search filters, including court, case type, motion type, etc.
(Full View of Search Results in Lexis+; Click to Enlarge)
Each of the remaining three views allows you to see your search results in different ways. Title View, for example, provides an even more concise view of your results, allowing you to see more titles at once. Graphical View displays your Search Terms Map, which indicates where in each document your search terms are located. Finally, Ravel™ View, which we discuss in greater depth below as a feature, provides a visual of how your top 75 search results are connected. Ultimately, with Lexis+®, you have the option to view a straight-forward list of results or to choose views that allow you to see the relevancy of your results quickly.
See for yourself. Take a free guided tour.
If you are looking to scale your firm, you might be interested in what next-generation lawyers think about the law technology you're using. Anticipating new lawyers’ preferences can help reduce training time and provide insight into how technology is evolving. Not to mention, law students have access to all the major legal research platforms and, thus, can provide opinions about legal technology that are not swayed by cost.
A recent study indicated that 11% more law students prefer Lexis+® against its leading competitor in terms of ease-of-use. Additionally, 35% more law students prefer Lexis+® because of its design and interface.* While Google Scholar case law search is simplistic in design, the options Lexis+® provides within its sleek interface ultimately contribute to an easy-to-use software.
Google Scholar has limited built-in features such as filters and citations. While this aligns with the simplified (and free) nature of the software, it’s necessary to ask how much time additional built-in features could help you save.
Briefly, we outline three built-in features included in Lexis+® case law search below that are intended to help you save time.
Fact and Issue Finder is powerful search solution designed to streamline a litigator's workflow from beginning to end -- and it's included in Lexis+. Search across a vast database of legal content, with the help of a terms-of-art wheel ready to deliver suggestions from over 6,000 options, and see your search results across content types presented in one, interactive dashboard.
Take a Free Guided Tour of Fact and Issue Finder
Shepard’s citator is a robust legal citation software that has been exclusively owned by LexisNexis since 1998. While Google Scholar includes citations, Shepard’s signals are built into your search, so that you can quickly see how your case was treated in court. If you need a more nuanced view, you can click the Shepard’s signal displayed alongside your search result to dive deeper into a Shepard’s report.
(Built-In Shepard's Preview in Lexis+; Click to Enlarge)
Lexis+® provides an exclusive data visualization tool called Ravel View, which can help you quickly digest your search results. With your top 75 search results graphically represented, you can visually see how cases cite each other and which cases have been cited the most frequently.
(Ravel View in Lexis+; Click to Enlarge)
While Google Scholar offers a free service, “free” isn’t necessarily “better.” LexisNexis has a robust case law collection collection and boasts more built-in search features that will get you to what you need faster. In the long run, you may save time and money by equipping your firm with legal research technology that's equipped for efficiency.
Learn more about the easy-to-use features and search technology on Lexis+® that can help you win more cases. Ready to invest in your firm? Contact us today to customize a plan or click below to try Lexis+ for free.
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*LexisNexis® commissioned Ipsos, a global market research and public opinion analyst firm, to undertake data collection and aggregate results for this study. Sample was provided by LexisNexis, drawing from its database of registered IDs containing all US law students. Approximately 40,000 U.S. law students were invited to participate in the online survey, which ran from December 14, 2021, through December 27, 2021 and generated 2,030 responses. Students were selected from a sampling of ABA-accredited law schools and balanced by school tier and class to reflect the distribution of the overall population of law students.