Always looking to hook law students on its very expensive services, LexisNexis is releasing a beta version of Lexis Advance for Law Schools. I’m the first to admit that services such as Lexis and Westlaw are vital for many law firms and high-speed lawyers, but most of us don’t end in those kinds of firms. We end up in small firms or as solos, where budgets don’t often stretch to the kind of extensive-access databases and services that Lexis and Westlaw offer to students for free. And all these services are offered to free to law students solely to ensure that when they graduate, they don’t know how to practice law without these services. And not just the basic services, the entire package. (Yes, online research techniques are vital for any modern lawyer, but not to the point at which law grads can’t actually operate as lawyers without paying companies like Lexis and Westlaw huge sums of money each month. Don’t skip those lectures and practicals on how to look stuff up in books.)
Basic and effective legal research solutions are available elsewhere. The most basic package from the major research services companies are generally sufficient, perhaps with a tweak or two depending on practice area. But these companies continue to offer these free samples to law students, like drug dealers, hoping to develop future customers.
I remember when I worked as a solo, I was sucked into a particular Lexis product. It was easy to fall for the salesperson’s slick advice about the products and what I needed, how much it could do for me and my practice, and his assertions that it would be easy to cancel if my circumstances changed in the future. (The product was somewhat ineffective, but that’s another story). And my circumstances did indeed change when I decided to work elsewhere, but that’s when Lexis made the cancellation process as difficult as possible – requiring that I fax documents, send letters and multiple emails to multiple different people in different departments, the predictable “we lost your fax” and “we didn’t receive the email” excuses, etc. I doubt Lexis could have made it any more difficult for me to cancel had they tried, short of shutting down their phones, email, and moving to a different office with no mailing address. It could just have been me with a rough experience, but I doubt it: the tactics to get that extra month or two of fees out of me by slowing down and complicating the cancellation process was so deliberate and widespread that I can’t believe it was an accident. Lexis was an easy habit to pick up, but a hard one to quit.
But I digress. If you end up as a solo, or in a small firm (many of which are struggling), don’t forget your law library. I have never been to a law school where I was denied access to its library to browse and conduct research. And law school libraries have damn good hours most of the time, often open way into the evening. So complain as I might that law schools spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each year maintaining a comprehensive, old-fashioned law library is a waste of students’ money, it’s actually a very good resource for lawyers on a budget. For many lawyers, just a few choice practice books are necessary, and free or cheap access to current caselaw for federal law and your own particular state. Use these libraries for this stuff if you’re just starting out and have to watch your expenses, at least until you decide you really need an expensive online service and can afford it.
And I might fuss that law libraries spend plenty of money on expensive and obscure practice materials that law students never use, but wait until you start practice and find that the law school’s costly subscription to that 10-binder looseleaf service for your niche practice area, updated every week, is saving you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars per year in research service fees, and making your practice so much more efficient.
Of course, I still think that almost every law review could be tossed out of law libraries, along with the fluff like shelves and shelves of biographies of obscure judges and lawyers, but a solid caselaw collection plus subscriptions to practice materials are worthwhile. You may not appreciate it while you’re a student, but when you get out into solo practice or start a small firm after a year or two, your local law school library could well make the difference.