With its tasteful use of orange highlights, WestlawNext has been taking UVA Law by storm. At the library we’re enthusiastic about this new direction for legal databases (and are looking forward to Lexis’ future contributions to the trend). If you’ve hopped on the WestlawNext bandwagon, we say good for you, but make sure you are using it as a critical researcher: taking advantage of everything it has to offer and noting what it may not provide.
While WestlawNext’s main search box works well for many searches, be sure to take advantage of its advanced search screens. The advanced searches available in specific databases are particularly robust. For example, try selecting the “Federal Cases” database under the Federal Materials tab and then clicking on the “advanced” button at the top. That opens up all of the document fields and a list of “connectors and expanders” to which expert Westlaw and Lexis searchers are accustomed. You can do the same types of advanced searches from Next’s main search screen. However, you have to know the right connectors or field abbreviations to enter, kind of like having to know to order your burger “animal style” at In-N-Out Burger, even though it’s not on their menu. Using the advanced search option in the different WestlawNext databases gives you the menu, so that you can take advantage of those more precise search tools.
Keep in mind too, that WestlawNext is a work in progress. There is a lot of information that you can get in Westlaw.com (or Lexis) that has not yet migrated to WestlawNext, such as foreign or international legal material. As a savvy researcher it is as important to realize what Next cannot yet do as it is to take advantage of all it has to offer. Finally, our law firm colleagues would have our heads if we did not remind you that once out of law school you’ll need to pay attention to cost. Like its content, WestlawNext’s pricing structure is evolving, but upon arriving at a firm or other organization, asking the librarian or whoever is in charge of Westlaw or Lexis there how the pricing for your organization works is always a good idea.
– Ben Doherty