The Legal Research Tournament, The Semifinals, Game 1: Books in the Library vs. Critical Thinking

The Legal Research Tournament continues with the Semifinals! You can review the rules of the Tournament here, or take a look at any of the Round 1 matchups. With only four teams remaining, the favorite WestlawNext is trying to fend off challenges from Bloomberg Law, Books in the Library and Critical Thinking. We’ll start today with the first semifinal matchup:

(6) Books in the Library vs. (7) Critical Thinking.

Raise your hand if you had this matchup in the semifinal round of your bracket. I know! Me neither! That’s what’s so great about this tournament—you never know what you’re going to get. Trying to decide who’s better between Critical Thinking and Books in the Library is tough. Neither one is a database, so it’s hard to use the same analysis I might with other competitors. Better just to put the two in a room and let them talk it out: 

Books in the Library: Did you see how I beat out HeinOnline in the last round? Not bad for an old dog!

Critical Thinking: Yes. Congratulations! In hindsight, though, we might have predicted your victory. HeinOnline is not really equipped for this tournament. It’s really focused on preserving authoritative copies of documents and not really a good source for current legal information, which is what most legal researchers really need. Now that I think about it, you and Hein are rather similar. 

Books in the Library: Thanks! Wait. . . what do you mean? 

Critical Thinking: Most legal researchers, law students included, need to figure out how the current law of a particular place applies to a set of facts. When compared to databases such as WestlawNext, Lexis Advance, Bloomberg Law or Fastcase, neither the books nor Hein are as well suited to quickly finding the most current law on a topic.

Books in the Library: I’m current! Don’t forget to check my pocket parts!

Critical Thinking: Pocket parts. . . slip opinions. . . pamphlets: all a slow, cumbersome way of doing things when the online alternatives are updated almost instantly.

Books in the Library: But you forget: I may be slower, but all online research is based on the system developed in the books!

Critical Thinking: It’s true that the book method forms the roots of legal research, but those roots are in the past. West’s digest system, for example, which is a great tool for using the headnotes of one good case to find other cases on the same topic, may have originated in the books, but it works much more easily and quickly online. Similarly, statutory research usually means looking at both the text of the statute and any cases interpreting the text. With the books, that is a multi-step process involving first using an annotated code and then looking up cases in a separate set of volumes. Online, you can hyperlink directly from the annotated code sections to the most relevant cases all in one place—much easier. I’m sorry, but online legal research has really made the books obsolete, other than for preservation purposes.

Books in the Library: What!?!? Obsolete!?!? What happens if the power goes out? Am I obsolete then? We all know the story of the young lawyer who was frantically working on some last-minute research for a brief due the next day when the lights went out. Fortunately, he knew how to use the books and not just the computers, and was able to save the day with some old-fashioned research. 

Critical Thinking: That story is apocryphal. Major power outages happen, but having to complete last-minute legal research when your city is without power? That seems unlikely even in the crazed world of litigation. Basing your main benefit on an imagined emergency is a weak position. Besides, if the lights go out, how is the lawyer supposed to read the books and write the brief?

Books in the Library: Uh . . . well . . . candles!

Critical Thinking: [Blink, blink. Blink, blink].

Books in the Library: Ok, fine. Can you at least give me that sometimes it is easier and cheaper to use a treatise or annotated code in book form, especially if you’ve already got it sitting in your office or firm library?

Critical Thinking: Fair enough.

                Winner: Critical Thinking.

 - Ben Doherty 

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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

The Arthur J. Morris Law Library is the home of research for students and faculty at the University of Virginia School of Law.

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