Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Editor’s Note: This is an excellent article on case law searching strategies. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the author uses only two searches and that those involve only Maryland case law. Although the coverage of the various options may differ for your state, the article points out some fundamental differences for any state search. Neither the author nor we claim that this is a definitive research study; however, the search results presented provide enough clues and pointers to improve searches in any system. Law librarians have been debating the true value of Internet resources for the past several years. Our patrons ask us why we still need to subscribe to Lexis or Westlaw when “it’s all there for free on the Web.” Most savvy librarians are quick to respond that “No, it’s not all there, and certainly, not for free.” This is most definitely a problem when speaking of case law, particularly on the state level. Although much valuable information is available on the Internet at no charge, legal researchers know that case law on the Web is quite different. True, there are many sites where researchers can retrieve recent U.S. Supreme Court or federal court decisions. When it comes to state case law, the options seem limited to the traditional venues of Lexis and Westlaw with few, if any, alternatives available. After numerous requests for “good Internet sites for case law,” I decided that a comparison study of the currently available resources was in order. I attempted to answer two different queries using identical searches in the available fee-based and free Internet resources. The sources tested were Lexis.com, Westlaw.com, Versuslaw, Loislaw, the National Law Library, Jurisline, and the Maryland Judiciary home page — home to the Maryland Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals decisions. (Note: In Maryland, the intermediate level appellate court is the Court of Special Appeals. Maryland’s highest court is the Court of Appeals.) The first search I chose was prompted by a recent decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The case involved a man’s attempt to sue his spouse for the torts of fraud and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” that resulted from the wife’s adultery and misrepresenting the paternity of the children from the marriage. In 1998, the Court of Special Appeals had ruled that one spouse could sue the other for tort in this situation. The Court of Appeals in March 2000 reversed the Court of Special Appeals decision, citing the doctrine of “interspousal immunity.” To locate this case, I decided to search for “spouse” within the same paragraph as “tort” (“spouse /p tort”). The second search I selected came from a research request for a Maryland case that involved the reasonableness of a search where the suspect was described by the arresting officer as acting in a “furtive” manner. Here, I simply searched for “reasonable and search and furtive.” I wanted these search requests to be as simple as possible, yet sufficiently detailed to retrieve a representative body of case law, without making the results unwieldy. For the most effective comparison, identical searches were performed in all databases. Slight modification of the connectors was required at times, but the essential queries remained intact. I first searched Westlaw and Lexis in their Web-based formats, then the Internet-based “challengers.” LEXIS.COM Lexis.com ( www.lexis.com) provides coverage of Maryland case law from January 1937 to the present. The search results present all Court of Appeals cases first, in reverse chronological order, followed by Court of Special Appeals cases. For recent cases, an overview of the case is included within the cite format, along with “core terms” that allow researchers to evaluate the search results by reviewing the cite list only. Included on the list are designations of the treatment of the case as presented by Shepard’s, allowing researchers to determine easily if a case is still “good law.” The “spouse /p tort” search resulted in a list of 53 cites, with the first case on the list being the case desired. The “reasonable and search and furtive” search resulted in 18 cases. WESTLAW.COM Westlaw.com ( www.westlaw.com) provides coverage of Maryland cases from 1887 to present. Query results present all cases of both appellate level courts, combined in reverse chronological order. This helps narrow results when a patron “knows there was a case,” but does not remember which court rendered the decision. Westlaw includes in the cite lists “signals” from the Key Cite citation service. “Spouse /p tort” resulted in a list of 61 cases, eight more than with Lexis. The desired case is listed first, but the citation fails to advise if the corrections from the court are included in the case. The “furtive” search retrieved 21 cases, three more than Lexis. It is interesting to note that several cases that West’s Key Cite designates as “Red Flags” are noted by Shepard’s as “Yellow Lights” on Lexis. Pricing on Westlaw varies according to the number of databases desired and the number of users. Multiple package options are available at prices that are intended to be affordable for users. THE CHALLENGERS I then turned to the “Internet alternatives.” Search strategies on these services vary greatly. Proximity searching is allowed, but each search engine uses its own set of Boolean connectors. It is advisable to use “Help” files or search strategies provided by the individual sites to produce effective search results. VERSUSLAW Versuslaw ( www.versuslaw.com) or “V” provides Maryland case law from 1950 through the present. Impressively, VersusLaw offers the option to perform a search and retrieve a cite list at no charge. If If researchers want a copy of a case, a subscription to the service is necessary. Current rates to “V” are per attorney/user at $14.95 per day, or a monthly fee of $6.95. Annual rates are a reasonable $83.40 per year/per attorney. Unfortunately, VersusLaw does not allow the “/p” connector, so I first used “tort and spouse” to search for the “Doe” case. Using the “and” connector added to the number of results, 128 documents. The citations were listed in a fairly random order, with a 1988 case followed by 1998, 1983, 1992, 1998, 1990, and so on. Cites included the names and dates of the case and designated if the case was unpublished. VersusLaw offers the connector “adj” (adjacent) as an alternative to “/p.” A search using the query “spouse adj tort” returned zero cases, but I had much more satisfactory results with the query “spouse near/15 tort,” which returned 19 documents. The “furtive” search produced the same list of 18 documents that Lexis returned, but again in a random manner. Number 14 on the Lexis list was followed by #1, 7, 10, 4, 3, 18, etc. LOISLAW Maryland case law on Loislaw ( www.loislaw.com) dates from 1899 to the present. Pricing for a monthly or annual subscription to Loislaw varies by what information is desired. Prices range from a subscription to the “state law library” ($57.50 per month; $690 per year) to the “national collection,” which includes all 50 states and 18 federal jurisdictions ($139 per month; $1,668 per year). Special subscription offers may also vary. Loislaw does allow proximity searching, but not to the same extent as Lexis or Westlaw. When constructing a search on Loislaw, researchers may use connectors such as “and,” “near,” “or,” and “not.” The “near” connector can be combined with a number to denote proximity to related words, or using “near” alone will search for words within the same paragraph. My initial search of “spouse near tort” produced 31 results and seemed disjointed in presentation. The first case was a 1974 Court of Special Appeals decision, followed by a series of Court of Special Appeals cases in chronological order. The 2000 “Doe” case was #17 on the list, with #18 beginning a chronological list of Court of Appeals opinions from 1953 to present. I returned to the site just two weeks later and recreated my search. A second attempt produced results that were much better: the same 31 cases were retrieved, this time in reverse chronological order. The “furtive” search on Loislaw found 21 cases, with results presented in reverse chronological order, combining the Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals decisions during both visits to the site. Loislaw does offer the additional feature of citation-checking, “GlobalCite.” The “GlobalCite” results for the “Doe” decision brought up the same cases that Shepard’s did on Lexis, without the statutory citation information. NATIONAL LAW LIBRARY The National Law Library ( www.itislaw.com) is a relative newcomer to case law legal research. The company began operations in 1999, offering access to Texas state case law, and within one year has created a service offering access to all federal and state case law. Most coverage dates from the 1950s, as is the case with Maryland materials. Access to the databases costs $49.95 per month. The National Law Library allows four different search modes. “Boolean Search — Automatic Mode” searches by using a single word. “Boolean Search — Free Form Mode” is a search string that uses connectors. A “Phrase Search” seeks a specific phrase within a case. Finally, a “Citation Search” allows researchers to enter a specific citation to locate a case. Maryland case law is divided into two databases: “1950-1999″ and “Current Opinions.” Using the Boolean Search — Free Form Mode, I attempted to search the spousal tort issue first. The search engine is very particular, rejecting any searches that do not fit its programmed criteria. If a word is directly next to a parenthesis, the entire search is rejected. Spacing was critical. The search “(tort \w15 spouse)” returned just the one 2000 “Doe” case in the Current Opinions database and an additional 17 cases in the 1950-1999 database. (A total of 40 “hits” were retrieved, however. National Law Library’s hit list returns several duplicates. The 1998 “Doe” case equals nine hits, another case three hits, and yet another six hits.) A search for “(reasonable \and search \and furtive)” found nothing in the Current Opinions and only three hits in the 1950-1999 database. Note: While this article was being written, T.R. Halvorson reported in an LLRX.com commentary that Loislaw.com has filed a lawsuit against the National Law Library in the District Court of Harris County, Tex., for “conversion, misuse of and interference with confidential information, tortuous interference, breach of contract, misappropriation, and unjust enrichment.” JURISLINE RESULTS Jurisline ( www.jurisline.com) offers case law from federal courts and 37 states. The goal of the Jurisline site is to provide access to case law to legal researchers at no charge. Jurisline’s coverage of Maryland case law is listed as “late 1930s through third quarter 1999.” Much of the content on the Jurisline database was originally compiled using information from Lexis Law on Disc products. Due to the recent ruling in the lawsuit between Jurisline and Matthew Bender, Lexis Law on Disc materials will no longer be available to Jurisline. The company plans to stay online and provide case law from other sources. Search results from Jurisline are presented in an orderly manner. Court of Appeals cases appear first, listed in chronological order, followed by a similar listing of Court of Special Appeals cases. Jurisline does allow proximity searches. For the “spouse /p tort” query, recent information is not available, so the desired case from March 2000 was not included in the results. For a twist, I included a date restriction of “after 1994″ which produced two Court of Appeals decisions and eight Court of Special Appeals decisions, each list appearing in chronological order. The “reasonable and search and furtive” query resulted in three Court of Appeals decisions and 14 Court of Special Appeals decisions, for a total of 17 cases. CONCLUSION It is clear that there is no “one” definitive alternative at this time to Lexis and Westlaw when it comes to state case law research, at least for Maryland materials. Both Lexis and Westlaw seem to be responding to the needs of legal researchers who are not currently subscribers to their services. Both now offer “limited use” case retrieval on a “per document” basis for legal researchers with payment via credit card over the Internet. Of the contenders currently available, Versuslaw and Loislaw produced results most similar to Westlaw and Lexis, even if the cite lists are presented in somewhat different formats. The affordable pricing of Versuslaw and Loislaw is very appealing. Legal actions pending against the National Law Library may change its online offerings altogether, as happened with Jurisline. The National Law Library’s concept shows some potential to become a viable contender in the future, but researchers will have to adjust to its quirky search restrictions for best results. Ultimately, it is up to each legal researcher to determine what method of online case law research best suits the task. For sole and small-firm practitioners or any law library on a tight budget, both Versuslaw and Loislaw seem to be cost-effective and reputable competition for Westlaw and Lexis. THE MARYLAND JUDICIARY WEB SITE (Editor’s Note: To complete the comparison, Morrison performed her searches on the Maryland Judiciary web site. Please be aware that coverage for other states may differ and, thus, search results may yield different results.) The Maryland Judiciary home page ( www.courts.state.md.us) hosts Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals decisions from 1995 to the present. Visitors have the option of downloading court opinions in Word Perfect or PDF format. Of all the Web-based alternatives, this site’s search engine was the most difficult to use effectively. Proximity searching is not available — a search of “spouse /p tort” produced zero documents of 1,738. A search of “spouse and tort” produced 41 documents from 1,738 searched. Results are scored as to “relevance,” with documents highlighted with small blocks defining the score, along with a numerical score. The “Doe” Court of Special Appeals case from 1998 (overturned in March 2000) ranked as #1, with a relevancy score of “100.” The desired “Doe” case was actually ranked at #12 on the list, scoring an “81″ on the relevancy scale! The search for “reasonable and search and furtive” found three documents from 1,738 searched. (This is because most of the cases were published prior to 1995.) Clicking on the provided link opens the Adobe Acrobat Reader. The case then appears as it was published from the court — no embellishments from publishers or proper citation format is displayed. The first document takes 45 to 60 seconds to open the Adobe Reader and the decision. Researchers must then read the case online to analyze the case. If it is not the desired case, they must go back to the list and try the next case. Subsequent documents take less time to open, usually 15-20 seconds, but each case must be analyzed individually. If an on-point case is found, the “official cite” will have to be obtained either through the Maryland Judiciary’s case index feature (a chart that lists the citations, if available) or through an offline method or another database. Anne Morrison is assistant law librarian at Prince George’s County Law Library in Upper Marlboro, MD. Her e-mail address is [email protected]

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.