LexisOne (http://law.lexisnexis.com/webcenters/lexisone) is a free caselaw search engine with a much more limited selection of databases than its pricey older brother, LexisNexis. It still packs a punch, however, by providing a fairly simple way to search through the past decade’s worth of United States cases in almost all the federal and many state courts. While its interface is slightly clunkier to use, and certainly much more simplified, without any of the sophisticated bells and whistles that LexisNexis or Westlaw have, LexisOne gives users the ability to look up fairly recent court opinions, either by citation or keyword, and even allows the use of some limited Boolean operators.
LexisNexis has had a longstanding and well-publicized rivalry with Thomson Reuters’ Westlaw (just walk into any law school and you can easily find the two corporate giants dueling over students), and it surprised me that Thomson Reuters’ free caselaw database, Findlaw (http://lp.findlaw.com), would receive much more attention than LexisOne. Was Findlaw really that much more superior? To compare the two websites, I performed a search of a 2008 Illinois appellate court case that should have been contained in both services’ databases. In LexisOne, it appeared at the top of the list when I searched for it by citation or keyword and party. Findlaw’s system was much trickier to use, and did not allow searching by citation. When I finally tracked down the case, it was still “processing” the opinion. I was stunned, and felt myself beginning to question my previously unshakable faith in Thomson Reuters. I was also amazed that I had never heard of a free offering from LexisNexis until now, when I went to look for it on the web – especially since LexisOne has been in operation for over a decade!
Both LexisOne and Findlaw are not free of shortcomings, and have their unique pros and cons. LexisOne allows a user to search for judicial opinions from almost every federal court, and a fair number of state courts, too, but only if they were published within the last ten years. Findlaw’s archives are much more extensive, going back as far as the early 20th century, but involve a limited range of jurisdictions – the Circuit and Supreme Courts and five or six of the larger state courts. LexisOne’s Supreme Court opinions, however, go back to the Court’s very inception in 1781. Findlaw’s date range does not travel back that far. Findlaw contains many other resources that LexisOne does not, however, such as legislative documents, forms, and current legal news, and is organized in a friendlier and more intuitive design. LexisOne’s layout looks dated and does not appear to be updated nearly as often as Findlaw’s. I found this back-and-forth ping-pong match between the two websites amusing. Both sites offer slightly different databases, but they both have their different purposes. Ultimately, the only real winner is the consumer, who has yet another free llegal resource at their disposal.