What? Lawyers should open books?
Greg Lambert at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog posts an interesting question today: Can attorneys practice law without Westlaw or Lexis?
Westlaw or Lexis — most attorneys have a strong personal preference for one over the other — are the tools most litigators use for 95% of their research. As Lambert noted, these search sites are so ingrained in the culture of firms that there is a perception that not using them is just a gateway to a malpractice suit.
We are certain that there are tons of solo or small-firm practitioners that do not — and cannot — pay the huge fees that come with a Westlaw or Lexis account. And we’re guessing they know their fields well enough, and know how to efficiently use free research sites and their state and local offerings, to do a great job.
But we’re also certain that most of those folks were not force fed Westlaw and Lexis like today’s students are. It’s the only way they really know how to research and without it they are lost. They might know basic ways to find out about generalities of law (the well known treatises, for example), but after that, they are stuck.
And we say that because we are one of those people.
We would have no idea how to do enough research for a full brief without the use of Lexis and Westlaw, and do not know other litigators our age who could, either. Or, we at least know doing so would take us 10 times the time.
While it is not necessarily malpractice to practice without those research services, it could be if we did it, and we imagine the same is true for anyone else who graduated from law school in the last 10 years. It’s what you know, and it’s what you are taught from the first day of law school.
Westlaw and Lexis are an oligopoly, even if Bloomberg is working its way in and Google Scholar is doing a whole lot for us for free.
So can you practice law without Westlaw or Lexis? Sure. If you are a corporate attorney or hold a law degree from the time before Westlaw and Lexis reps had their own offices in law school libraries.
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