Friday, 25 January 2013

Lexis PSL - a few comments (amended)

Lexis users have always suffered from information overload. Lexis Library contains a wealth of information but unless you are willing to learn how to use Boolean logic, proximity searching and other library professional magic to navigate, you can be left floundering with thousands of hits. Or worse, none at all. They have tried to make Lexis library more intuitive, with special subject pages, personalised home pages and clear signposting, however this still hasn't really helped the busy lawyer.

Lexis v PLC

This is where Lexis PSL comes in. Lexis have been slow to engage with the knowledge management market which has meant having the advantage of seeing what works and what doesn’t. PLC has been the market leader for precedents and knowhow for many years and they have a product which is, by and large, seen as the ideal by lawyers. It is current, easy to search and navigate, and their writers are always happy to be engaged in discussion. I'm saying nothing here about the proposed merger with Thomson because I'm discussing Lexis.

However Lexis PSL is worthy competitor, especially in non-commercial areas of law, such as Family, Immigration, Crime and Local Government. PLC has started to move into these areas but their corporate and US slant will always be where they are most popular. 

Lexis PSL uses the same type of ‘multi way’ search/access model that PLC has employed so successfully. Depending on what you are looking for you can carry out a simple search in the search box in the top right. Or you can go into a specific topic which allows you to get an overview, forms, cases, legislation, checklists and links to Lexis publications on broad subject areas. The front page also allows to you go in via a news item, ‘most popular’, ‘useful resources’, tools, or ‘new content’, some of which are expandable to give you more options. There is also a ‘meet the team’ box as well as links to a couple of Lexis apps. 


I’m only interested in the layout. I’m not qualified to offer opinion on the content, though a senior lawyer said that it is a very good service for trainees and assistants, a comment/complaint also levelled at the Dispute Resolution module of PLC. This suggests that these services are good for the basics, but the finer points of law aren’t covered. 

First impressions of the front page are these. I think there is scope to make the page less busy as much of it is given over to news. This is slightly problematic for me because the main reason they are coming to this page is for a form, a guide to something, or to check a case. I would hope that they are signed up for the relevant newsletter and would be aware of any changes without actively looking for them. The moving stories are also quite irritating and I am always pleased to click off the home page to get away from them. I am aware that you can pause them. 

The ‘useful resource’ tab isn’t big enough. All of the items under this are fundamental to the lawyers’ practice and therefore need to be permanently expanded and made more obvious. Forms are only visible when the tab is expanded but as they are quite an important resource, they should be immediately clickable. These resources should be moved to the space that is currently taken up by the news section. 

The tab for ‘most popular’ is rather a strange one. After querying this, it is influenced by both what others are viewing and your own visits - according to the Lexis analytics. Is a 'what's popular' list useful? Possibly. If you're going to browse the service and do some reading/learning, it would be a good place to start, I suppose. Otherwise I struggle to see the relevance of it.

‘New content’ is reasonably useful as are the web links. What would be helpful is personalised links so that lawyers could add their own to this list; or perhaps new ones could be suggested. For example the invaluable Family Law Week. Presumably if they emailed the editors, they can do this. But perhaps a personalised 'tool box' of editable stuff that you use most often would be good.

Another problem with this site is the lack of detailed articles on family law. I think that Lexis Library is really missing the Jordan Family material and the solid information contained in those journals and law reports. Lexis say they are increasing the investment in their own products but Jordans remain the main point of reference for my lawyers. The Lexis alternatives are not signposted on this service BUT given that this is supposed to be a value added service, with commentary rather than the raw material (freely available on the web), I think this is a definite downside. This point has been discussed with Lexis and a 'journals pod' is in the pipeline.


So that I could investigate the content layout and search more thoroughly, as an example search I took the recent Young v Young divorce case, where the husband was jailed for not disclosing his assets. I checked under the Divorce topic (nothing but apparently I was looking in the wrong topic, my fault) and scrolled through the news section but perhaps it was no longer current. In the search box as I typed, up came up Young v Young. And this is where I maintain my reservations with regards the search engine.

If you know exactly what you are looking for, that is to say, I would like a summary of the case, with news, a link to the transcript, and possibly some commentary, this search fails. You get a list of 33 hits, the second one being a link to a digest of the recent case. Other hits are obviously the other multiple hearings in this long complicated affair but seem to be in no particular order and link to just the transcripts and/or summaries. My rep says this was a slightly unfair test because it was such a new case. Point taken. However I think that new developments should be commented on as soon as possible and if librarians can be asked for information on up to the minute events (in some cases, I've been asked for a judgment still on the judge's desk...) then why not service providers? They are paid to produce commentary and customers are entitled expect a few paragraphs of preliminary discussion following important developments. In my opinion anyway.

In the first edition I put that a filtering system was required, so that searches can be modified by type of material, currency and topic. On reflection and reassessment, there is a filter which enables you to split your results into document types; news, form, flowchart, practice note etc. This is a good thing. The date of results are indicated by a green 'current' under the summary. As an aside, exact dates appeared to be lacking - or certainly not obvious - on the articles. In my opinion this is a problem; the first thing that lawyers look for is the currency of the material that they are dealing with, especially in an area as fast moving as family. All PLC documents have an 'about' window so that you know exactly who has written it and when it was updated. 


I mentioned that forms are central to the family lawyer. This service has perhaps missed a trick in terms of offering a fully interactive forms service such as Oyez or Quantum. If you want to be a one stop shop you really need to speak to practitioners to see what they are accessing on a day to day basis. Forms seem to be the bugbear of my lawyers and if you provided a good Form E, I think the product would do very well. My rep tells me that forms are indeed a priority for LexisPSL and that they have chosen to work with Adobe so that there are no issues with proprietary software, a real issue for forms providers. They do not yet offer a gizmo for filling in multiple forms or automatic calculation but they are working on it - I hope I understood that correctly.


Overall this is a good service with the potential to really reach the heart of the information on Lexis Library and assist the average family practitioner  I was concentrating on the family module in this review, because I was ask to by a family partner. However comments about the search engine, links, layout etc are universal. Once again it is the same Lexis complaint; search engine, search engine, search engine. This again is being discussed and worked on by Lexis.

Note: this was put together in response to a partner asking me to review Lexis PSL.

Lexis contacted me and asked me to revisit some parts. This I have done with good grace and honesty. Other bits - so I've been told - some people really like, for instance, the moving news, no dates on the articles. The only way to get feedback, is to get your lawyers to have a look and make them ask difficult questions: they're good at that!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Clare – I work in the Product Development team who develop the interactions on the LexisPSL interface here at LexisNexis so I really appreciate your review of the layout and navigation. Your homepage observations of what should be prominent and what less so does make sense, we’ve definitely seen lawyers using the Useful Resources, Most popular and New Content more than we initially designed for.

    On the Search side, we’re working on that as we know this is often the primary route in. As you say the best way to work on the right search is to state what you are searching for and what you expect for that search term (a summary of the case, with news, etc) and we are focusing on how to get that to deliver the results you expect more consistently.

    Thanks for the good grace and honesty in the review, we understand lawyers ask difficult questions … those questions drive us all forward. We are more than happy to come and spend time with you and your lawyers to get that feedback (and I know we’re already talking to you). Alex