Sunday, May 27, 2018

New article on the differences between commercial legal research databases

This recent article by Professor Peter A. Hook (Wayne State) and Kurt R. Mattson (President of Union Legal Research) called "Surprising Differences: An Empirical Analysis of LexisNexis and West Headnotes in the Written Opinions of the 2009 Supreme Court Term" can be found at 109 Law. Libr. J. 557 (2017) and picks up on a theme explored by Susan Nevelow Mart's (Colorado) well-reviewed article called "The Algorithm as a Human Artifact: Implications for Legal {Re}Search."  From the introduction to this new one by Hook and Mattson:

Headnotes are important. They continue to be one of the main ways that legal researchers engage with the massive body of case law in the United States to marshal arguments for legal advocacy, advising, and scholarship. As one publisher-supplied component of the rule of law in the United States, they contribute to the stability, social justice, and economic growth of the country by making case law usable. Headnotes are vendor-described, atomistic statements of discrete concepts of law found in judicial opinions. They are supplied by two competing legal publishers (and vendors of their online legal platforms)--LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters (formally Thomson/West, formally West Publishing, and hereinafter West). They are not primary source content but important finding aids to the primary source content that are judicial opinions. However, the two publishers show surprising differences in how they assign headnotes, as illustrated by an empirical review of the headnotes assigned to the written opinions of the 2009 Term of the United States Supreme Court. The differences between the two vendors are found in (1) the number of headnotes assigned to each case, and (2) the identification of opinion language that merits a headnote.


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