Monday, November 11, 2013

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #5: Lexis Advance HD

Lexis Advance HD is the Lexis search app for iPad. The app delivers a pared-down version of Lexis Advance that promises comprehensive and efficient research on the go (as this marketing video indicates). I found Lexis Advance HD a user friendly and fairly comprehensive research app, but thought it fell short on efficiency.


Lexis Advance HD opens to an attractive home screen. At the top is the standard Lexis Advance search bar, and below is the workspace. The workspace displays a welcome screen, and you can also access several content boxes: folders, search history, alerts, and offline documents. The design of the workspace demonstrates an understanding of touch screen design--rather than moving between the content boxes by means of tabs or links, you swipe across the box to move to the next one.

While I like the design of the home page, the functionality is lacking. The home screen provides no way to access content by browsing. Certainly this is not an issue of space. A browse screen would fit nicely in place of the welcome screen, which provides nothing but a visual placeholder. The lack of browsing is deeper than the home screen. The app offers no browsing functionality whatsoever (beyond browsing your search history, folder contents, alerts, and offline documents). You can only access content by searching. This is the first place where the app fails to deliver efficiency. If you want information from a particular source, you have to search the system and take the time to limit your search to that source through the content filters. If you want to see the table of contents for a resource such as treatise (something easily done on Lexis Advance using the Browse Sources function), you're out of luck. I could not figure out how to access any tables of contents. The lack of such browse capabilities may an infrequent issue (I prefer filtering my searches to browsing), but I will miss the added efficiency a browse function could provide.





The app's search harness the complete Lexis Advance search capability. You can perform a natural language or terms and connectors search and narrow your search with a wide array of filters. On the result screen, the filtering menu is displayed with white text on a black background, making the menu and the search results (standard black text on white) readily distinguishable. The contrast works well; I like the look of the app's result screen better than Lexis Advance.

The app uses the tab system from Lexis Advance to manage document access. Every document and search opens in a new tab. When I saw that the app contained the tabs, I was disappointed. I dislike the tab system in Lexis Advance because every time I access a tab, the system reloads it, which takes a second or two. The delay is not long, but it is noticeable, particularly when I am moving back and forth between several tabs. I expected a similar performance hit in the app, and was pleasantly surprised. The app's tab system actually works. Once a tab loads, it remains in memory, so I can switch between tabs instantaneously. These tabs are a good idea, not the detriment I expected.

Several features are missing from the results screen (and document screens). For instance, the app does not let you create alerts. The alert box in the workspace displays existing alerts, but you cannot edit them or add new ones. You also cannot directly save documents offline. The offline functionality is tied to the folders. When you save a document to a folder, you have the option of also saving it offline. And if you go to your folders and open a document that is not saved offline, the app gives you nice simple button you can tap to save it offline. I think the app would be more efficient if the offline button were available whenever you viewed a document. Saving to a folder is an unnecessary extra stop if all you want is to be able to read a case in the app without an Internet connection.

Another place Lexis dropped the ball on efficiency is the document annotation feature. You can highlight text and annotate documents in the app, but only when you access the documents through your folders. This means that if you a person who uses the Lexis Advance annotation feature, you have to save all the documents you want to read to a folder first. If you are also someone who read the documents you find as you search, the app forces you to open each document, save it to a folder, open the folder, and reopen the document before you read it. I am uncertain why the annotation feature would need to be designed in such a way, or why it would be designed that way if it were not necessary.

Despite its flaws, I like the Lexis Advance HD app. In some ways, it is superior to Lexis Advance, particularly when it comes to the tabs. Until Lexis fixes the tab system in Lexis Advance, I am more likely to use the app when I want to search Lexis than I am to use Lexis Advance. Even with the lack of a browse feature and the convoluted annotation system, Lexis Advance HD is one of the best legal research apps I have tried, though not always an efficient one.

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