[UPDATE (April 20, 2012): I’m happy to report that I was incorrect in assuming that the Legal Journals Index (LJI) would be discontinued along with the Current Legal Information service. The LJI will continue as part of Westlaw UK. Please see the comments from Westlaw UK below.]
Like most law librarians I’ve been a strong advocate of the use of journal indexes in research. While full-text searching on Hein, Lexis and Westlaw is the fastest and preferred way of finding journal literature, especially if you know exactly what you are looking for, I think there is still a place for indexes such as the Index to Canadian Legal Literature and LegalTrac with their controlled vocabularies and their source neutral approach.
Given this, the announcement a while ago from Sweet and Maxwell that their UK based service Current Legal Information (CLI) will be discontinued on April 30 comes as a disappointment if not necessarily as a huge surprise. The CLI included digests of new cases and a case citator, but it was most notable to law librarians for its Legal Journals Index the most complete online index of UK legal periodical materials.
Hopefully the demise of the CLI is a not a sign of things to come, but I worry that it might be. Sweet and Maxwell’s announcement mentions the “now far superior online research services available, such as Westlaw UK and Lawtel, which provide vast amounts of content and are much more suited to today’s legal practitioner”. However the full-text sources are not a complete replacement for the indexes – their major shortcoming is that not every journal can be found in each full-text database. For a Canadian example see my post from last August where I noted that of the 66 Canadian journals I track that only 24 of them are on Lexis, 25 of them on Westlaw and 30 of them on Hein – only 11 titles appeared on all three platforms. So if the best article on my topic appears in a journal that is exclusive to Lexis, I wouldn’t find it if I prefer using Hein. Indexes on the other hand are (in theory) source neutral – the ICLL indexes all relevant Canadian literature regardless of provider.
The indexes also can’t be beat if you are trying to survey the literature on a topic. If I wanted to find out what has been written on the courts’ use of a proportionality analysis in dealing with freedom of religion issues, I suppose I could craft a keyword search that I could run separately on Lexis, Westlaw and Hein – and I might be able to filter out all the irrelevant and duplicate hits. Or I could go to LegalTrac and take advantage of the controlled vocabulary the index uses and simply search for the subject terms “religion” and “proportionality” – I might miss something, but I can be certain that the articles I find truly deal with both my issues.
I will miss CLI and I hope that despite the demise of the Legal Journals Index that the other established indexes continue.