Law Journal Indexes – Still Relevant?

[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.


  1. I agree with you totally, John. The misapprehension that more is better makes research so much more onerous for students nowadays. Having fewer one stop shops which are vendor neutral is not good. It is hard to explain to vendors that the human touch in intelligent selection and indexing of articles is still a worthwhile expenditure, and even clever algorithms aren’t a substitute for good indexes and indexers.

  2. I agree with both John and Ruth on this; to a researcher a good index is a gold mine, and the skill and knowledge required of the indexer is too often over looked; they are not mere drudges.

    I can see the economics of the publisher’s decision to stop producing the paper CLI, however regrettable this is.

    ICLL is of course more than just an index, it is also an ongoing bibliography of legal Canadiana, and such it is a fundamental research tool in Canadian law; however, what it lacks in the online version is hyperlinks to the text of the source itself, which however good the indexing, is now pretty much the expectation of most users including myself, which is a project somebody should take on to remedy.

  3. Gary P Rodrigues

    1. An Index that links to every article is a dream project that only a public body such as the archives could implement.

    2. Tracking and clearing copyrights for individual articles would be a colossal task even if theoretically possible. For that reason, the project would not be viable as a commercial undertaking even if the major publishers could agree to work collaboratively on such a project.

    3. As for the commercial publishers, a user cannot expect that either Westlaw or Lexis would make its proprietary journals available to the other. They are used to create a preference for one service as opposed to the other. It would be nice nonetheless.

    4. Both the quantitative and qualitative edge in journal offerings will decisively shift to Westlaw when and if the Canada Law Book journals are included in the Westlaw journal collection. Canada Law Book traditionally sought to protect the print revenue streams and was unwilling to make its journals available through Quicklaw or Westlaw.

  4. David Collier-Brown

    A good index and a controlled vocabulary are what one should start with when building a (computer) search service, as it guarantees relevancy. Search services specializing in opinions held by the public (ie, “cloudsourced” ones like Google) are a much weaker tool, and generate huge numbers of false positives.

    In a science, or in the law, one can have indexes which amount to facts, something which cannot be done in non-sciences.


  5. John,

    I’m afraid you are somewhat misinformed – while CLI is being discontinued (and I for one will miss the CLI hardcopy citators) the Legal Journals Index is still available through Westlaw UK.

  6. Hi John

    It appears there may be some confusion arising from our announcement that we are closing down CLI at the end of April.

    Whilst this is correct, the Legal Journals Index will live on in Westlaw UK. We recognise what a useful and valued tool it is and see it as a vital part of our journals service. Westlaw UK contains all the content that was housed on CLI and has far superior search and browse functionality. We are continuing to invest in the service to make the user experience as easy and straightforward as possible. Look out for plenty of new enhancements in 2012!

    If you have any concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us on

    Hope this clears up any misunderstanding.

    The Westlaw UK team

  7. John Papadopoulos

    I am happy to hear that the Legal Journals Index will live on. My apologies for linking the demise of the CLI to a concern about the continued viability of the LJI. Still it has been a good discussion.