Lexis Opened For Business with Only About 5,000 Cases


Lexis is one of the most prominent electronic legal research services in the United States. Yet, when it opened for use, it had only “5,000 cases” in its database, according to a computer expert, then working for the Federal Reserve Bank, in the s.

The U.S. Supreme Court alone probably issued that many decisions, counting only those after full oral argument, in about thirty years, and it was roughly 200 years old, plus there were about a dozen Federal appellate courts, about eight dozen Federal district courts, and 50 State court systems with multiple courts each.

The company encouraged law students to report any cases that were missing, by offering credit for free research good for a student’s lifetime. So, students enthusiastically reported lots of cases missing and piled up their credits.

Then, Lexis staff would quickly type up cases that were missing.

My guess is that Lexis prioritized adding cases that were reported by multiple students around the country, thus who probably didn’t know each other, because those were likelier to have been assigned by professors for reading for classes and thus were actually needed by students.

I guess Lexis caught up years ago. I hope so, for the sake of people who search with keywords thinking that the service is searching all of the caselaw for matching results.

Lexis may not have been alone in starting a little short.

I was searching in an electronic database of periodicals for an article in Scientific American. I couldn’t find it but was certain it should be there. Finally, I switched from doing keyword searches and tried browsing issues chronologically, and discovered the database had the latest issues and the earliest issues but nothing in between. I think that database company eventually caught up for that title.