Vol. 10 No. 3 — March 2002
Guilt and Money
by Barbara QuintEditor, Searcher Magazine
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Last month, Quint and Associates, the DBA (Doing Business As) name I use as a working searcher, had an explosion of requests from one of my oldest and dearest clients. Instead of search requests coming in two or three a month, it jumped to sometimes as many as two or three a day. If it continued, I thought I might even be forced to remind the client, in somewhat admonitory tones, that there was a recession on and some of us clearly were not acting our part.

In the rush, I started racking up search charges on the commercial services. Two of those charges seemed so unjust that they sent my temper flaring. Naturally, that also sent me to the keyboard before me. I probably should not give the name of the vendor ... OK, it was LexisNexis. Now mighty LexNex has an ocean of data and, as we all know, a wonderful collection of tools for lawyers. Usually this client has their own routes for legal information and looks to me for news and business information, but in their haste on this project, they needed me to search legal sources too. While I feel fairly comfortable with the news (aka Nexis) side of LexNex, I always get nervous when heading into the jungle of legal data.

LexisNexis has always had the reputation among professional searchers as being an expensive, "top-dollar" online service. Actually, if you know a trick or two and have time to trade for money, you can pick up some real bargains, particularly if you use the "session record" function in the proprietary service while searching the masses of full-text data. The transactional pricing structure at LexNex has a relatively unique option of charging by the search statement and letting you record any amount of results for no additional charge (with the exception of a relatively modest telecommunication time charge). Of course, you have to clean up the search results, which arrive fairly messy, but there are software packages that can help with that. (Hmm. Let me drop a note to our "Tools of the Trade" columnists to see if they can review those packages soon.) Bottom line: If you foresee downloading lots and lots of hits from a full-text file under budget constraints, try LexisNexis with the "session record" function.

But watch out!! Some kinds of searches make this kind of pricing dangerous and painful. In fact, the very structure of some sources, e.g., public record files or court activity analysis files like Verdictsearch, makes it necessary for professional searchers to find some other pricing option. As it happens, LexNex does offer hourly pricing. You may have to spend a fair amount of time online — or call customer service — to get the rates, but definitely make the effort before you approach those files. Once you have the rates — and have picked yourself and your chair up from where it fell when you toppled over, prepare your searches very, very carefully, do stretching exercises on your fingers, disable the ringer on your phone, use the facilities (this is empty-bladder searching). Ready? ZOOM!! In and OUT!!! On and OFF!!

If you do not follow my sage advice, you will regret it. I know I did when I got an $87 bill — that's EIGHTY-SEVEN DOLLARS — for a search statement request to which one of these high-priced, authoritative databases had NO answer. I was livid. Thoughts of Factiva's pricing where you pay NOTHING to search, only for what you find and want, began to dance in my head. To be fair to LexNex, however, I was shocked to find my client still quite happy. They actually wanted me to take on more searches of the particular files involved. Apparently, in the past they had used the online services of the database producer who originated those files. That producer arranged the files by state, charging some $50 a pop for each state searched. The LexNex OMNI function let one search all the states in one swoosh, so it still came out cheaper for the client.

So was I wrong, and were the client and LexNex right? Two out of three! The client was right to be happy over saving money on their current search practices. I was wrong not to check on those rates in advance and work out alternative, budget-conscious search techniques, no matter how rushed by client demands. But no vendor is ever right when giving the impression that they're trying to get something for nothing out of you. No one should ever charge you $87 or anything like that just to tell you they cannot answer your question. And this can happen all too often with commercial online services, not just LexisNexis. 

Professional searchers may accept the "win-some-lose-some" search experiences, knowing that the overall advantages of online searches on commercial services outweigh the occasional losses on individual unproductive searches. End-users, however, may just see the gambling aspect. They may come to regard commercial services' claims to be sober, reliable providers of services for a fair price as a self-serving fiction concealing an "Internet Information Casino," where any search is a crap-shoot for the bettor but the house always wins. 

Nonetheless, the greatest guilt in this case falls on me. As a professional searcher, it is my job to defend my client's interests by ensuring that the client gets value received for their information dollar through the acquisition of the most relevant, accurate, and authoritative information available at the best possible price/time payment. It is my job to guard the client's wallet as though it were my own.

As the editor of Searcher, I'll try to do better for my reader-clients than I did for my Quint and Associates' client in that depressing and shameful experience. For one thing, this month's cover story by Mary Ellen Bates warns all Dialog searchers of when to use connect-time pricing (almost always) and when DialUnits (almost never). And there are a lot more ways this publication can help searchers in their changing role as guardians of their client institutions' information interests, needs, and budgets. 

In fact, I think I may initiate a personal research project on LexisNexis' price rates. So, look out, Dayton—here I come! 
Barbara Quint's e-mail address is
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