5 Reasons Why You Need to Know Both LexisLibrary and Westlaw for the OSCE Assessment


osce legal research westlaw lexis

What is the OSCE

The Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) is designed by the SRA to assess the knowledge and skills of lawyers qualified outside of England & Wales, to gauge their suitability to be admitted as solicitors. One of the ways the SRA does this is through the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE), which is Part II of the QLTS.

The OSCE tests the way lawyers approach practical legal problems, through five different sets of skills. These skills are legal writing, legal drafting, interviewing and advising, advocacy, and online legal research.

About Online Legal Research

Each of these five skills are assessed through a different scenario-based exercise, known as OSCE stations. The online legal research exercise requires you to research and write up legal advice for a specific scenario, using only electronic legal research tools.

For the purposes of the OSCE, you are only permitted to use either or both of the two leading online academic legal research services, LexisLibrary and Westlaw. Each of these services includes a combination of primary legal resources, i.e. consolidated legislation and caselaw, and commentary texts used by practitioners to get an analysis of how the law is implemented in practice.

Because there is a significant amount of overlap between LexisLibrary and Westlaw, some OSCE candidates pick just one of them to learn and rely on for the legal research exercise. But there are a number of reasons why this could be a bad idea.

1. Get to know their content strengths

Users familiar with each service understand that when you are carrying out legal research under pressure of time (and when is a lawyer ever not under pressure of time?!), you need to work efficiently. To do this, you need to understand quickly what the most direct way to getting accurate information will be. LexisLibrary’s great strength is Halsbury’s Laws of England, which encompasses all of English law in one multi-volume work. When researching an issue you are not already familiar with, Halsbury’s can be the quickest way to get a basic understanding of the law, and copious references to all the relevant primary resources.

On the other hand, Westlaw also contains certain works renowned for their authority on specific issues. For example, Chitty on Contracts is widely regarded as the definitive guide to English contract law, Archbold is the bible for Criminal Procedure, while the White Book is the resource for Civil Procedure.

Knowing where to turn to get a head start on your research could really make the difference. Although you have 60 minutes to complete the legal research assessment, you need to allow at least 15 minutes for reading the question, planning your research, and writing up your advice and sources.

If you are unaware of which content might help you, or don’t know how to access the content effectively, you’re making the task harder than it needs to be.

2. Technical Issues

Aside from overlapping content, one other thing that both LexisLibrary and Westlaw have in common is their tendency to suffer technical issues (sometimes at vital moments!). If you are having to rely on your proficiency with only one of them, and that service is the one suffering from technical issues during the assessment, you may struggle to do yourself justice.

Each of the 60 minutes for completing the assessment is precious, so it is vital you do not lose time working from a less familiar database. This could seriously affect your prospect of success.

Legal research can be hard enough without trying to figure out how to use the system at the same time. To avoid any concerns of being affected by technical issues, the smart choice is to learn both services.

3. Cross-checking for accuracy

While both LexisLibrary and Westlaw claim to update their content within 24 hours, there are occasions when they fail to live up to this. This can be particularly important when checking recent updates to legislation, as the process for updating legislation can be lengthy.

If you are in doubt about the currency of the version you are looking at on one service, you can simply cross-check with the other service to make sure you are using up to date law.

4. Legislation differences

Earlier we mentioned different resources available on LexisLibrary and Westlaw which could help you with your research. But there are also differences in how legislation is presented to users, each with advantages. And we’re not just talking about stylistic differences. For example, most users researching EU legislation find Westlaw significantly easier to use.

Firstly, Westlaw has a specific tab for EU law research, and then the actual content is presented in a very user-friendly layout. LexisLibrary, on the other hand, places its EU legislation under International Legislation, a relatively obscure link on the left hand side of the main legislation search page, and then everything that follows is far less user-friendly. To its advantage, though, LexisLibrary’s legislation includes on-screen annotations from Halsbury’s Statutes, which can be viewed side-by-side with the actual wording of the statute. These annotations provide you with valuable, time-saving explanations of statutory phrases, and links to key cases and definitions.

The video below depicts the points discussed above:

5. Kaplan’s guidance

It is only natural that you will have a preference for one or the other of LexisLibrary and Westlaw. But Kaplan’s guidance makes clear that although either of these services can be used to find the answer to the research task, “in any particular case it may be easier to use one of these databases rather than the other”.

What they mean is that since you are searching for answers you likely are not already familiar with, one of the services may be easier to use because either it has better content on the topic, or the content is easier to find because of its search algorithm and presentation of results.

This goes to the heart of why legal research can be tricky. You need to know a little bit before you can find the detailed answer you need, and if your searches are coming up with nothing useful, it can be very frustrating.

For all the fantastic depth of content on both LexisLibrary and Westlaw, uninformed searches can still be time-consuming and pain-staking.

Kaplan also mention the fact that if there are any technical issues with one service, you will have to use the other service to carry out the research. The fear of that alone may be enough for some people to decide to learn both systems.

The overall expense of registering for the OSCE and travelling to London is significant, and it is worth making sure you pass on your first attempt.

In summary, it’s fine to have your favourite service, but it makes a lot of sense to get to know how to use both services well. The risk of one of them failing just when you need it is a realistic concern. But more than that, being able to use both systems confidently will help you save valuable time when thinking about how to approach the research task.

If you actually need Halsbury’s Laws of England to get a start on your research, but you only know how to use Westlaw, or don’t even know Halsbury’s exists, you could find it tough to complete the task correctly. Or if you need to find an EU regulation, but only know LexisLibrary, again, you may be slowed down significantly.

Overall, being proficient with both services is the smart move, and could make the difference between success and failure. To learn more about the OSCE assessment and how to prepare effectively for it, take a look at our OSCE Toolkit.

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