Brown & Little, P.L.C. » Practice in General » Fix Your Index!

Fix Your Index!

The folks at West and Lexis have a history of sending me things I don’t want. Years ago, I recall getting unsolicited boxes from Thomson Reuters (West) and Reed Elsevier (Lexis) containing books on things like scientific evidence and cross-examination. They were accompanied by invoices designed to make it look like someone at my office actually ordered the items inside. They had call identification numbers for calls Adrian and I never made, and reference numbers for orders we never placed.

They may be sneaky over there at West and Lexis, but you have to get up pretty early in the morning to pull a fast one on Brown & Little, P.L.C. We figured out the scam and returned the books each time. In one instance, we had to fight with Reed Elsevier to get them to send us a mailing label to cover return postage. There’s no shortage of moxie over there at Lexis.

Admittedly, West and Lexis publish some things that are useful. For a criminal defense lawyer in Arizona, a copy of the current West’s Arizona Criminal Law and Rules is an important tool. Lexis makes a version of the same thing. Most good criminal attorneys in state court keep a copy of one version in their briefcase, ready to pull out when necessary.

Considering that they’re publishing what is clearly intended to be a quick-reference guide for Arizona criminal law, you would expect them to put a little time into the index. Not the case. I think West’s criminal law book has the worst index I’ve ever used, and Lexis’s isn’t that much better.

If you want to find the list of factors a court must consider when considering a change in your client’s release conditions, you’re probably going to look up “release conditions,” right? Well, no such category exists. Neither does “change of release” or “conditions of release.” The dozen or more sub-categories under plain old “release” don’t include anything about the factors to consider for release.

You have to go to “bail and recognizances,” which fills three pages with tiny font and includes over one hundred sub-categories, to find relevant information. “Factors” isn’t one of those sub-categories. You’d only find the actual statute looking for “officers and fiduciaries” or other seemingly unrelated terms.

Generally, the problem with the index is its excessive use of enormous categories. Instead of devoting 17 pages to the category of “crimes and offenses,” why not just list each of the crimes and offenses separately? Why have huge categories of “assault and battery” or “forgery” in addition to the general crimes category?

I’ve never written a book, let alone a reference book, so I don’t know if there are special rules about index writing. There could be traditional but seemingly archaic rules for index-writing and I may have just happened to miss out on learning that venerable tradition, but I have a hunch that West and Lexis just suck at writing a useful index.

If anyone at West or Lexis is reading this, please, do me a favor. Sort out your index and make it a little more user-friendly. If you do, I might even keep the updated version if you send it to me unsolicited. Maybe.

Filed under: Practice in General · Tags: , , , , , ,

5 Responses to "Fix Your Index!"

  1. [...] price, they latch on and squeeze every dime out of every lawyer they can find. Like West and Lexis sending my firm things we didn’t order along with a misleading invoice, companies of some repute often seem more than happy to throw [...]

  2. Adrian says:

    Matt,
    Remember the woman soliciting advertisement for a certain high school charity that would call every year for three years and say “your partner ordered (insert something) please send payment.”? That was clever and classy and it almost worked…once.

    Hewler,
    If I recall correctly, I actually had to threaten to burn the books. It was the entire Arizona Revised Statutes so it would have made a cheery, multicolored fire.

  3. Matt Brown says:

    I wonder why that is. Given the stakes and the fact getting information quickly is sometimes essential, you’d think it would be one of the best indexed disciplines.

  4. Jeff Gamso says:

    When I started law school after 15 years as an English graduate student and then college instructor, I concluded that law was the most heavily and badly indexed discipline I’d ever run across. As you recognize, things haven’t gotten any better in the decades since.

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