Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fed Tax Cage Match

It’s no secret that federal tax research is complex and highly technical. In the last decade, a number of specialized tax research databases have offered researchers increased choice—as well as increased confusion. LexisNexis, Westlaw, RIA Checkpoint, or CCH Tax Research Network: with this many options, who can decide where to begin?

The Goodson Law Library research guide to Federal Tax offers some comparison, but these tax research resources are far too comprehensive for us to describe in extensive detail. Fortunately, three tax professors at Loyola Law School (Los Angeles) have written The Virtual Tax Library: A Comparison of Five Electronic Tax Research Platforms. Although the article will be published in an upcoming issue of the Florida Tax Review, it is already available on SSRN (; click “Download” in the upper left-hand corner).

The 79-page article discusses the development of the five major fed tax research platforms, and tests each service with hypothetical research questions. The authors offer opinionated commentary on search function and ease of use; Appendix A compares the contents of each service in a helpful chart format. Unsurprisingly, the authors ultimately recommend a “blended” approach to tax research, but their analysis (and screenshots!) will undoubtedly prove educational to anyone approaching these complicated services.

Duke Law has access to all but one of the five resources tested (the BNA Tax Management Library is not available electronically at Duke, although the Goodson Law Library does maintain a print collection of the popular Tax Management Portfolios in the Tax Alcove on Level 2). For fed tax researchers at Duke, this comparison is a must-read.