WestlawNext — Has Electronic Research Taken a Giant Leap Forward?

I remember when electronic research was first introduced.  Like all new concepts which arrive at the door of a law firm, the greeting was cold at best.  I remember that there was only one attorney out of thirteen who was willing to even endure the demonstration.  He did it more to strut his “leading edge” technology knowledge than because of any genuine interest in enhancing his search capabilities.  Step forward many years to another firm which now offered both a traditional library and Westlaw.  Newly-minted lawyers gravitated toward the technology they learned and used in law school — Westlaw — while the rest of the lawyers of the firm ignored it, and mistrusted any research done on their cases which didn’t also incorporate good old-fashioned research in the text volumes. 

One day, the firm’s managing partner returned from a gruesome defeat in court, with a strong  message for all the firm’s attorneys and paralegals.  He had lost his case because his diligent research through the text volumes failed to reveal an important case which the opposition had found using that darned new-fangled electronic research tool.  The lesson:  electronic research became the primary, and ultimately in most cases, the only tool used from that point hence.

It was not a perfect solution.  Not everything can be researched successfully electronically.  It may not be there, depending on the area of law.  Or the key words for finding it may not be easily apparent.  And much of the indexing depended on what the reviewer felt was relevant.   But for most firms, it became the tool of attorneys who exercised reasonable care and diligence on behalf of clients.    Thankfully, publishers have kept their noses to the grindstone to maintain relevance by improving reviewing, indexing, and search capabilities. 

Westlaw’s newest product, WestlawNext, is out of beta.  One of the beta testers, Pete Haskel, an Assistant City Attorney at  the City of Dallas City Attorney’s Office, recently posted links on ABA’s LawTech listserv  to independent (not created through “West’s marketing machine” as he describes it) early reviews of this product.  With gratitude, I share them with you here.

Mary Cannon Veed reviewed WestlawNext for the ABA, available online as PDF download at https://www.abanet.org/tips/brief/brief_v39n4_WestlawNext.pdf , originally published in The Brief, Volume 39, Number 4, Summer 2010.  You will probably find this to be the most helpful introduction and overall explanation of the product.

University of Connecticut School of Law has collected some thoughtful short reviews:  http://www.law.uconn.edu/content/roundup-westlawnext-reviews.

 Law librarians’ early evaluations are collected at  Law Library Technology:  http://lawlibrarytech.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/review-of-westlaw-next/

ABA Journal Tech had an early WLNext/Lexis next generation comparison: Exclusive: Inside the New Westlaw, Lexis & Bloomberg Platforms,  ABA Journal – Law News Now.

With the addition of some artificial intelligence-like capabilities, and the elimination of the somewhat artificial database structure (which helped in areas you were very knowledgeable in, but interfered where you were not) a new world of search results, with much greater likelihood of finding the rare needle in the haystack, may finally be available, and for possibly less than you are currently paying.

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