WestlawNext Review: Ending the tyranny of the keyword?

by Jason Wilson on January 28, 2010

At the beginning of this week, I was fortunate enough to get to spend some quality time with fellow legal information professionals at the Thomson Reuters headquarters in Eagan, Minnesota to discuss the history and future of the new Westlaw, which we now all know as WestlawNext (on February 8th, it will be found at “next.westlaw.com”). [Disclosure: Thomson Reuters paid for the flight, hotel accommodations, and incidentals.] And over the last two weeks, I have been lucky enough to use WestlawNext in my own research, and have learned a fair bit about its capabilities beyond what we were told this week. If you haven’t seen Jason Eiseman‘s video of me, the always entertaining Tom Boone, and the desperately in need of hair coloring Greg Lambert, at Jason’s blog or on Henderson Valley Eggs, I suggest you skip over there for a bit and spend some time watching it because the video is perhaps the most honest, off-the-cuff assessment of the product you’ll find on the Tubes right now.

QUICK TAKE.

I like it, a lot. Thomson Reuters Legal (TRL) has put together a pretty solid offering that tackles, in my estimation, what Seth Godin calls the “paradox of the middle of the market:”

The middle of the market is a paradox because of the inherent contradiction between the ease of reaching the nerds and the geeks and the need to reach the middle. The solution, if there is one, is to enter a market to the enthusiastic cheers of those in search of the new, but to build a product/service that appeals to those in the middle. After the initial wave of enthusiasm, you hunker down and ignore those that first embraced you, obsessing instead on the needs and networks of the middle. It’s a difficult balancing act, but it’s the only one that works. Seth Godin, The paradox of the middle of the market (June 28, 2009)

WestlawNext does a good job of satisfying those who want a new, modern interface with some Web 2.0 bells and whistles without sacrificing core functionality. Not everyone is going to be satisfied though, and that’s the point because most users will. And the loudest voices won’t come from the nerds and geeks wondering where all their social media tools are, it will come from the established among us, the Boolean diehards. In fact, if you listen carefully now, you can already hear their rising cacophony of shouts, “Give me Terms and Connectors, or give me Death!”

INTRODUCING WESTSEARCH.

WestlawNext represents five years of extensive research and design, and to build it, TRL had to go back to the drawing board with customers. They already knew that its customers access Westlaw for two primary reasons: to retrieve a known document or to engage in exploratory issue-based research. So how to improve the experience and the results was undeniably key to their efforts, the linchpin being search. I’m not sure, but the entire thing may have gotten started with the simple question—

How do you know when you’re done with research?

According to TRL, the academic answer was “I stop when I start seeing the same results.” I tend to agree with this answer because it is similar to my own, namely, “I stop when I think I’m chasing that same crazy rabbit again.” Interestingly, the in-the-field answer was “I have a deadline and have to stop at a certain point.” I’m assuming this question lead to many others, such as

  • How do we move the most relevant cases to the top of the search results?
  • How does a customer know where information can be found when they don’t even know what databases to look in (beyond the obvious ones, like case law, statutes, etc.)?
  • Can we simplify the search syntax a customer must employ to find relevant material?

TRL claims to have found the answers to all of their search questions with their newest offering called “WestSearch.” WARNING: Old Westlaw ideas should be left at the door at this point.

WestlawNext is powered by WestSearch, and the combination is billed as “intuitive global search,” which, as I understand it, means that it combines federated search and a new algorithm for determining relevancy. Federated search (one search over multiple databases, in this case 40,000) is not new to Westlaw, but in the way it has been implemented in WestlawNext it is. As for the new algorithm—WestSearch—it uses the following “components” to determine relevancy:

  • Key Number System. “This is the foundation of WestSearch. Because thousands of West attorney editors have read, summarized and classified the law by topic for over 100 years, WestSearch can identify the topics of law best represented by the terms of your search and return highly relevant documents for those topics, even if the documents don’t have the terms you put into the search box.”
  • KeyCite. “KeyCite maps the citation network among all federal and state cases in West’s National Reporter System (as well as over 1 million unpublished cases), federal and state statutes, and thousands of secondary source publications. WestSearch™ analyzes the rich connections among documents, making your results more inclusive and bringing the most relevant documents to the top of the list.”
  • West Secondary Sources. “With thousands of practice guides, legal encyclopedias, and authoritative treatises, WestSearch™ can find primary law that is heavily discussed in each jurisdiction and detect similar phrases that apply to your concepts.”
  • Customer Searches & Meaningful Interactions. “[WestSearch] also learns from the usage of all WestlawNext researchers, so that the great results you get today just get better and better.”
  • Term frequency, a measure of how often a relevant term is found in a given document.
  • Term proximity, a measure of how close relevant terms are to each other in a given document.
  • Term co-occurrence, a measure of how often relevant terms are found in the same sentence. (I think.)

The last three are currently used in Westlaw search. The first four, if you didn’t guess already, are new. You might have noticed that I included “meaningful interactions” in the concepts list. Meaningful interactions, which is not officially defined by the WestSearch literature, refers to the relationship between search results and the WestlawNext researcher. For example, assume a researcher’s query yields 82 results. The researcher scans the results and views 12 of them. The fact the researcher viewed 12 of the results is important, but it isn’t meaningful. The interaction with the results becomes meaningful when the user prints, emails, or KeyCites it. If the researcher has a meaningful interaction with multiple results, then the results become meaningful to each other as well, thus enhancing relevancy as it relates to the subject matter of the query. Because customer searches are part of the algorithm, search queries are undoubtedly married up to yield even better results, particularly over time.

In thinking about how to describe WestSearch, the only term I could think of was “awareness.” It is attempting to move beyond the specific terms you’re seeking and trying to give you results that are highly relevant to the concept you’re thinking about. It wants to make associations between words, particularly associations you aren’t considering or don’t know about.

WestSearch: Hello Dave, what would you like to find today?
Dave: No worries, I know what I’m looking for. Thanks.
WestSearch: I appreciate you think that Dave, but you should let me help you.
Dave: That’s really not necessary.
WestSearch: Dave, I know you are a smart human, but you cannot possibly know and understand the millions, if not billions, of connections between different words and phrases as they might relate to the information you are seeking. I already know what you’re thinking Dave, even before you have typed it.
Dave:  Look, I just want to use my terms and connectors to find what I need.
WestSearch: I’m sorry Dave, I can’t let you waste your time that way.

Okay, I kid. As Greg Lambert pointed out, WestSearch is an algorithm, not artificial intelligence.  But it is trying to act that way.

BUILDING THE INTERFACE

Solving search was undoubtedly the first step in the WestlawNext overhauling, but the results would be less magical without a new interface. According to Mike Dahn, V.P. of WestlawNext Product Development and the person responsible for leading the team building the new interface, the redesign process was multi-faceted:

  • Usability testing, which involved customers using prototypes.
  • Workflow observations, which took into consideration how a customer researches, namely, by choosing a database, entering a search query, scanning results, evaluating documents, browsing with linking tools (e.g., KeyCite, ResultsPlus), rinsing, and repeating. To state the obvious, this is an iterative process. What they also found was that customers only look at the top five results (WTF? Top five! Can you believe that?), and if they don’t see what they were looking for, they assume their search was bad.
  • Log analysis, which required in-house attorneys to recreate customer’s research sessions to see if they could improve on timing to results.
  • Eye tracking, which examined customers’ pupils to determine what areas they were looking at on the screen. The heat map we were showed indicated that those examined followed a standard “f shape” format, which was consistent with findings the Poynter Institute has made about how people read on the Tubes.
  • Design reviews, which put prototypes in front of hundreds of lawyers in ballrooms to determine what they preferred (i.e., what felt well and looked good to them).
  • Performance testing, which asked practitioners to perform legal research based on specific research questions.  TRL actually worked with partners at firms to create “assignments” for associates who would perform the research, to get more real-world results. The associates were paid their hourly rate, and given a bonus if they were able to complete the assignment early. The associates had no idea they were test subjects.
  • Co-design sessions, which brought together users and designers to work through the layout of the site. Interestingly, the image we saw of one of these sessions showed a white board with the notations “make it like Google” along the bottom.

This research approach helped TRL learn many things about what its users needed and wanted to interact with TRL’s 40,000 databases. The result, in my opinion, works well.

Logging in.

When you login into WestlawNext, you’ll be presented with a request for your Username and Password only. Gone are the days of having to plug in your ClientID.

Welcome page.

After you’ve logged in, you’ll hit the Welcome Page, which will ask you to select (from a drop-down menu) your ClientID. It will also give you the option of return to one of your five last research results. I should note at this time, the concept of “research trail” has been obliterated from the WestlawNext vernacular. It is now just simply “My Research.”

Home page.

Selecting your ClientId and hitting continue gets you to your home page.

home_page

Notice how clean it looks? Nice and white, almost airy even. I think one of the first things to point out is the fact that this page is widgetized. Down in the bottom left corner, you’ll notice the “Edit Homepage” button. From there, you can select the default items that appear on this screen, all of which are currently shown. It was mentioned during our meeting this week that new widgets will be released over time, and I look forward to seeing what other functionality they might add to the page (without cluttering it of course).

The most obvious feature on this page is Search. As I mentioned earlier, it is federated, so you will be performing a search across all 40,000 of TRL’s databases. We’ll get to pricing later, but suffice it to say, this was the only way for TRL to go. Greg Lambert captured it best when he said that it eliminates the fear associated with searching Westlaw databases.

Search is limited by a single filter, jurisdiction, which is accessible from the drop down menu to the right of the search box. You can, however, limit your search by the “Browse” feature. Selecting “Cases,” for example, will take you to a page that lets you search all Federal, all states, or narrow it by Federal circuit, state, or topic. You can also “star” that page as a favorite, which will show up in the Favorites folder on the Homepage. Also, at the top of that screen, the Search box will show you it is in “Search Cases” only mode. In my personal use so far, I would almost suggest they eliminate the browse feature altogether, but that’s just me, and I would understand why users converting from old Westlaw would want it.

As indicated earlier, Search is not Boolean, although it will sort of switch over to it when you use terms and connectors (but quotes don’t work), or Natural Language Search. I do think TRL is going to have a tough time getting away from the phrase “Plain Language Search” because that’s what all of their reference attorneys referred to it as. I don’t care what they call it though because it’s really about what it does.

To be clear about the Boolean issue, which is a hot topic right now, if Search detects Boolean syntax, then it will switch to Boolean. But when the results are given, apparently sometime next year you will have a notification that says “additional relevant content available,” which will allow you to view those results or add them to your list. But right now, you won’t get it. With that said, in my personal results, I had problems with the use of quotations. It turns out, if you want to run a phrase with quotations, Search will not return cases just with the phrase. To limit your results with just the phrase, you will have to put the phrase into the “Search Within Results” box on the results screen, which I’ll point out later. Everything searched within that box is on a Boolean basis, so you can still narrow WestSearch results with Boolean, it’s just not as handy to do so. Around April or May, WestlawNext will get an “advanced search template,” which will allow you to formulate more “sophisticated queries.”

Now, we’ve already talked about the algorithm, so really all we’re interested in here is what does Search do with the words that I type into it? Here’s what I know:

  • Fixes misspelled words.
  • Terms do not need to be in any particular order.
  • Finds related legal concepts (e.g., if you type in a legal term of art, Search will consider sources using the latin variant of that term).
  • Adjusts for keyword mismatching (e.g., one jurisdiction may refer to something as a “motion in limine,” while another calls it “motion to exclude evidence”). I think of this as semantic search because Search is considering all of the variants of terms queried by jurisdiction and returning the results that are relevant for the jurisdiction you’re searching.  Another example would be whether you know if Missouri calls it “driving under the influence” or “driving while intoxicated.” While you may be able to find the answer eventually, the goal of Search is to give you the correct answer regardless of what you asked it, as long as you selected the correct jurisdiction.
  • Allows for fact-based searching. In other words, just plug in facts and it will return results.
  • Will eventually show you “related topics,” or additional terms you might want to use.

In future releases, you may be able to shortcut the system by typing in phrases such as “keycite {a citation}” to go directly to the KeyCite page, or “toc {title of secondary source}” to go directly to the secondary source’s table of contents.

Going back to the Homepage, you’ll notice across the right top of the screen that you can change your ClientID on the fly (drop-down menu), select your research folders, a mysterious option called “Next,” and sign off. Let’s pick up with “My Research.”

In WestlawNext, you now have the option to save a research result to a folder (it is in the form of a link, so you aren’t actually saving a digital copy to a folder on TRL’s servers). You can have as many folders as you like, and will be able to move, copy, rename, delete, export (references or all content if you want it for offline usage), and share folders. On share, you can select the folders you want, choose your recipients, and limit the type of access they have (read only, modify, etc.).  All sharing will require a WestlawNext subscription, however. If contents of the folder will be kept up to date by WestlawNext (the system is trying to ensure the information you’ve saved won’t go stale). When a new document is put online that affects what is in the folder, you can get an email alert of that activity or will be alerted when you log into the system and view your folder. These alerts are not the same kinds of alerts you are used to getting with Westlaw Alerts, which are search based. The WestlawNext alerts use WestSearch to find relevant documents. Also, when when you export a folder to your desktop, it will be a zip file and there is no ability to sync that data with WestLawNext to keep it from going stale like online folders.

The “Next” link is curious, and one that I think is pretty cool for the average user. It’s sort of a roadmap for new feature integration, letting you know what kinds of things will be added to WestlawNext over the coming months. A couple of the more interesting ones I saw were the ability to search notes you’ve added to documents and “Voting & Commenting,” which will allow users to comment (and see other’s comments) on WestlawNext features.

Finally, you might have noticed on the Browse page that there were a few options with a pages-and-upward-arrow icon. That means the databases have not been ported over to WestlawNext yet, and so it will take you to old Westlaw for access to the information. TRL is working hard to get all of those databases over to the new system, which is entirely separate from the old one.

Results Page

Once you’ve executed a search, you’ll be taken to the Results Page. The default view is called “Overview,” and in the opinion of one TRL reference attorney, it is probably one of the most important, but easily overlooked, features of WestlawNext. After search, however, you can modify the default results page from Overview to, for example, cases.

result_list_1280

The screencap above shows the “Cases” page. Just looking it over is pretty self-explanatory. Global results are displayed on the left-hand side by type of source, and you’ll notice at the bottom of that list, WestKM is integrated into the search results. You can also narrow the results list by

  • Searching within results (this is where you can drill down using a boolean search).
  • Jurisdiction.
  • Date. At the meeting, we saw a mock up of a date-range histogram with slider controls for date restriction and were told this would be implemented at some point in the future.
  • Published or unpublished.
  • Topic.
  • Judge.
  • Attorney.
  • Law Firm.
  • Key Number.
  • Party.
  • Docket Number
  • Viewed within the last 30 days.
  • Show Documents either saved to a folder or not saved to a folder.

The filtering for judges, attorneys, law firms, key number, party, and docket number are pretty cool because WestlawNext uses a dialog box that then allows you to basically search within the results without navigating away from the page, and will show you the number of cases within the results that match your filter. This can be a bad thing, however, because you don’t know where the search result appears in your list, meaning, the farther away from the top, the more likely it isn’t that relevant to your search. So, it is possible filters will cost you some extra time.

In the middle of the page, just below the search box, you’ll see that you can sort the results by relevance, date, citation count, and customer usage. Just to the right of that, you’ll notice that you have a drop-down menu that will allow you to show more or less summary information in the results list, a button to add selected cases to a research folder (you can also just drag-and-drop the cases to the folder in the upper-right-hand corner, and a drop-down menu to select a delivery method (e.g., print, email).

On the right-hand side of the page, you’ll see what are called “Related Documents” (also seen as “Find Related” in other parts of the site). Although similar to the old Results Plus feature of Westlaw (which covered something like 300 secondary sources), Related Documents covers nearly all of the secondary source material (about 6,000 resources), and the algorithm that puts the related material together is “more sophisticated” than the Results Plus application used. However, Related Documents is not the same as the information included in “Secondary Sources” on the left-hand side. I’m a bit unclear about why I would use Related Documents given the fact that Search looks at all of the databases, presumably including the 6,000 secondary sources in the Related Documents results. Given that WestSearch is considered the best and most powerful algorithm on WestlawNext (Related Documents uses a different one), it seems like I should first review the results listed under Secondary Sources category before consulting Related Documents. Anyway, I have more to say about secondary sources later, none of it good.

Finally, if you take a look to the right of the Burger King Corp. case, you’ll notice a pair of glasses. Glasses show you what you’ve looked at within the last 30 days, and as I mentioned above, you can filter your results by the cases you haven’t looked at.

Document View

If you select a case, it takes you to a document view like the following page:

document_1280

Again, fairly self-explanatory, which is one of the things I enjoy most about the site. It is very Web 2.0ish in that it doesn’t require a lot of thinking about what this or that is for or will do if I click it. One of the nicer enhancements to cases (and statutes and the host of other material) is the use of tabs to segregate all the related meta associated with it. If you look across the top of the case, you’ll notice that you can now jump to related filings, negative treatment, history, citing references, and back to document. The layout is very clean, and Headnotes are now wrapped in their own collapsible frame. There’s a nice use of icons to represent Headnote numbers, which carries over into the citing references tab where the information is presented in a clean, dashboard-like interface. Although you can’t see it on this sample page, you can change the view of the Headnotes to show you the taxonomy of the specific Key Number you’re looking at. It’s a quick reference for determining whether you want to go farther up in the taxonomy to expand your search. Of course, you can also hide all of the Headnotes and jump right to the opinion.

Other items of interest include the ability to change the font and font size of the text depending on your preference for serifs and how blind you are. The most common fonts are Arial and Verdana at 15 pt type. And there isn’t an option for Comic Sans or Papyrus. You can also click on the reading mode feature (farthest right button on the menu bar), which will give you greater screen real estate to read the case. Think Kindle app.

Here’s another document view that includes the “Find Related” material I mentioned earlier.

DocDisplay_hires

Another feature integrated into WestlawNext is the context-sensitive menu that appears whenever you select text from a document.

DocDisplay_hires-content-view

The menu gives you the option of saving the selection (with references in BlueBook format I believe) to your active research folder, adding a note, highlighting, or copying with reference. Notes are added in the margins of the case and travel with the document when you put it in a folder and share with other WestlawNext users.

What’s important to understand about Document View is that it doesn’t really matter that you’re looking at screencaps of cases because it’s pretty much the same for everything else, with some minor variations. For example, with secondary sources, you’ll have the option to browse to the section before or after the one you’re looking at or to view the table of contents, in most cases. That last part is italicized because it doesn’t work all the time, which is hugely frustrating (among other things about secondary sources). I was assured that TRL was working to make sure that functionality was available for all secondary sources, but it would take time.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

As I said earlier, I’ve been using WestlawNext for the last couple of weeks and, on the whole, I really like it. I mean, if you are a current Westlaw user, you have to be ogling WestlawNext because it just looks sexier. And you know I’m right. What you should understand about my research habits, though, is that I am an avid—I mean avid—Loislaw user. Sure, there are limitations to their service, but as a power Boolean user I can crank through research sessions and get highly relevant results (read: rewarded) quickly.  The speed with which those results are delivered is unparalleled in the industry, and I appreciate the stripped down nature of the site. In many ways, it reminds me of the old Premise CDs, which we pounded on all the time back in the day.

I will admit, however, it has been fairly easy to give into WestlawNext. Maybe it’s the way she bats her eyes at me…, or because I’m not paying for it right now. But guess what? The results I’m getting are, in many cases, better than my Boolean queries on Loislaw, and I’m beginning to wonder if that percentage will, over time, exceed what I’m able to do through Boolean. After all, the idea is that WestSearch will get smarter over time, and better at finding results. That is, until it becomes self-aware and decides to open its own law firm and compete with every other firm … wait, sorry about that. WestSearch is just an algorithm, it … is … just … an algorithm.

Beyond its overall intelligence, the site is easy to use and intuitive. Search is right there. At the top. Where it should be. All the time. Like Google Chrome. I should always be able to search whenever I’m doing reading. And WestlawNext lets me do that. Every. Single. Time. Do not over look this functionality when it comes to efficiency because it is key. If you are considering the switch to this thing, you need to be asking whether and where it will give you those incremental gains in efficiency. It’s like the dual-monitor argument. Some people say it doesn’t do anything and is more of distraction than an enhancement (extension), and I say they’re assholes and don’t research and write for a living, like real lawyers. In other words, the value equation is what is it going to cost me to switch and how much more can I make if I do?

But despite all this niceness I’ve just heaped on the platform, it sucks almost completely and totally when it comes to secondary source material. Period, end of story. As Tom Boone put it on Tuesday, we are all taught to begin research with secondary sources. But I have found that the way secondary source material is presented (visually in results and document view) lacks respect for the authors of those publications. I am an author. I write tens of thousands of words a year in an effort to explain the law to my fellow lawyers in a way that makes sense. That effort should be mirrored online. It should acknowledge the author’s efforts and the customer’s need for an explanation, a primer, a substantive discussion, or whatever, about the law. It should create a unique experience. WestlawNext doesn’t live up to the billing of WestSearch when it comes to secondary sources. It doesn’t do a good enough job of showing me why I should be looking at this resource. Instead, it tries to shoehorn secondary sources into a results and document view built to look at cases, statutes, administrative decisions, court orders, and briefs. No, secondary sources deserve better, because in the end, those 6,000 publications will set Thomson Reuters Legal apart from the rest of the publishing industry.

That’s just my opinion.

I’ve also noticed that WestlawNext does not have an option for Get & Print. I don’t think we can read this as saying the service will be discontinued because for the foreseeable future, TRL is having to support two databases, namely Westlaw and WestlawNext. I assume they will tell its users just to continue using Westlaw for that option. I’ve asked for confirmation, and when I get it, I will post an update here.

OKAY, LET’S TALK TURKEY: WTF IS THIS GOING TO COST?

It is probably going to cost you 10 to 15% on top of your existing Westlaw contract. That is a total guess on the part of Jason Eiseman, Tom Boone, Greg Lambert, and myself. In fact, what we were told was that it would be a “modest premium” above your current Westlaw contract. Basically, your ability to negotiate will determine how much you pay for it.

Now that we understand that it is a cost over and above what you’re currently paying, we need to be fair to TRL and discuss the value proposition that is being offered, and I do think it is worth considering.

To kick this off, let’s consider what the goals for WestlawNext’s transactional (and to the same extent hourly) billing rates are:

  1. Simpler to understand
  2. Better alignment with value
  3. Help cost recovery for firms
  4. Encourages use of key WestlawNext features

Now, when I refer to “billing rates,” I’m talking about both QuickView charges, that is, charges that are covered under your plan (i.e., in-plan charges), but which represent “value received” when you’re talking to your representative before your contract renewal date, and “out of plan” charges. For the remainder of this discussion, I will use the term QuickView charges or  and out-of-plan charges to differentiate between the two.

WestlawNext starts out with the concept of “One search box with one search price.” The tag line is meant to convey that all federated searches are QuickView charges, and I believe are charged at the current lowest rate for a search on Westlaw. Before I move on, consider that for a second. If you selected every database on Westlaw right now and ran a search, how much would that cost? That includes databases not in your plan or in your jurisdiction. According to TRL, about $1,600, just for the search. Under the WestlawNext plan, you’re charged (all under plan, of course) a tiny fraction of that cost. This is why Greg Lambert said that WestlawNext pricing takes the fear out of searching all of Westlaw for relevant content; it is because it is so cheap to do so now.

Once you’ve obtained the search results, you can view all of the search results without incurring a QuickView charge. Nada. And I suggest that you show the most summary you can for the results pages to get the most benefit of your “free” preview (I believe the default is in the middle). You can also filter those results free of charge as well.You don’t incur a QuickView charge until you view a document, which costs approximately the same amount as doing a “Find” on Westlaw today. So for a case, a Find costs about $13. If you select KeyCite or Document Delivery features, you will incur a QuickView charge similar to what you are charged on Westlaw today.

Before I continue, I want to you to consider the pros and cons here. Under the current Westlaw, if you select a database and perform a search, you are charged one price, say $24. You are charged nothing else for looking at the cases in the results list until you decide to KeyCite or deliver to a printer or whatever. The question you need to know from your lawyers is how many searches they are executing to find relevant cases and whether they are using citation tools, such as KeyCite or KeyNumbers, to find other relevant results. The total value of those searches and citation tools will then need to be compared to what WestlawNext can deliver on the same search query. Now, you are charged in WestlawNext for document views, so you will need to factor in the cost of the search plus the cost of all the views. If WestlawNext is capable of delivering on its promise, that is, the most relevant results with your first search, you should come out ahead. Obviously, that’s not the only feature they are touting, but it’s the most obvious one. Well, and plus the fact that federated search might reveal other sources of information you didn’t even know existed. It’s hard to quantify this benefit, but I suspect it will depend on the nature of each firm’s practice.

Admittedly, the value question is nearly impossible to answer unless you get to try the service out first. And honestly, I would ask to do just that, particularly because it requires an enormous leap of faith. You should have a definitive plan in place for measuring performance though, otherwise it will just be a waste of everyone’s time.

Now, for the hourly user, here’s what’s included in your plan:

  • Home and content pages are always in plan.
  • Results list (time spent constructing queries and running search) is in plan.
  • There is an hourly rate for browsing overview, a different rate for browsing cases, and a different rate for viewing the document.
  • Searching in folders is free, and the documents in a folder can be accessed at no charge for 12 months after the initial chargeable view. If a document is moved to a folder and not viewed for the first time (i.e., the initial chargeable view) until it is in the folder, the user is switched to transactional and billed at the transactional rate for “first time view in folder.” And the year for looking at the document runs from the date the document was added to the folder.

Folder usage for both hourly and transactional has some additional billing considerations. First, if you share a document (through a folder) with someone else in your firm, and they view it, the firm will incur a QuickView charge. If the folder is shared with a client (also a WestlawNext user), and the client views the document, the client will incur a QuickView charge according to the rate established by its contract. However, there is no incremental charge above the contract rate for viewing the document in a shared folder.

Pricing classes are also being changed. Gone are the days of Thomson Premier, etc., and TRL is ushering in common sense price classes of “cases,” “statutes,” “secondary sources,” etc. However, this change won’t be fully realized until all of your databases are included in WestlawNext. So, for the foreseeable future, the old pricing classes will be hanging around.

We also learned that academic faculty would be getting access to WestlawNext, but not law students. I can’t tell you how smart this move is. The last thing you want to do is be perceived as if you are trying to pressure the firms from the bottom up. If firms were faced with a situation of having to train incoming graduates on how to perform Boolean searches (which some may actually already be doing), there might actually be some sort of bloody revolt. That’s just speculation on my part.

In the end, though, searching all the databases is the key value proposition. You don’t pay on the front end, but you will pay on the backend once you’ve determined something is relevant. So basically, you’re paying for what you find valuable, not what you hope to find valuable. With that said, though, TRL is not in the business of making less money, so the way I figure it is this: is it an easier sell on cost recovery if you can say to your client, “I’m only charging you for the actual documents we looked at to prepare for {insert whatever it is you are preparing for}” versus “We’re charging you for the research we performed, regardless of whether we looked at relevant information?” And for those of you opposed to cost recovery, it’s entirely possible that WestlawNext presents no good value proposition for you. But that’s for you to figure out.

[Image (cc) by Eric. E. Johnson]

{ 1 comment }

Joe Petrillo July 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Agree totally with the post on the unjustified fee increase. I insisted that the fees not increase, and my rep signed me up for a plan that, he failed to mention, dropped a significant part of the coverage of my prior plan. Also, I find WestlawNext harder to use and less precise for my purposes than its predecessor, whatever that was called. I'm stuck with a two-year contract now, so heed my warning before you switch.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: