By Jason Wilson
From Lisa D. Kinzer, a law student at the University of Texas School of Law, comes an abstract of a working paper titled, The ‘Next’ Generation: Measuring First-Year Student Response to WestlawNext:
When Thomson Reuters debuted its WestlawNext legal research platform a year ago, many predicted that law students would prove to be the biggest fans of this ‘googlized’ version of Westlaw. And in the six months that the Next platform has been available to law students, anecdotal evidence has suggested that students are indeed abandoning the two major traditional platforms (Westlaw and Lexis) in mass numbers. However, no empirical study has confirmed this trend.
In this study, I survey the four hundred first-year law students at the University of Texas School of Law to determine which database each uses most often, and what factors are taken into account in making the choice. Preliminary results indicate that the majority of students are using WestlawNext most of the time. When one considers that very few practitioners even have access to WestlawNext, the implications for the effective preparation of law students for the workplace are considerable.
In this paper, I review the results of my survey and offer proposals as to how law schools can incorporate the seemingly addictive WestlawNext into their research curriculum while still ensuring that students will be effective when working with the limited resources available at the average law office.
The emphasis is mine. Her observation comes just over a year after similar concerns were voiced about teaching law students how to use research technology that lawyers didn’t provide. The implication here is that students don’t know what a terms-and-connectors search is. So now, when you get them, not only will they be unable to practice law, they probably won’t be very effective at searching for it either. You know, assuming very few practitioners have access to WestlawNext.
UPDATE: I should point out that Ms. Kinzer will have to tackle two very large issues when writing this paper. First, she will need to address why she sees WestlawNext usage over Lexis or Classic Westlaw.com as a problem. Simply calling it “googlized” doesn’t tell us a whole lot. (I can think of many differences, but I’d like to see what Ms. Linzer, a student, sees as challenges.) Second, she will need to define the “average law office.” She makes a very large assumption that firms don’t have access to WestlawNext. I’m not sure she’s accurate about that statement, and I’m curious to see where she is going to get her data.
[Image (CC) by David Blumenkrantz]