We used WestlawNext for the 1L first Legal Research and Writing research assignment this fall. It is the same exercise that was used last year, so all six instructors knew exactly what the good cases are. The problem involves a delinquent child and whether she should be tried as a juvenile or as an adult. Since our legal research mantra is “secondary first” we started by looking at legal encyclopedias and found a nice summary at 27A Cal. Jur. 3d, Section 215, ” . . . At a fitness hearing, the minor who is presumed to be unfit under the juvenile court law has the burden of rebutting the presumption by a preponderance of the evidence . . . ”
So we just cut ‘n’ pasted that sentence into the WestlawNext search box, limited our results to California, and pressed search. Some WestlawNext magic then occurred.
The results screen presented one statute, Cal. Welfare & Inst. 707. And that is the statute the instructors want the students to find. Bingo!
The search also brought back 44 cases, which is a really nice number for a 1L assignment — not too many to sift through and not too few to get started. And not only was the quantity of cases ideal, all of the instructors said, “ooh, those are really good cases” when we demonstrated the system for them. Everyone was suitably impressed with WestlawNext’s ability to ferret out the very best cases for the assignment.
Those are the two home runs.
The system appears to break down at the administrative level. There is a regulation the instructors want the students to find, but it did not appear on the first page of the results list. Instead all sorts of extremely unrelated regulations appeared, such as:
Section 1593. Aircraft and Aircraft Parts.
18 CCR Section 1593 Title 18. Public Revenues
We didn’t look through all the regulations since none of the first ten presented appeared to have anything at all to do with juvenile law.
We did play around with several searches using different words and phrases, but in no instance did relevant regulations appear, at least not high on the results list.
So while the students were very impressed with WestlawNext’s ease and ability to hone in on highly relevant statutes and cases, the administrative law limitation does help with librarians’ job security.