White Paper “Are All Citator Services Created Equal?”

An interesting recent brief report of Internet For Lawyers is:

Are All Citator Services Created Equal? A Comparison of Google Scholar, Fastcase, Casemaker, LexisNexis, WestlawNext, and Bloomberg
by Carole A. Levitt and Mark Rosch (2012)

Hat tip to the January/February 2013 issue of The Internet Guide for the Legal Researcher Newsletter.

Cross-posted on Law Library Blog.

Thomson Reuters in the news

From a Wall Street Journal report:

Thomson Reuters Profit Jumps 93%

. . . WestlawNext, which has been sold to over 24,000 customers since its launch in early 2010 and is helping to offset downward pressure stemming from continuing weakness in business from large law firms. Legal revenue increased 9% to $843 million for ongoing businesses and before currency adjustments.

And this from a story in yesterday’s Financial Times, “Thomsons grow restless over Reuter’s progress,” (p. 17, by David Gelles and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson).

. . . the company’s focus is largely on its Eikon platform, which was designed as a rival to the Bloomberg terminal.  Outside observers acknowledge that Eikon was well conceived. “Eikon is a fantastic idea and if they have time it will go far, ” said [Douglas B. Taylor, managing partner at Burton-Taylor International Consulting].  “It won’t be a Bloomberg killer, but it will reset the bar for Thomson Reuters.”

Easy Does It: Examining First-Year Law Student Impressions of the Online Resources They Use Most Often

“Easy Does It: Examining First-Year Law Student Impressions of the Online
Resources They Use Most Often” 

LISA D. KINZER, University of Texas at Austin – School of Law

You’ve got what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

It’s a mantra heard in households across the country when kids sit down at the
kitchen table and realize they do not have what they wanted for dinner. A few
weeks ago, I had a “you’ve got what you get” moment as I was looking over data I
had collected from first-year J.D. students at the University of Texas School of
Law.

The data, as it turned out, were not what I wanted. I had asked
students to name the online resource they use most often, and then to answer a
series of brief questions about that resource. I had intended to (1) measure
student use of WestlawNext, and (2) get a sense of what students think of
WestlawNext. But in retrospect I realized I had not accomplished my second goal,
because I had failed to collect any information about WestlawNext from students
who do not use it. It is not particularly useful to hear about a resource from
its fans, without also hearing from individuals who are perhaps not as enamored
with that resource. So I could not use the data to write anything very
interesting about WestlawNext.

However, some of the data patterns that
emerged were so striking that I wanted to share them. I found that, regardless
of whether a student is using Lexis, Westlaw, or WestlawNext, students are
overwhelmingly convinced that their resource is the easiest and the fastest to
use. I also found that students are not nearly as convinced that their resource
returns relevant material or everything they need. In addition, it seems that
students simply do not care near as much about vendor rewards programs as
vendors might have us believe. And finally, to the extent that their legal
research professors have any preference as to what resource students should use,
students are either unaware of that preference or simply unaffected by
it.

In this paper, I review the data that create these patterns, and then
try to sort out what these patterns mean, practically speaking. I will begin
with an overview of my methodology, then review the results of the survey, and
then turn to the implications and possibilities for further research.

 

Source: LSN Legal Education eJournal Vol. 8 No. 41, 07/20/2011

How widespread is WestlawNext?

A student asked me this question.  Since I live and work in the beautiful bubble known as Stanford University,and have no idea how things work in the Real World, I turned to outside help to answer the student’s question.

I first asked our Westlaw representative, who provided this interesting and useful piece of information:

Based on a recent article about Thomson Reuters revenue, “The WestlawNext legal database has been sold to more than 18,500 customers since its launch in February 2010, representing 34 percent of Westlaw’s revenue base.”

http://us.mobile.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idUSTRE73R2OI20110428

 

But I knew that our students would want to know more specific information, so I sent out a quick request on the Northern California Association of Law Libraries (NOCALL) listserv.  I received 21 replies — 6 from Biglaw law firms, 8 from small/midsize firms, 2 from county law libraries, 4 from the courts (U.S. District, United States Court of Appeals and California Appellate), and 1 from a state agency.  Of the 6 Biglaw law firms, 4 have WestlawNext (although one, at present, is only making it available to firm librarians — see comments below) and 2 do not.

Of the 8 small/midsize firms, 5 have WestlawNext and 3 do not.

None of the public sector law libraries have WestlawNext.  The state agency reports that it might be added this summer.  I did find it a little ironic that the court libraries do not have WestlawNext — didn’t West get started by wooing the judiciary and treating judges extra special nice?

The comments I received were also very useful and I read many of them to my students, since they contain some great research tips and insights.

Here are a few of the comments:

I know that when firm librarians first saw the marketing materials, we were worried that the quality of search results would go down due to the one-box searching, but if anything the opposite has happened.  The result ranking is much better than it was previously, and you can see a lot more information before clicking into a document, which is great.

Our firm has a flat rate contract, so even though there is a cost for the original search ($50), the amount billed back to the client is significantly lower.  They shouldn’t be scared to use the resource due to the cost (at our firm anyway).  It’s in line with Lexis and the old version of Westlaw.  But of course, books are still cheaper.
Of course, they should still use good search practices so we’re not charging the client needlessly – searching broadly and then narrowing the focus, thinking before clicking into documents, checking before getting material from outside our pricing plan.  You can refer back to materials saved to a folder for a year, for free.  I’m saving a ton of material to folders.
The “price triggers” that incur costs: initial search, opening a document, clicking on the keycite materials. 
Our firm’s flat-rate contract doesn’t cover the PDF images of reporters – that’s the only place where you’re not warned before getting material outside of our contract.
We did a firm survey last year, and honestly, most of our attorneys start their research process on Google because it’s free.  Once they have useful information (like a case name or a statute or a law review article), they’ll go online and find all the related documents and secondary sources.  WestlawNext does a really good job of that, and the new format for KeyCite makes it easy to trace between material types. 
 
One more caveat: Keycite and Shepards both may say a case is good law when underlying statutes or cases have been invalidated (not always, but sometimes).  They don’t always catch it when a case has been invalidated by new legislation, as well.  Knowing how far to trust citator services is important.

 ————————-
 
Only librarians have been given permission to use WLN.  We will be offering mandatory class(es) on the product before attorneys are given passwords to access it.  We are aware that the law school students have been exposed to WLN & will likely expect to use it upon entering into the firm environment, so our window to get up-to-speed is fast approaching.Caveats:  Not everything has been loaded into WLN, so it could be frustrating to attorneys when prompted to transition in the middle of their research  to go to Westlaw. We’re also not sure if the costs will increase since clicking on any results keeps adding up the total.  I know we librarians have had conference call discussions about some of the quirky searching & results . . . .  Do I like it?  I had a trial ID & have not used it much since our contract went into effect in January.  I’m still “on the fence” about it, but realize it is the wave of the future in this Googlish society.
 
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The federal courts do not have WestlawNext at this time, and my understanding is that while the Administrative Office in D.C. has discussed it with Thomson-Reuters, there is no plan to purchase it for the federal judiciary in the near future.
 
———————–
 
We are using it.  The attorneys really like it.  One thing I’ve learned about it is that you should never choose the hourly setting on WestlawNext.  Always use it in transactional mode since the nature of it promotes lots of browsing time.  Most law firms are turning off the hourly feature and forcing transactional mode, but if not it can wreak havoc with your flat-rate contract client allocation.
 
————————
 
My advice for students:  Know how much the search costs are before you do it.  And always call the research attorneys — they know their tool better than any of us ever will.
 
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We aren’t using it in the [state] Judicial Branch.  It’s way too expensive and we can’t afford it!  And if Westlaw itself becomes too expensive for us we may be forced to use just one service.  Since Lexis has the official reporting contract, we must have access to them.
 
————————
 
We do not have WestlawNext.  We did a trial of it and it has potential, but we are not willing to pay extra for it.
 
———————-
I see other problems besides cost for WestlawNext in law firms.  To oversimplify: Google on new steroids represents WestlawNext’s research model. That model shows remarkable detachment from application to real-life research problems in law firms.  The stock examples used in WestlawNext’s demos fit TR’s marketing well enough, but I could not translate them into everyday, online research done in law firms. I also see evidence of algorithmic anomalies – possibly widespread – that have only begun to be explored.
 
———————–
We have been using WLN for the past year.  We hopped on the band wagon pretty early due to a demo seen here by our litigation partners.  The litigation attorneys like it a lot.  Power users of regular Westlaw have a big learning curve so do not like it quite as much.  It is great, however, for researching an area you may be unfamiliar with since it will give you the most relevant cases up front.  Our attys like this feature.  The attys also like the cost..they can figure out how much their research will cost them before going in since a search runs about $65
and then you can open as many docs as you want until you hit your research budget ($15/doc. or so).  It relieves some the pressure they feel when going in.  I think it is here to stay.  Even [after] I have cancelled Lexis access here, cut my print budget and staffing, the WLN contract was added without blinking an eye. . . .
 
———————–
 
We require everyone to be trained first on regular Westlaw. We will then train them on WestlawNext.  There a cost pitfalls with both.  Searching is cheaper and broader with WestlawNext, but if you want to look at lots of documents, you will run up the costs. Initial searching Westlaw is probably narrower (have to select a database), but then the documents don’t cost additional to view.
 
———————–
 
I would recommend that students avoid WestlawNext like the plague until they have a solid grasp on doing research on their own.  You do not want to be dependant on an algorithm created by a corporation to be able to do an essential part of your job.
 
I think Next can be a valuable tool and time-saver for attorneys who understand what the algorithm is doing and what the resources are it is returning in the results, but I worry if students start learning how to research using Next, they will not be able to do any research when they leave school unless they are using, and paying a steep price for, Next.
 
———————–
 
The two main reasons [we don’t have it] is that Westlaw would require us to have a separate contract for WestlawNext (we see this as paying for Westlaw twice), and WestlawNext does not have all of Westlaw’s content. . . .
 
————————-
 
Though honestly we haven’t embraced it completely and probably won’t until West tells us they are pulling the plug on classic.  I think it is a good product.  I like the $60.00 search and the left-hand screen that guides you to your hits.  The biggest issue is the pricing per document.  Those clicks just add up.  I am planning on asking our summer assoc. class if they are using Classic or NEXT, then based on the response, the rep. will concentrate on one or the other for the orientation. It will be interesting to see where the product stands with this first summer class who have potentially been using it at school.
 
———————–
 
We at the California Appellate Courts are not.  We have Westlaw and Lexis . . . [and] should be rolling out LMO [Lexis for Microsoft Office] soon, but that is as fancy as we are getting.
 
 
 
 
 

Thomson Reuters: Westlaw sales up, but print declines dragging down profits

From today’s Financial Times (p. 16), “Thomson Reuters raises revenue outlook”

“The professional division . . . saw strong subscription revenues in its large legal business, WestLaw, but further declines in its high-margin print products, dragging operating profits in legal down 6 per cent.

The new WestLawNext product . . . had been sold to more than 9,000 customers, double its initial expectations,” according to Tom Glocer, chief executive of the financial and professional information group.

WestlawNext for Legal Research Game 1: 2 home runs and 1 strike out

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.

Westlaw’s Lexus

I just ran across the best review so far that I have seen of WestlawNext.  It’s in Plaintiff magazine (“the magazine for Northern California plaintiffs’ attorneys”):

Westlaw’s new upgrade — WestlawNext

Report of an early adopter

By Jeffrey Isaac Ehrlich

Plaintiff, May 2010, p. 30

Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis, Westlaw — New, Improved

From today’s New York Times:

The New York Times, Monday, January 25, 2010, p. B5

Technology

Legal Sites Plan Revamps As Rivals Undercut Price

By Ashlee Vance

Westlaw and LexisNexis, the dominant services in the market for computerized legal research, will undergo sweeping changes in a bid to make it easier and faster for lawyers to find the documents they need.

And in the February issue of the ABA Journal:

Legal Technology
Exclusive: Inside the New Westlaw, Lexis & Bloomberg Platforms
By Jill Schachner Chanen

After decades of Westlaw and Lexis rolling out incremental improvements, real innovation has become the watchword in online legal research. At stake: billions in revenue and a big piece of your computer desktop.

The ABA Journal article quotes yours truly.   A point I was trying to make, but it didn’t make the article, was how useful I find added features such as Westlaw’s ResultsPlus and Lexis’s Related Content.  These features steer students to what could be very valuable secondary source material that they wouldn’t necessarily think to search since many have the inclination to jump feet first into the case law databases.