Something New From West: Drafting Assistant

West might be onto something with this idea. Drafting Assistant, being introduced by West at Legal Tech New York as we speak, offers a suite of tools that integrate with your word processing system of choice (Word or WordPerfect), to pull in legal research, discovery material, deposition transcripts, case analysis along with other drafting tools peculiar to the legal trade. Drafting Assistant will reduce the number of steps a lawyer has to take to get all of the information pulled together for a finished product. For example, from the press release:

For example, the Locate Authority feature can identify the best case to support an argument that an attorney has just crafted, using trusted Westlaw research and without breaking the writer’s chain of thought. To quickly find and cite from a transcript or discovery document, Drafting Assistant can search and access all case-related information contained within West Case Notebook. With just a few mouse clicks, paralegals can save hours or even days, using tools that check the validity of cases cited, insert links to case law and correctly format documents and citations to comply with jurisdictional rules.

Drafting Assistant is but one tool within an integrated suite of tools, services and content called Westlaw Litigator. The suite includes:

• Westlaw CaseLogistix – document review and production tools
• West Case Notebook – legal research, case analysis and transcript management
• LiveNote Stream – live remote streaming of deposition audio, video and transcript text
• West Case Timeline – graphically displays important events in a case
• West Publisher – bundling & sharing of transcripts, related exhibits and other documents
• West km – leverages the internal work product and intellectual capital of a firm
• Westlaw Roundtable Group — helps find the perfect expert tailored to the exact needs of a case
• West CourtExpress — retrieves court or agency documents quickly and accurately
• Westlaw Expert Center – searches and profiles expert witnesses

But of course, this suite integrates with the toney WestlawNext service. I shudder to think what the price of this Cadillac, no make that Maybach-worthy suite of digital surgeon’s instruments will set an intrepid lawyer back. Ah well, kudos to West for taking legal tech a step forward into the future, even if the cost makes you want to jump back a bit.

Press release found here.

What E-Research Alternatives Are YOU Using?

Laura K. Justiss at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) – Dedman School of Law wants to know. Actually, Ms. Justiss already asked the question of several, admittedly mostly larger, law firm librarians in 2010 in an effort to get a handle on whether lower-tier, more esoteric research options were digging into the market share enjoyed by Westlaw or Lexis. Her results are available for  download here.

Ms. Justiss’ survey identified six areas tapped for research, including: primary source (case law & statutory) alternatives; court docket and direct case information; secondary sources for topical legal research and legal periodicals; financial, business and news sources; public records; and, non-legal law-related sources such as intellectual property databases.

While Westlaw and Lexis continue to reign, the results certainly are interesting, in that they definitely point to a degree of erosion in market share of the big two within larger firms. The results also are interesting in that they identify new alternatives and indicate they are gaining ground, such as relative newcomer Bloomberg Law. This suggests to me that attorneys, a group not normally known for their innovative thinking in the tech area, are opening their minds up to the possibility of new tools that might get the job done more efficiently than the old standbys. Flat fee arrangements are keeping the Big Two viable, but it is not clear that this strategy will always save their bacon.

Hit the jump above if you want more detail on the results, alternatives and the actual survey used.

Will The Semantic Web Affect Legal Publishers?

Really, the question is not “will” but “how.” Reading today about the effect of the semantic Web movement on the legal publishing industry, as part of a subset of a larger series on the effect of the semantic Web on many industries. The article is written by Bernard Lunn over at The Semantic Web (link here). Really fascinating read, mostly due to predictions as to how disruptive forces will shake the legal publishing “oligarchy”.

I suggest you hit the jump above for the full article, tables and what not. But I will summarize my own thoughts here. Bear in mind the statistic that three publishers –  Thomson Reuters, Reed Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer – own 90 percent of this $5 billion per year, high-margin  market. It’s good to be the King, right?

Well, not exactly. Lunn applies to the legal industry the same 7 disruptive forces brought to bear on other industries under the radar. Consider these forces:

Factor # 1: Digital economics.

The publishers do not own the base data, which comes from court records. These can be replicated at close to zero cost. Semantic Web technology will make those mountains of data more accessible.

Factor # 2: Generational shift in habits.

The generation of lawyers that grew up with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter will look for answers outside of the normal channels; particularly if a cost squeeze forces them to be creative.

Factor # 3: Globalization of markets.

Try selling content at US/UK prices when you are selling to BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

Factor # 4: Globalization of competition.

Lawyers and publishers in BRIC countries will bring price competition one way or another.

Factor # 5: Deleveraging.

In this case the deleveraging is lawyers paying off student loans when they can no longer charge really high $ per hour rates. They simply won’t pay as much for information because they cannot pay.

Factor # 6: Great Recession.

Customers are pressing legal firms for lower prices. Big firms have gone smash and many have cut back. They will seek lower costs from publishers.

Factor # 7: Regulatory change.

People in the industry are pushing for more AntiTrust action. The more radical option is Law.gov, which we will explore in the next post.

That’s a lot of pressure from many diverse sources. It’s to be expected. When you own too much, charge too much, and fail to deliver significantly more than the other options, these forces are going to result in an ever-increasing vice grip of pressure. People mindful of where their money is going will be forced to look elsewhere.

Have they yet? Well, if the investors and earnings charts printed in the article are to be believed, you would have done better in an S&P 500 Index fund than in any one of our legal oligapolists (I LOVE that word)! Apparently, the ones holding the investment bag, those who must look down the road for the next big investiing tip, are NOT looking at the big three legal publishers.

And why should they? Take Westlaw for example. Thomson West had a fabulous opportunity to shift attention away from other search options with their new WestlawNext product. Instead of grabbing the limelight with a great product and offering more for less, Thomson earned press (in an increasingly-connected, hyper-critical, on-line social system) for being confused on pricing and actively hiding information vital to the calculus of whether WestlawNext was a value or a bust. You only get so many bites at the “apple” these days (yes, I intended that pun) so you really need to make your impacts hit big. Like Apple, for example.

As information becomes easier to identify, quantify and connect, Westlaw (and the other premium products) are going to be harder to justify. As I have said many times before, troubles at Westlaw and Lexis/Nexis might be difficult for the shareholders to digest, but ultimately, competition from the open Web and new semantic technologies is good news for the end user.

And, of course, we here in Gloucester know how to weather a “Perfect Storm,” so I’m not worried in the least.

WestlawNext Preview: The Recap

So, how about WestlawNext? That new evolution in legal research? Is there really something to be excited about here?

As regular readers know, I attended the Preview breakfast today. The Preview consisted of an opportunity to watch various Westlaw rep put the product through its paces at stations and a keynote speech by a West VP of Sales. The speech was accompanied by a slide deck with moving graphics and screenshots.

Ever the geeky researcher, I took copious notes. I asked some questions during the individual previews, which were answered to varying degrees of completeness. There were no meaningful opportunities to ask questions during the presentation. So I figured I would share both my notes and my questions here.

Remembering that West intends to charge an undisclosed premium for this next evolution, this Preview was an attempt by West to argue why such a charge makes sense. There were three main talking points to this end: major search improvements improved organization and visual display; and, new work flow tools.

I was particularly interested in the search. The individual reps were unable to give me a satisfactory answer as to how the new “plain” language search is an improvement over the old “natural” language search. The main presenter highlighted West’s search goals: to improve search by accessing a broader array of databases automatically; to bring deep, relevant results higher in the list and bring them faster; to do the analytical evaluation encompassed within KeyCite, Results Plus and other tools behind the scenes automatically; and, to crowdsource the results of other professional searchers.

The new search language has no constraints with respect to format. The new algorithm takes into account 57 different points. In pursuit of relevancy, it accesses the more than 40,000 West databases without manual selection (although you can identify preferred databases). It examines terms used in key numbers associated with point of law suggested by the search. It will look countrywide for relevant related cases and common threads, and then employ concepts gleaned from this analysis within your specified jurisdiction. The same treatment is applied to Key Cite results – citing cases are examined for common threads, which are then run back through the selected databases. Finally, West taps into the searches run by other professional (not student) legal researchers – more than 500,000 transactions per day – to determine the documents yielded by searches employing the same terms and whether the researchers engaged in “meaningful transactions” with respect to those documents. In other words, did they print, Key Cite, email or copy with citation. Then the algorithm goes one step further and pulls other documents that are most frequently related to the documents treated by other researchers. The results are shown, by default in order of decreasing relevance.

Interestingly, there were little to no examples comparing a traditional Westlaw search with a WestlawNext search. Just a few conclusory statements that the WestlawNext search would yield a better result faster. Boolean is not gone, but one of the reps advised that WestlawNext is working behind the scenes on the broader connectors, so it is not a completely Boolean application.

New organizational tools include a foldering system that is fully searchable and automatically updated via Key Cite. The look is cleaner and more modern, with more white space and the ability to control formatting to optimize your viewing experience. When you click on a particular case, other Related Topics from the case are displayed in paragraph form along the right margin – you can access other results on those topics via clickable links. KeyCite is tabbed on the cases, and the results are filter-able.Results also can be filtered by relevancy, recency and other facets.

Workflow is improved as well. Docs can be downloaded, sent via email and, most recently added, sent to your Kindle. You can establish favorite databases. I am not sure whether these favorites affect the relevancy measure within results. There is also a link for “KM” – it accesses the firm’s own documents. an eyeglass symbol on a document means that the document had been previously viewed within the last 30 days for the same client ID. A folder icon on a case shows that the case has already been read and saved in a folder. You can access foldered documents without charge. Search history is now saved for a year (previously 14 days).

Editing tools allow the researcher to notate, highlight and save sections of cases with citations, with these edits saved online indefinitely. Coming soon: the ability to export folders of research content, with annotations, to others on the research team.

For what it is worth, as an experienced researcher delving regularly into similar areas of law, I know how to formulate both a boolean and natural language search and I am well aware of the databases I need. It is a rare occasion that I am plumbing an entirely new area of law. Furthermore, I already have adopted workarounds for the new foldering and annotating system – I save my downloaded docs in topic-specific folders and use my word processor to highlight and mark comments in the margins.

While I still have little questions, the big question for me is price. I was directed to my sales rep. The email I sent to her following the preview in which I indicated I had price questions remains unanswered. I know enough from my reading that there is a premium for WestlawNext, but no one seems to have a firm grasp on the amount of that premium. I imagine there are different premiums depending upon the size and nature of the existing contract and type of client. Hardly seems fair.

I know I am not the first commenter to say this, but I think that West is well off the track and making a huge marketing mistake. In my early days as a law student and lawyer, the only meaningful choice in legal research was Westlaw or Lexis. The Internet had not broken into the mainstream. Early web search was clumsy compared to West’s access to its own curated content. It made sense to pay extra for the service and we all paid dearly for it.

Now, internet search has met and exceeded Westlaw’s current search methodology. In a time when major corporations, the likes of Google and Microsoft, and other minor web developers are regularly trotting out amazing search feats and features and charging absolutely nothing for these marvelous wonders, Westlaw deigns to bring its product in many respects up to modern “free” standards and charge an undisclosed premium for it. Unfortunately, West has not properly read its audience – lawyers are becoming more tech savvy and are getting quite accustomed to receiving new and better tools for free. I know I am.

While I can comprehend paying extra for a vastly improved search algorithm (I don’t know this for sure as I have not yet had a hands-on), I find it difficult to “buy” an improvement such as better site organization, more “white space” and formatting controls. Shouldn’t such “improvements” be par for the course in a product’s development? Barring inflationary increases, car manufacturers regularly change the visual design of their products to keep them modern and add options without charging for these changes. Is West so out of touch with its customers that it believes they feel bringing the site’s look up to modern standards justify a price hike?

When a free product is measured against a pricey one, the reviewer cannot help but consider compromising on features in favor of cost wherever possible. As the free tools improve, WestlawNext is going to be perceived as the poorer option when all factors are examined.

While West touts its upcoming iPhone version, I have been accessing the free Fastcase service on my phone for weeks. This is not charge-worthy innovation.

Oh, and for the record, I overheard a Westlaw rep tell an attendee today that Westlaw.com will be phased out. Thus, the WestlawNext premium will become the new standard (increased) price point for West’s products.

I am sure I will have more on the subject after I activate my free access password (I will get a whopping three days) and after I get some clarification on my outstanding questions from my rep. For now, I have said it before and I will say it again – the jury is still out deliberating.

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More on Cobalt (& Lexis' Mystery Project)

Logo of Westlaw.
Image via Wikipedia

The New York Times ran an article (link here) discussing “sweeping” changes to the Big Two, Westlaw and Lexis, in the pipeline. Project Cobalt, (previously discussed here), is slated for February 1. Lexis’ drop date has not yet been disclosed.

The Times article is an interesting read on the history of these giants and their motivations for change. You see, people are sick of paying huge amounts for a mediocre, 1980’s interface and functionality. Go figure.

West reps told the Times that it took 5 years to build the new service. Oh no. Does that mean the service is already 5 years out of date?  The article discusses relevancy by algorithm (second-guessing what the lawyer might actually be looking for) and a Google-like search interface. No mention of retaining Boolean search, though. Not 2010 enough, I suppose.

My jury remains out. It will reconvene on February 1.

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Westlaw Sings The Blues: Project Cobalt

Never able to let a mystery lie dormant, I spent some time this weekend digging into the dirt to find out about this West-branded next evolution in legal research. It’s code-named Cobalt and I managed to scare up a Thomson Reuters PowerPoint which hints at the features. It is fairly clear that Cobalt will offer a more Web 2.0 experience. Of course, its being billed as the best search engine for law and easy to use. It will promises “high velocity” results and  research workflow optimization. What interests me is a vague reference to “community insights.” Is West going to offer its own social aspects within the research framework?

Although it is not certain, there is a suggestion that the preferred search format will be natural language. Some are opining that this means no more Boolean. I will wait and see on that point before I assume the worst. I am hoping West is smarter than Bing in that regard. There is also a suggestion in the press that it will learn from the community – perhaps this learning hints at a semantic aspect (woohoooo!).

There isn’t a lot more to say at this point, but I will definitely keep my eyes peeled for more info. My inner cynic is moving aside a little to make room for a new hope that West will bring its service up to par.

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The Next Evolution In Legal Research?

So, this morning, as I hit my shortcut to Westlaw to research coverage for legal fees incurred prior to tender to the insurer in California, my eyes fell upon a promising little bit of text on the sign-in screen: “wait till you see what’s next. Learn more.”

Well, being a curious sort, I had to hit the jump to find out what exactly was next, with the full realization that Westlaw has been long overdue for a “what’s next.”

I was greeted with this flashy little video that did no more than tease about the “next evolution in legal research.” The next evolution from West promises confidence in “dramatically improved search” that will ensure “that you haven’t missed a thing,” productivity” thanks to “better workflow tools” and an “intuitive”, “user-friendly” process that will “allign with the way you think about legal research.”

Want more? You will need to sign up with West for the launch alert, or attend Legaltech, NY on February 1-3, 2010.

Forgive my slight cynicism, but this “evolution” better skip right over australopithicus and  neanderthal stages, bronze and industrial ages, and finally bring this tired old service into the 21st Century. From my lips to West’s ears.

Westlaw OnePass Passes Over the Real Problem

WestlawIn an apparent effort to bring security and access to services up to the standards employed by the rest of the world, West / Thompson is now requiring users to create a OnePass Account to access any and all West / Thompson services, including Westlaw.  By using your old eleven-character password and choosing a user name and password with sufficient security attributes, you can create this account and then use the user name / password combo all over their sites.

Great, West. Thanks. Now bring your legal research services and Web interface into the 21st Century and all will be right with the world.

Zimmerman's Legal Research Guide Free and Online

Andrew Zimmerman, Director of Library Services at Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander LLC in Baltimore, Maryland, has been compiling tips, tricks and tools for legal research into a “guide” over the past several years. He calls his guide, which started as a collection of notes and papers, a “work in progress.” Zimmerman’s “work in progress”, a/k/a “An Online Encyclopedia for Legal Researchers”, is now being offered online for free at LexisNexis InfoPro.  The guide offers alphabetical browsing by topic, as wll as keyword searching, and covers a broad range.

Just for fun, I hit the jump to “insurance.” Zimmerman offers this guidance in the first couple of introductory paragraphs:

Statutes, regulations, insurance department opinions, and other primary materials are published for all 50 states in the multi-volume National Insurance Law Service (NILS), or you can get them from each state’s statutes, administrative codes, etc. In addition, most insurance materials are available on Westlaw – either in the Domestic Insurance Compliance Materials database (MULTI-INS) or the individual state or practice area insurance law databases (see the Westlaw Database Directory or call Westlaw at 1-800-773-2889 for assistance).

The leading insurance law treatises are Appleman’s Insurance law and practice (Matthew Bender) and Couch on Insurance (West). Appleman is available on Lexis (INSURE;APLMAN). Couch is available on Westlaw (COUCH).

There are some full-text secondary source materials in a Westlaw insurance databases, notably materials by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and law review articles. To find insurance-related articles, search Westlaw’s INSNEWS database or the appropriate files in the Lexis INSURE library. Alternatively, you can search the abstracts of the Insurance Periodicals Index (Dialog File 169), which probably covers more periodicals.

The Davis Library at the School for Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science (formerly the College of Insurance) in New York City is an excellent source for insurance-related materials. They do research and document delivery for students, faculty and members of the Insurance Society of New York; non-members can use the library only by coming in person and purchasing a day pass. For more information, visit the Library’s Web site or call the Library at 212-815-9263.

Ad you can see, the Guide also offers links to related materials.

I appreciate Zimmerman’s (and LexisNexis’) evenhanded recommendations regarding materials available on Westlaw – it encourages the feeling that the Guide is offering an objective  snapshot of where to find information. And while the entry is simplistic from the point of view of a veteren insurance law practitioner, I would find  entries on unfamiliar topics a great starting point for research in uncharted waters.

Thanks Andrew and thanks LexisNexis for another useful research tool at the right price!

Hat tip to Ross-Blakely Law Library blog

Zimmerman’s Legal Research Guide Free and Online

Andrew Zimmerman, Director of Library Services at Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander LLC in Baltimore, Maryland, has been compiling tips, tricks and tools for legal research into a “guide” over the past several years. He calls his guide, which started as a collection of notes and papers, a “work in progress.” Zimmerman’s “work in progress”, a/k/a “An Online Encyclopedia for Legal Researchers”, is now being offered online for free at LexisNexis InfoPro.  The guide offers alphabetical browsing by topic, as wll as keyword searching, and covers a broad range.

Just for fun, I hit the jump to “insurance.” Zimmerman offers this guidance in the first couple of introductory paragraphs:

Statutes, regulations, insurance department opinions, and other primary materials are published for all 50 states in the multi-volume National Insurance Law Service (NILS), or you can get them from each state’s statutes, administrative codes, etc. In addition, most insurance materials are available on Westlaw – either in the Domestic Insurance Compliance Materials database (MULTI-INS) or the individual state or practice area insurance law databases (see the Westlaw Database Directory or call Westlaw at 1-800-773-2889 for assistance).

The leading insurance law treatises are Appleman’s Insurance law and practice (Matthew Bender) and Couch on Insurance (West). Appleman is available on Lexis (INSURE;APLMAN). Couch is available on Westlaw (COUCH).

There are some full-text secondary source materials in a Westlaw insurance databases, notably materials by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and law review articles. To find insurance-related articles, search Westlaw’s INSNEWS database or the appropriate files in the Lexis INSURE library. Alternatively, you can search the abstracts of the Insurance Periodicals Index (Dialog File 169), which probably covers more periodicals.

The Davis Library at the School for Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science (formerly the College of Insurance) in New York City is an excellent source for insurance-related materials. They do research and document delivery for students, faculty and members of the Insurance Society of New York; non-members can use the library only by coming in person and purchasing a day pass. For more information, visit the Library’s Web site or call the Library at 212-815-9263.

Ad you can see, the Guide also offers links to related materials.

I appreciate Zimmerman’s (and LexisNexis’) evenhanded recommendations regarding materials available on Westlaw – it encourages the feeling that the Guide is offering an objective  snapshot of where to find information. And while the entry is simplistic from the point of view of a veteren insurance law practitioner, I would find  entries on unfamiliar topics a great starting point for research in uncharted waters.

Thanks Andrew and thanks LexisNexis for another useful research tool at the right price!

Hat tip to Ross-Blakely Law Library blog