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.

A Little Late To The WestLawNext Party

But, better late than never, so they say. After boning up on everything WLN hot on the heels of the rumors and ultimate announcement of the revolutionary new legal database search interface earlier this year, I came away with the impression of “cool, but not worth the extra change.”

Just the other day, as I was hopping onto Westlaw for my daily visit, I noticed a little orange link at the top with admonishment that, for a limited time, I could try WLN free of charge. I am not one to turn up any chance to play with a new toy, particularly a free chance, so I decided to run my rather arcane inquiry in WLN instead of the old interface.

I am not going to do a full blown review of WLN here – there are scores of great posts and articles out there that lovingly list out every feature and improvement.

All I want to say is this: that new search algorithm West has outfitted WLN with really does improve your results. My query was on a very fine point of insurance law – I was having some difficulty even understanding the question, let alone formulating a tight search for an answer (after this many years in the biz, it takes something else entirely to make me scratch my head). So I entered my mostly unformed inquiry into the search box and, to my surprise, the very first hit was directly on point. I can only imagine what WLN would do with one of my familiar searches.

The bottom line question for me on the issue of WLN has always been: is it worth the money? Before I would have responded, unequivocally, no way, Jose, I can get what I need just fine from the old interface. Now, I must qualify with the further response that, if you have matters requiring turbo-charged research in unfamiliar waters or cases where the stakes are higher and mistakes more expensive, then WLN may be a reasonable cost of doing business.

WestLawNext On Your Phone

Image from West

Back at the WestLawNext breakfast in March, one of the features promoted by the speakers was the impending introduction of mobile versions of WestLawNext. Right in line with their proposed timeline (they had said by the end of May), West’s LegalCurrents blog (link here) is reporting the improved availability of the new search interface on mobile devices (link here). West is touting the new interface as a unique “ecosystem” in which to interact with the WLN search tools. From the announcement:

WestlawNext Mobile mirrors the clean, modern interface of WestlawNext, with a primary focus on helping legal professionals resume their research while on-the-go. Through the mobile site, you can quickly and easily access research folders and read documents or notes, as well as perform new searches.

The site automatically detects whether you are accessing via mobile interface and directs you to the mobile version accordingly. Hit the link above for the mobile site, or click the link here for the iPad version.

Black's Law Dictionary Goes iPad

It was bound to happen. That venerable tome that is frequently offered as a gift to 1L’s everywhere is now making its iPad debut! West’s Legal Current blog announced the introduction of Black’s Law Dictionary for iPad yesterday (link here).

Other than a bigger screen view and book-like imaging, it does not appear to offer much beyond the iPhone / iPod Touch version introduced about a year ago and discussed in the Studio (link here). But, if you are a lawyer on an iPad and are looking to expand your uses of the device, you may be interested in this $49.95 application.

Interestingly, the print version is already up to the Ninth Edition, while the iPad version lags behind at the Eighth Edition. The sacrifices we make for technology.

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Live From WestlawNext Preview

So here I am, sitting at the Hyatt Regency Boston on Rue de Lafayette, getting wined, dined and coffee’d on West’s tab. Why am I here? To preview WestlawNext of course! As I walked in and attempted to get my bearings, I was deftly swallowed up by the Corporate trainer and Rep ( how did they know?) I received my own personal preview before I could even grab a yogurt – but not before I grabbed coffee.

I haven’t gone through the entire dog and pony show yet – it is still technically breakfast. But my cursory initial impression is that West has gussied up, reformatted and reorganized the experience. The rep made much of the improved viewing experience and the search-before-data-base-selection orientation. It IS improved and better organized. Folders are a nice add and keeping a research trail tied to your client ID for a year (as compared to 14 days) are also plusses.

But unless the new “plain” search algorithm (formerly natural search) is a whole lot slicker, I am not sure the refinements will be worth the cost. I have been using my own work-arounds for folders and notation. Sharing by email is not a major leap forward. The demonstrator could not give me a reasonable explanation of how the new search function is improved, directing me online to find out more (but not everything because of “copyright protection” ?!)

And what is the cost? I have yet to find a West person who can tell me. But they were happy to take my number down so that the cashier can give me a call.

But my time has not been completely lost. I am the proud owner of a new iPod Shuffle courtesy of West. And a yogurt and coffee. Good times.

To be continued …

Details on New Lexis (& WestlawNext)

The ABA Journal has more information (link here) on the Big Two’s new research interfaces, including a LOT more on the new Lexis, appropriately called New Lexis.  New Lexis is expected some time later this year (WestlawNext – the public name for Cobalt – is due February 1). The ABA appears to have gotten a hands-on with both. he article cites some of New Lexis’ features:

  • no more Boolean search; natural language only with an algorithm boosted by artificial intelligence to help get the most relevant information;
  • results broadened beyond Lexis’ own proprietary databases to include relevant open source legal information from across the Web;
  • results page is dramatically revamped, to include folders along the margins containing categories of relevant results, such as cases, statutes, and regulations;
  • pop-up preview panes containing summaries when you hover over a result and integrated Shepherd’s results for each case;
  • graphical presentation of Shepherd’s results and the history and timeline of cases;
  • collaboration tools and the ability to store results in folders for later use;
  • productivity tools to assist in evaluating the strength of a case, the costs, and potential value to lawyer and client.

WestlawNext will incorporate similar features. It employs a simple search box for a natural language query and does not require that you identify your desired database up front. West hasn’t decided yet whether it will kill Boolean (I sincerely hope that it doesn’t). You can filter results by jurisdiction, type of content and other factors. You will still see a results list, but there will also be windows collecting results by content type.  The service will allow bookmarking of favorite databases. KeyCite will also be incorporated directly into the results. There will be similar collaboration features, such as saving work in folders by client. Researchers can use these folders to review their own search history. West also will incorporate some editing features, such as highlighting and noting on cases, tasks that I already perform in Word on my downloaded Westlaw cases.

Then, of course, there is Bloomberg Law, mentioned here on the Studio several months back. It is in the process of being tested in a small number of law firms and schools. While there are noted limitations in the beta version with respect to the scope of accessible materials, testers are giving the product high marks for intuitiveness and ease of use. Plus, a docket search feature distinguishes Bloomberg from the Big Two in an enticing way.

The idea is that the legal research purveyors are seeking to marry their vast information resources with a slick, modern interface and productivity tools. Back in the day, inefficiency meant more money for these companies that billed by the amount of time spent on-line by the researcher. I am thinking they can’t really get away with that mindset anymore, in the face of cheap and free competition.  But there will still need to be a signficant value-add for these services to continue to show a profit – more than ever, professionals are looking to maximize tools while minimizing cost. And when free Google starts to look like a viable option, well, then …..

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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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.

Disrupting Legal Practice With Technology

Very interesting post on WestBlog by Andrew McLennan-Murray summarizing a recent presentation by legal rabble rouser Richard Suskind (“The End of Lawyers“) at 2009 International Legal Technology Association conference. Susskind discussed technologies that will disrupt the legal profession.

Disrupter beam jokes aside, Susskind identified these technologies as: (1) automated document assembly; (2) “relentless” connectivity; (3) the electronic legal marketplace; (4) electronic learning; (5) on-line legal guidance and advice; (6) open-source legal resources; (7) on-line networking and sharing of experience, lessening need for traditional legal representation; (8) workflow automation and project management; (9) embedded legal knowledge allowing instantaneous / constant connection to relevant laws, codes, regulations, etc.; (10) on-line dispute resolution, minimizing need for in-person meetings.

Hit the jump above for a more thorough explanation of these technologies – how they may be applied and how they will affect legal practice. The tools themselves are developing and technology is morphing so rapidly that it certainly promises to be an interesting ride for any technology-forward law firm. Surely, adoption largely will be driven by the needs of a particular firm’s clientele or the firm’s desire to fill a specific niche that few have yet plumbed. Or, thrill-seeking firms can just forge ahead like early leaders in a marathon, hoping to pull the field along with them.

I, of course, will be watching the race on my triple-screen computer set-up, cheering the pacesetters on!

There's A New Blawg in Town … From The Wild West

West has announced a new legal blog, Legal Currents, promising material on legal- and technology-related topics from around the globe. The subject matter will include technology, innovation, content and trends shaping the legal industry worldwide, with authors from inside and outside West. The site contains CLE videos and podcasts, West’s famous “Headnote of the Day” and other bits and pieces. Congrats West on your new blawg branding!

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