Executive talks about features of WestlawNext

Interview with Mark Schiff, vice president of product marketing at Thomson Reuters regarding the launch of WestlawNext. Taken from the CRIV Sheet: The Newsletter of the Committee on Relations with Information Vendors

Mark Schiff, in an interview with Caren J. Biberman, gives us the low-down on WestlawNext. Schiff says Thomson Reuter Legal (TRL), in making its decision to develop a new platform, felt it was operating from a position of strength as Westlaw.com is preferred nearly 2 to 1. But in talking with customers and viewing and analyzing the search logs, TRL discovered there were opportunities to make substantial improvements to the legal research process.

For example, when starting on Westlaw.com, users are asked to choose a database to search. Some viewed this as a stumbling block because it requires the customer to know where the answer is. Also, when searching on Westlaw.com, you need to use precise syntax and linking tools, which sometimes makes it difficult to find answers immediately. With WestlawNext, TRL created a dramatically different search process called WestSearch. In a literal search, document results are tied to a database selection and the words typed into the search box. WestSearch lets the searcher use simple descriptive terms and eliminates the need to choose a database. Because it uses a search algorithm (behind the scenes) that leverages West’s key number system, key cite, headnotes and indexes, the most relevant documents still appear in the results.

While the search algorithm takes into account customer usage, Schiff says this is only a small part of the algorithm and that it places greater importance on customers doing something significant with the document (e.g., e-mailing or printing). The algorithm uses aggregated usage across the entire professional customer base to further understand connections and associations between documents. Schiff explains that WestlawNext still allows for terms and connectors searching. However, TRL feels WestlawNext will offer a dramatically improved search as it takes advantage of the relevancy ranking and filtering within the program.

WestlawNext allows users to organize research within the platform by allowing them to highlight and add notes to documents, and then store them in folders within WestlawNext. The documents you put in folders remain there forever; they are never deleted.

All of Westlaw.com’s content is accessible through WestlawNext, although certain content sets, such as public records, are not available within WestlawNext; users must instead access them on Westlaw.com. Schiff also indicates that not every content set will make use of the WestSearch algorithm (e.g., public records).

Schiff states that while TRL will continue to add and update content on Westlaw.com, he doesn’t believe librarians will see lots of new feature development. Rather, the long-term vision is for a single platform: WestlawNext. However, there is no retirement date for Westlaw.com, and Schiff believes it will be “years” before that becomes a possibility.

What do you think of WestlawNext compared to classic Westlaw? Let us know!

W. Blake Wilson, Head of Instructional & Research Services