My Westlaw rep contacted me last week, trying to entice our firm into upgrading our Westlaw subscription to the next generation of software — WestlawNext. I’ve got briefs for an appeal due in early June, so the 10-day trial period came at an opportune time.
I tinkered around with it this weekend, grabbing some cases that I knew I needed. When I logged in again later, it gave me the option of going straight to my current client trail, and even had my recent searches listed on the initial screen. Liking what I saw, I made some comparisons:
Westlaw: To do a search, either enter a citation, or use natural language/terms and connectors and then select a database. You must select a database from the beginning — either cases, or statutes, etc… A search from one database does not return material from other databases, except for some extras in the ResultsPlus sidebar. A search of “Cts and Judicial Proceedings Immunities” from the Maryland statutes yielded 100 results; a Locate search of that with “LGTCA” resulted in 7 items, not including the 5-304 that I was looking for (however, to be fair, it did return 5-302 and 5-303, which I would have used in “Book Browse” or “Table of Contents” mode to get what I needed.
WestlawNext: To do a search, enter your search terms in the Google-like search bar, and click the jurisdiction in the drop-down menu. For instance, I searched “Cts and Judicial Proceedings Immunities” in the Maryland database, and my results included an overview of significant cases, statutes and secondary sources. The left side of the screen featured a breakdown of results: 27 cases, 305 statutes, 7 forms, and other categories. I selected statutes, then was able to narrow that search with another Google-like search bar on the left side. A quick search of LGTCA resulted in 9 statutes, including 5-304, the notice provision I was looking for.
Outcome: Win for WestlawNext. Overall, WestlawNext is more intuitive for searching, using standard search bars instead of slightly more obscure buttons like “Locate.” It is also more efficient because it returns results across the line of databases (cases, statutes, secondary sources, etc…), allowing the user to pick and choose from those databases.
Westlaw: The standard search display is what we’re used to, which may be it’s biggest advantage. Just eyeballing it, it looks like about a 12-point font. Subtitles are centered, and outlined “letters” are indented furthest on the left. The left side features the miniature search bar, the legislative history, and a small ResultsPlus section. Each side of the screen has its own scroll bar. The “Notes of Decision,” cases interpreting the statute, are located at the bottom of the statutory text and legislative history, library references and secondary sources, so it is necessary to scroll down a ways to find them.
WestlawNext: The results seem to have a slightly bigger font, compared to standard Westlaw. I’m almost sure font size for both can be modified, but there’s no way to do it from their preferences menus, which is a little irritating. I like my fonts small, so I can pack more content into every screen. Subtitles are bolded and all the way to the left, and outlined “letters” are also all the way to the left, as well. This makes it a little more difficult to understand the outline format of the statute. It is less crowded, almost appearing book-like. The statutory text is on the left side, and the right side features a small screen including the “Notes of Decision,” conveniently located at the top of the screen for easy access.
Outcome: Win for Westlaw. There’s less clicking necessary to see the cases interpreting the statute in standard Westlaw, but WestlawNext has quick reaction time and it is so well-organized that it’s hard to mind. WestlawNext gives users the option of seeing specific notes of decision related to the search, and removing other categories that are not relevant. However, from a visual perspective, the old Westlaw does a better job of organizing the final statute in a way that is easy to read and understand.
Westlaw: Clicking on a flag yields a simple list of cases sorted by type (for example, distinguished by, declined to follow), including the flags for those cases.
WestlawNext: The KeyCite for WestlawNext has separate tabs for negative treatment and citing references. New to this version is a small blurb about each case. There is also a “depth” meter that supposedly indicates how much the case discusses the user’s original cite. A cursory comparison indicates that it does a fairly decent job.
Outcome: Win for WestlawNext.
WestlawNext: New to WestlawNext is the concept of research folders. For example, I have an electronic folder for my appeal, and from almost any screen I can save cases, statutes or other research to any of my folders for easy access later. This is terrific when working on multiple projects at the same time. Additionally, it is far superior to relying on the old method of the “Research Trail” when working from home and trying to get a little extra work done without the file. I haven’t experimented fully, but I think these folders can be shared with other users, and can be exported directly to the user’s hard drive, which can be very useful.
Outcome: Win for WestlawNext.
Given the very good price we are being offered to upgrade, our firm is going to take the plunge and move up. I look forward to tinkering with the new features and exploring the nuances.
For those of you who have already upgraded — any tips, tricks, or dislikes?