The writing is on the wall, and more details are in the ABA Journal. The user interfaces for both Lexis and Westlaw are scheduled for an upgrade this year. The article provides screen shots of the two new interfaces, so be sure to take a look if you're curious.
Lexis changes are described by Marty Kilmer, Vice President for New Product Strategy:
“Our new search engine is radically different,” says Marty Kilmer, vice president for new product strategy at LexisNexis. “Under the old system you had to know what you wanted to search. You had to drill down to find the right databases.”
Kilmer says attorneys made it clear that they wanted something simpler to use and better ways to know when they’ve exhausted their research options.
An early preview of the New Lexis opens with a simple query box. Boolean search terms—like “Roe and Wade” or “Scalia or Roberts”—are a thing of the past. Users can type a simple query with natural language, a la Google or Yahoo. Queries can be filtered by jurisdiction, type of content or other restrictions. The search engine, like Google, has artificial intelligence that will help pull more relevant results.
And the results are not just pulled from Lexis’ proprietary databases. According to Kilmer, users can obtain results from tens of thousands of legal websites Lexis has identified on the open Web. Those results will also be filtered for relevance, Kilmer says.
More significantly, the search results obtained from the New Lexis are displayed and organized in a vastly different manner than before. Windows along the sides display relevant results organized into folders such as cases, statutes and regulations. Users can sort the results in a variety of intuitive ways.
Scroll over the case name, and brief summaries pop up. Shepard’s citation service is incorporated into each case and even can be viewed graphically. Cases are plotted on a graph with axes for time and court level. Points on the graph relate to the central case as either relevant points of law or relevant legal issues.
The goal is to give users the most precise results in the most efficient manner, Kilmer says.
New Lexis also promises tools for collaboration, allowing users to store results in work folders for later reference.
Westlaw changes are described by Mike Dahn, Vice President for New Product Development:
A preview of WestlawNext also reveals it no longer requires users to learn the structure of its underlying databases. Instead, it allows users to enter a simple search term in natural language. As of late December, the company was debating whether to eliminate Boolean searches from the new platform or keep them as an option.
Searches can be narrowed by jurisdiction, type of content or other features, and artificial intelligence is used to help pull relevant results. Search results are returned in a list, but windows also appear sorting by content type—such as cases, statutes or legislation. The new platform also allows users to bookmark favorite databases and to track those they use most frequently. Westlaw’s KeyCite results—its counterpart to Shepard’s—are also incorporated into the results.
WestlawNext promises tools for workflow collaboration. Results can be saved in a folder and sorted by the client they were conducted for. Users will see when they last reviewed a saved case or statute, and numerous bells and whistles will allow users to search saved cases, highlight portions of them and even add their own notes.
Legal info up-and-comers FastCase and Bloomberg Law are also discussed, as these two newcomers to the market have given the duopolists some desparately needed competition.
While arguably designed to compete with the new free and low cost alternatives available, the pricing models for these new search platforms remain unclear.
Price—particularly during a recession—may be the ultimate competitive advantage. For the time being, the companies are mum on what the new platforms will cost lawyers. As of late December, West had not priced its new platform, but the company said when the platform is launched it will only be available as an upgrade. LexisNexis had not determined its pricing, but company representatives said many of the features on the new platform might be made available on an a la carte basis. Bloomberg declined to comment.
Walters of Fastcase says the others should pay attention to his company because it is proof of the power of the bottom line. Fastcase offers subscriptions for as little as $95 per month.
Then, of course, there is Google’s unbeatable price of free.
Will the changes come to the academic experience? Given Lexis and Westlaw's track record, I would guess most definitely yes. Assuming I'm right, when will the changes come to the academic experience? No information on that yet.
Will the changes improve legal research, thereby benefiting law and jurisprudence? It's too soon to tell. Westlaw and Lexis are extremely complicated database gateways that most users fail to exploit to their full potential. A simpler interface could help some researchers find more useful information with less work.
However, I think there is a very real concern that without the ability to conduct boolean searches in user-selected databases, it may homogenize the process legal research and prevent novel discoveries and arguments. If opposing counsel are both searching with the same terms, they will both get the same results. Call me an anti-AI-ite (though I'm not), but I don't always want the computer to do all the thinking for me, especially when I'm representing a client.
Additionally, there is the big question of price. As we all know, Lexis and Westlaw are for-profit corporations concerned with their market share and quarterly earnings. I have argued previously that these companies manipulate their user interfaces to increase search costs. I hope they make me eat my words, but I would predict that I'll be going hungry.