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WestlawNext: bringing the human touch to search.


On Feb. 1, Westlaw unveiled its latest innovation at the start of LegalTech New York.

Billed as "the next generation in legal research," WestlawNext builds upon Westlaw's 138-year legacy in legal editorial analysis and technological innovation. This new state-of-the-art legal research solution with a clean, modern interface and the power of new search functionality didn't come easy. It took 5 years and hundreds of people to create this proprietary search system, according to Mike Dahn, vice president of WestlawNext product development. The development team worked with customers and legal professionals to create and apply intelligent tools to get casework done smarter and faster.

"This is one of the most significant investments we have made in our history," says Peter Warwick, president and CEO of Legal at Thomson Reuters. And despite the complexity of the mission and the pressures of an uneasy economy, "WestlawNext was delivered according to specifications, on budget, and on time." The new research system is taking technology as far as it could go so it can last for many years to come, he says. The system is clean, flexible, and intuitive so users can find all relevant content on one interface and customize their displays with one click.

Dahn focuses on the anxiety-ridden process that legal professionals face: "How do I know when my research is done?" A user wants to find everything to make sure the research is thorough and complete. A user can type a query into a box and have results returned with those keywords. But WestlawNext goes beyond simple discovery and conducts more research on the relevant keywords to give users a broader scope. "Just type in the jurisdiction," says Dahn, "and the federated search returns results that are more inclusive and better ranked." It automates the process of applying tools such as Key Numbers, KeyCite, and secondary sources to uncover critical documents. But just because the search process is automated doesn't mean a user can't generate a Boolean search when needed or preferred. "Just because we're removing the need to use a database," he says, "we're not removing the database."


WestlawNext has a "human" factor, says Warwick. "It thinks the way you do ... and with the algorithms running behind the scenes, the system gets smarter with every search." It brings the benefits of real insights into play, according to Dahn, interpreting what a user wants and offering suggestions. Users can filter results by date, topic, jurisdiction, court, or publication status and then highlight relevant text and create notes on the document, all online.

WestlawNext also makes research organization more efficient. Some searchers would rather start their research over again instead of trying to wade through piles of documents collected 6 months ago. "The new foldering system allows customers to organize as they go," says Dahn, noting that the folders are also fully searchable. The system will even update documents in folders, flagging them to alert users of the changes.

While information providers such as Westlaw have credited the value of their metadata as key differentiators from the open web or other types of searches, "embedding that metadata in search might be what it takes to raise the value of proprietary systems above the increasingly attractive options found in the open web," as David Curle, director and lead analyst for Outsell, Inc., noted in the Feb.1 issue of Insights.

"It really represents the future of research," says Warwick. "It gives our customers a powerful advantage."
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Title Annotation:Product News & Reviews
Author:Brynko, Barbara
Publication:Information Today
Date:Mar 1, 2010
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