I had a great conversation with Darrell Huntsman, VP for New Lexis Innovation Initiatives, yesterday along with a demonstration of the new LexisNexis for Microsoft Office product.  This is ‘Phase I’ of Lexis’ two phase project to rebuild their legal research product ‘from the ground up.’  The second phase will be the ‘New Lexis’ online research product that will be launched probably early in 2011.  An interesting comment from Huntsman was that many of the changes that were announced in the WestlawNext product will be very similar to the New Lexis product.
Why LexisNexis for MS Office?
When I asked Darrell why produce a product that is so integrated with MS Office, he said that they were looking to go “where the lawyers worked.”  Lexis’ research determined that a majority of the lawyer’s work is in building documents.  Whether it is a brief, a client memo, contract or other document, lawyers spend most of their time working within MS Office.  Lexis’ idea is to build their research database information into MS Office so that lawyers are spending less time toggling between their document tools (MS Office) and their research tools (LexisNexis).  So Lexis turned to the Microsoft development team to create a seamless method of connecting the MS Office Suite (Outlook, Work and even SharePoint) to Lexis.  In case you missed the subtlety of that comment, Lexis is not programming the resource, Microsoft is.
New Version of Lexis Classic?
When I saw the look of the product, I immediately thought of the old “Lexis Classic” software that we finally weaned users off of a few years ago.  The difference being that the software was now MS Office rather than Lexis’ stand alone product. It is an interesting approach in moving from the “web” platform (which most research vendors have pushed since 1998) back to a “software” platform. 
When I asked if the ‘views’ that we see when research results are brought back from Lexis are simply an embedded version of Internet Explorer, Huntsman says that it is not.  Instead the MS Office product runs an ‘X-Link’ call to the Lexis database and pipes in the results.  Those results are then formatted by Word or Outlook or SharePoint, and are not web versions at all.  Later versions will optimize the layout for multiple-monitor viewing.  This makes me wonder if the already over bloated MS Office tools will be even slower as a result.  Huntsman says that it will not decrease the speed of MS Office or slow your computer down when making these ‘X-Link’ calls.  Of course, color me skeptical on that issue.
Built for MS Office 2010 – Backward Compatible to 2007, But Not 2003

The LN for MS Office product is specifically designed for the upcoming Office 2010 product that is releasing this summer.  Lexis is taking advantage of the MS Office ribbon feature (you know that ‘feature’ that made learning Office 2007 so hard to do?)  When pressed on how many of the LN clients that will be interested in this product already have MS Office 2007, Huntsman said that probably more than 25% of the firms already had 2007, but that there is a great amount of pressure on those running older versions of Office to move to either 2007, or upgrade to 2010 very soon.  The low percentage may not be a bad thing for LexisNexis right now because they are still working on hardware upgrades on this product, and the New Lexis product.  So a longer transition period will help LexisNexis make sure they have the capacity to handle all the new demand. Perhaps Lexis felt the pressure from the competition to roll out the announcement of LexisNexis for MS Office a little sooner than they wanted.

DMS Integration & LexisNexis Legal Taxonomy Built-In
LexisNexis for MS Office will have some interesting features that caused the Knowledge Management portion of my brain to wake up and take interest.  It will integrate with most Document Management Systems (DMS) through the indexing features (Autonomy, FAST, Recommind, etc.)  On top of that, it appears that it will include some of the LexisNexis taxonomy profiling features found in the Lexis Search Advantage product. It will also index the documents on the local hard drive and apply the same profiling features.  The taxonomy profiling will be a significant value-added piece of LexisNexis for MS Office. 
Search Lexis, DMS, Local or Web Within MS Office
I have a standard question that I usually ask anyone showing me a new product.  “What is one thing in your product that you think is really useful, but may be overlooked by the user?” When I asked this of Darrell, he had a hard time coming up with a quick answer, then finally came up with the “Search Box” function that appears in the MS Office ribbon.  This search box allows you to search “all” or “individually” the Lexis database, the firm’s DMS, your local computer, or the Web.  Not surprisingly, Bing is the default search engine (it is a Microsoft project!)  The problem with the search box isn’t that it is an advanced feature, but rather that users just aren’t used to searching directly within Office.  So it will take some getting used to.

Love It or Hate It – LexisNexis & SharePoint Integration

I get a lot of mixed reactions when I mention SharePoint to IT or KM folks.  Many like the flexibility of SharePoint, while others cringe at the thought of trying to maintain the security and functionality of the product.  If you do like SharePoint, then LexisNexis is integrating webparts that will add features to SharePoint portal through the LexisNexis for MS Office product.  If you hate SharePoint, then this will probably not change your mind.
What About All Those Other Lexis Products?
For those of you that have other Lexis products, such as InterAction, atVantage, CourtLink, etc., there is discussion at Lexis to eventually begin bringing in these pieces to LexisNexis for MS Office. The CRM resources seem to be a natural fit for this product, so I assume this is high on the priority list for inclusion into the new product.  As for the others, we’ll have to see how the integration goes. 

Other Issues With LexisNexis for MS Office

LexisNexis for MS Office will begin Beta Testing later this month and the roll out will begin sometime in the Spring (Mar-Jun ’10).  I did not get into the pricing model, but have read that it could be simply an “add-in” for existing customers with an installation charge, but did not get verification.  It apparently doesn’t access all LexisNexis databases at this time, but I imagine this is something that will be added over time.  Also, in the initial version, there will not be a cost recovery module (researcher will not be able to enter client/matter numbers).  This will be added in later versions.  Also, if you use cost recovery products (Research Monitor, OneLog or LookUp Precision), these products will not work with LexisNexis for MS Office. 
There is still a way to go on getting this ready for full-blown research capability, but there will be some attorneys that will love the ability to do everything within MS Office.