I was a little shocked (I think it may have raised to the level of ‘ticked-off’) yesterday when I read that WestlawNext (WLN) was being rolled out to law schools this Spring, and law students would get access to WLN as soon as the Fall 2010 semester.  While I have no issues with law librarians and faculty at law schools having access to WLN (apparently at no additional cost to the schools), I have to say that I’m extremely disappointed in the people at ThomsonReuters that decided that giving this new product to law students was a good idea.  In fact, it specifically flies in the face of what I and others who traveled to Eagan, Minnesota last month were told.  When Jason Eiseman shot the video of a group of us discussing WLN, if you move up to around the 5:05 minute mark of the video, you hear me specifically applaud the ThomsonReuters decision not to roll this out to law students.

The discussion got pretty heated one of the Private Law Libraries listservs last night and the concensus is that exposing law students to a product that hasn’t been adopted by law firms smacks of a ‘marketing ploy’ to try to force the hands of law firms to accept the new WLN platform, along with its “modest premium” price increase.  As of this posting, there was no response to the list from ThomsonReuters (though I do expect one sometime today.)

Many of the law librarians were even questioning why this new platform wasn’t just included as part of the current contracts rather than as a premium upgrade at an additional cost.  To be fair to ThomsonReuters, I jumped back in the conversation and explained the reasoning that the people on the Project Cobalt team gave me for the “modest premium” upgrade charges that your local Reps will be negotiating. Here are the reasons they gave me:

  • The WestlawNext platform is completely separated from what is now on Westlaw.com.   
  • The infrastructure is completely new, the programming is new, and the search engine is new. 
  • This project (formerly know as Project Cobalt) took about 5 years and an investment of over $1 Billion. 
  • WLN breaks down the 30,000 databases and allows you to search all of them (regardless of what your contract covers) without any extra costs (no additional costs would be incurred until you ‘opened’ or ‘downloaded’ one of the out of contract documents. 
  • In the eyes of ThomsonReuters, this is not simply an upgrade to the product, it is a major redesign of the product from the ground up. 
  • ThomsonReuters will not maintain both WLN and Westlaw.com – with the .com product eventually being discontinued (no time was mentioned)
Although I specifically told the list that these were not my words, but rather what I was told (since no one at ThomsonReuters chimed in to explain their position), I took a beating from some of the folks on the list asking if I was basically WestlawNext’s Monkey. I think that just shows how nervous those of us are that have to manage budgets and then vendors like ThomsonReuters comes along and throws a big monkey wrench into the mix and gives little to no details on the “how much” portion of a product.  And if I have to hear some lame excuse of how “we’re a big company, and sometimes things get put out without our knowledge” from the Library Relations team, I will scream!  
Now the local representatives are making their way around to the law firms, apparently each armed with enough information to scare and confuse the rest of us. (See Lisa Solomon’s blog for how negotiations are going.) Last word from those that spoke to their reps is that the WLN product will be available for use under a $60.00 transactional fee, even if you don’t roll it into your contract.  If you roll it into your contract, then you’ll only pay the “modest premium” increase in your contract rate.  And, since WLN runs on a different web address, if you don’t want your attorneys accessing the new product for the transnational fee, then you’ll need to block the WLN site.  I really hope that information is just a local rep’s opinion and not the policy of ThomsonReuters.  This just adds one more layer of confusion, anger and mistrust to the WLN situation.
I understand that ThomsonReuters is a for-profit company; that WLN is the result of a lot of money and research development; and, that the reps make money when they get firms to ‘upgrade’ rather than ‘maintain’ subscriptions.  My gripe is that when something as big as this is released without someone from the company coming out and letting everyone know when it is officially going to be released, what databases are and are not currently included, who is and who is not going to have access, and how much the darn thing is going to cost you, then it sounds like I’m dealing with a used car sales team rather than ThomsonReuters.  
Here’s my suggestion to ThomsonReuters —  WestlawNext looks like a pretty good product, and it implements some good technology. Don’t blow this thing up out of the gates by pushing out information piecemeal.  Don’t let your marketing team override the library relations and development team on who should and who should not get access.  Don’t send local sales reps out with pieces of information so that each of us is given a different story on how much this is going to cost and what is included.  Times are tough for library budgets right now.  Now is not the time to try to force firms into upgrading a product through manipulation and confusing tactics.  A damaged relationship with your clients is a very, very difficult thing to repair.