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.
  • In the words of Ricky Bobby – “With all due respect” I disagree with the reasons ThomsonReuters gives for charging a “modest premium” for the “upgrade.” I fully expect my SaaS vendors to continually upgrade their products. That is a universal value proposition for going with the cloud and part of what I am buying. Occasionally the upgrade better be a significant one to keep up with technology improvements.

    By telling their customer that they are slow (5 years) and bloated ($1b in costs), they aren’t making any points. And they may have not noticed in the rest of the world, technology costs go down over time. So a price increase is doubly insulting.

    This is classic Duopoly behavior. You justify your aggressive pricing behavior by talking about your costs. It’s ironic that the consultants from the same company put out papers telling law firms they need to do AFAs and base prices not on a firm’s costs, but on the value of the products.

  • Anonymous

    There is alot of misinformation flying around about WLN right now.

    The fact is, WLN will be available for access by firms on a paid trial basis. The charges will not be $60 each search, but $10 for each search, $5 for each find, and $2 for each KeyCite accessed through the new platform, plus any ancillary charges associated with the content accessed if that content is outside of the firm's current Westlaw plan. All of this will be recorded in quickview for cost recovery and tracking purposes. Warning screens will display for users notifying them of these charges before they access WLN.

    As for rolling out the product to law students, how can TR in good faith hold it back from them? Many firms will have this product by the end of 2010, and certainly by the end of the 2010/2011 college year, a good percentage of firms of all sizes are likely to be using the product. Some may say it will further "dumb down" the research process – in my honest opinion, Google has already achieved that goal.

    And if you don't want to pay for WLN, you don't have to. Stay on Westlaw.com, which remains a far better tool than Lexis and strongly preferred over the current competition by law students, attorneys and librarians.

    If you're afraid of a trial, don't accept one, and call your Westlaw rep to tell them you don't want your attorneys to be able to access it independently. If you scream loud enough, they will hear you and make sure the complaint is elevated up the chain. However, the costs associated with a trial are small and the benefits to efficiency are likely to be great – anyone who has seen the product cannot legitimately deny this.

    A Westlaw Rep.

  • I applaud you Greg for this post and read this the same way that you do. I have a marital connection with a former Westlaw rep, so I am a bit familiar with their strategies. I think West is going about this all wrong. Two steps forward, about twenty steps back. But, it is definitely not out of character.

    Sorry Anonymous Rep. Your arguments sound a wee bit hollow.


  • I'm afraid that I'm going to have to pick some 'low hanging fruit' here as to the irony that the Westlaw Rep had to answer anonymously on this post, while no one from West took the initiative to post a reply to the law library list that started this conversation two days ago.
    My (still) biggest complaint is that if this product is supposed to get better as people use it, then why stick your worst users on it first? I know, I know… that is a 'technical' issue and has nothing to do with marketing, but it shoots a big hole in one of the reasons we're given to upgrade.
    Another complaint is that for weeks now I've been given this answer whenever the issue of "price" comes up: "We haven't yet determined our pricing on this product yet." To which all of the people that have had any dealings with Thomson Reuters said "do you really think we're that stupid?" This is not Thomson Reuters first rodeo. Pricing was probably determined a long time ago. So, if the idea was to arm the local reps with that information and get it out one client at a time, then the 'misinformation' flying around is the direct result of this bad idea.
    I appreciate you setting the record straight… really, I do. But, I suggest that the "hey, if you don't like it, don't buy it – you're only screwing yourself" attitude had better be something that all the reps keep to themselves.

  • Exceptional coverage on this, Greg!

  • Greg,

    The numbers that Anonymous threw out sound in line with what we were told in Eagan. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be what is playing out in practice, which has me wondering whether those "fixed" prices are actually negotiable.

    There is much more in the comment to address, so I'll leave it to you to write a new post about feet, wrists, and doors.

  • Jennifer Frazier

    I'm just guessing here but the folks in Eagan may have thought they were telling the truth when they said it wasn't being pushed out to law students immediately. The 1Ls who will be getting it in the fall won't be associates for 3 more years. (This of course completely discounts any summer clerking jobs). Which gives TRL plenty of time to push us all to the new platform and announce that they can't maintain both westlaw.com and westlawnext.com. The strategy will work hand and hand with each other. Because let's admit it we all know that this is coming. They won't want to maintain 2 different sites forever and 3 years is long enough. It also works for the contract negotiations since most contracts are standard 3 year contracts by time these students graduate current contracts for westlaw.com should all be expiring so anyone holding out will be in a pickle. This is again a gamble that in 3 years Lexis, Google, Bloomberg or others won't have stolen a large part of the market. One can hope.

  • Jennifer,
    You are probably correct on the "they thought they were telling the truth." As I told someone yesterday, I think they refer to it as "plausible deniability".

    Toby is actually the master of the 'wrist in the door' concept. I'd rather leave that post to the master!

  • The product appears to me, at first blush, to be a very good product, an improvement over the existing West product. I'm sure West wanted to get it to the market as soon as possible, even with a few challenges yet to be worked out.
    How is this different from MS? Yet, I don't hear a lot of complaints about them?
    Yes, times are tough … all over. But, law firms and their libraries are not sacred cows … If you need the product, buy it. Your clients will love you if you come up with the right answers for them as a result of faster and more effective research.
    Oh, and if you're really upset, try Bloomberg or Lexis-Nexis Seems like there's enough competition to keep West's pricing market-reasonable.