I feel like I’ve been picking on the folks at Thomson Reuters regarding the launch of WestlawNext, especially with this post last week.  I expected a quick response from Thomson Reuters on my questioning their approach to pushing this out to law firms and more specifically to law students.  The response came this morning from Anne Ellis, Senior Director of the Westlaw Library Relations team.  I thought I’d push this out on the blog as a more reasoned response than the one we got from the anonymous ‘A Westlaw Rep.’  In fact, I hope that Anne cc’d all ‘Westlaw Reps.’ on this so that they can give a better response to the specific questions we had on the roll-out. The first three paragraphs are mostly ‘corporate speak’, but Anne goes on to answer some of the questions we had on the effect that law students will have on the new search algorithm (which was my primary concern.)

There are three points I’d like to address, where it seems speculation has been incorrect and has understandably caused concern: 

Rolling out WestlawNext to law firms. Our sales team will make trials of WestlawNext available to customers based on customer needs and priorities. Customers can learn more about WestlawNext by visiting westlawnext.com

Rolling out WestlawNext to law schools. In a previous note, I said that we would begin showing WestlawNext to law schools in a phased rollout of trial passwords, beginning with librarians and faculty this spring, and that we were making plans for launching WestlawNext to law students, with possible introduction as early as the Fall 2010 semester. It appears that it was understood by some that this meant that WestlawNext would be in all law schools by the fall of this year. To be clear, we are still determining timing for our rollout to law schools, and will work closely with law schools and the legal profession overall with the goal of helping them make better potential lawyers as we have always done. 

Questions relating to inexperienced researchers informing the search results. This is a really interesting discussion. I talked to the technology team behind WestlawNext, and student research was never to be part of the algorithm to inform search results. It was a very good question though, and I wish we had spoken to it in our original discussion about the artificial intelligence technology.

WestlawNext is an entirely new platform, and we worked hard in the days around launch to provide the right information to the right individuals. I think we all understand now that there will be questions popping up for awhile as people ask smart questions and as strategy and planning unfold.

We will continue to scan the blogs and listservs for comments that reveal gaps in the discussion, and I will try to speak to those points on a regular basis on Legal Current, the corporate blog for Thomson Reuters, Legal. I invite your questions and comments and I appreciate being part of the discussion.

Anne Ellis
Senior Director, Librarian Relations
Thomson Reuters

Anne’s response makes me feel a little bit better, especially regarding the issues of allowing the 1L’s to affect the algorithm of the WestlawNext search results (which apparently they won’t).  As the product gets pushed out to more law firms, we’ll keep an eye on how firms react and use the new research tool.