When I first saw the WestlawNext (WLN) product back in January, there were two things that I thought were going to make WLN shine when it came to legal research. One of those features was available at launch, and the other just became available this week. The ability to build upon existing user reaction to searches in a way that improved future searches was something that impressed me, and showed that WLN could leverage the experts using the database as a way to improve the database. The second feature, released this week, is the ability for researchers to share folders amongst each other, and collaborate on research directly in WLN. Many firms have struggled with ways to improve collaboration on legal research project, and the WLN folder sharing option could create an easier way of cutting down on duplicative research, or multiple copies of research results that reside in multiple locations. Here are some screenshots of the WLN Folder Sharing feature.

For Law Librarians that conduct research on WLN, this could be one of those “golden opportunities” to be on the forefront of improving how legal research results are shared, and be seen as the leader of this improvement. Instead of researching for an individual attorney and emailing those results to him or her, a librarian could help organize the research folders on matters and share those results through the WLN folder sharing process, adding notes to the results and attaching the librarians name to those results. Now the librarian is not just a person “down in the library” but is actually a person on the team for that matter.

I discussed this with Mike Dahn, VP for WLN product development, and he agrees that this this not only helps put the librarian on the research team, but also for a “potential rebirth opportunity for the type of pathfinders and research starting guides that librarians used to put together all the time.” Dahn sees those types of materials in a way that makes them active learning resources where “librarians can not only help with the current matter, they can help with future matters proactively.”

Dahn expanded the “proactive” discussion to include the knowledge management angle as well. I poked at KM a few weeks ago and said the focus was now on making cool looking interfaces rather than leveraging existing work products, and even Toby talked about how lawyers don’t like the initial work that is involved in making KM a success (AKA “the hard work”). I think that Dahn must agree with our accessment of KM when he told me that his “experience has been that if knowledge management is something the end user has to ‘do’ – then it tends not to be very helpful. But if knowledge management is something that occurs naturally as part of the user’s workflow, then it can be incredibly useful.”

It will be interesting to see if librarians can use the new WLN Folder Sharing resource as yet another way to show the benefits of having quality library researchers on staff in law firms. Let us know if you’re already doing something like this at your firm, or plan to implement it in the future.