It’s been a very interesting year for Thomson Reuters and their WestlawNext product. This week, the folks at WestlawNext returned to LegalTech in New York to mark the anniversary (and for many of us law librarians, remind us that they still wish to get around us to sell this to your organization.) So, besides what I think is a great product that suffered from a bad marketing and sales plan, what has WLN accomplished this year?? Here’s the rundown from the WLN press release:

In the year since its launch, more than 15,000 law firms; corporate law departments; and law departments in federal, state and local government organizations have upgraded to WestlawNext, including 33 percent of Am Law 100 law firms. Also, more than 1,400 corporate law departments have upgraded to WestlawNext, including those from 20 percent of Fortune 100 companies, and WestlawNext is available in 97 percent of ABA-accredited law schools as well.

I think that many of the readers of this blog can probably read these stats and see “creative marketing” written all over it. I wonder how many of those 33% of AmLaw 100 firms were offered free upgrades to WLN, or other incentives to move over to the new product? I know I heard horror story after horror story of the significant price increases (or as WLN put it last year, “modest premium” increases) that prevented many large law firms to switch to WLN, even when their existing contract was expiring.

Again, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. WestlawNext is a great product and offers a lot of features that make legal research easier and better. However, I will also say this again. Attempting to go around law librarians (who have to account for the cost of these services), coupled with the increase in pricing for the service, will make the transition to WLN much slower, and will leave a bad taste in the mouths of those responsible for making the upgrade to WLN. Whoever at Thomson Reuters that decided to turn the salespeople loose on the firms with a “get what you can get” approach to selling this product, needs to be fired. As I told Lexis last year, we don’t want to feel like we’re buying a used car from a sleazy salesman in a polyester suit. At this time, it appears that 67% of the AmLaw 100 firms agree with me.

Pricing Exposed to Academics
Last week, I was listening in on Rich Leiter’s podcast when he started discussing how he (as the Director of the University of Nebraska Law Library) is a huge fan of WLN and loves what it can do. However, even Rich was stunned when he saw the pricing sheet of WLN if you get access to information outside what is allowed in your contract. I wanted to jump in on the call and shout – “Welcome to my world, Rich!!”

The WestlawNext Academic platform now shows the students (and the faculty) of law schools, exactly how much the “street value” of WLN costs, and why law firm librarians always tell Summer Associates the stories of how past Summers’ were stupid enough to get into databases outside the firm’s contract and rack up $30K bills for looking at things like 50-state surveys. $3,400/hr databases is an old story in law firms, but I am happy that WLN is showing the pricing sheets to law students. It is also good for academics to understand that what they pay for Westlaw or WestlawNext is a fraction of what law firms with a similar number of users pays… a very small fraction. So, kudos to WLN for putting that information in front of them.

I still think that most firms will upgrade to WLN over the next two-three years. However, those firms that stuck with the basic Westlaw instead of upgrading aren’t exactly loosing sleep over it. The final move will come when Thomson Reuters announces that it is shutting down the platform and forcing its users to either upgrade, or move to a different provider. It’s a shame that the last year has been a battle between firms and Thomson Reuters over the WLN product. I hope that Thomson Reuters has learned some lessons on how to release new products like this in the future… I can hope any way.

Here’s a snapshot of the WLN pricing sheet that students and faculty can now see. (Click to enlarge)