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WestlawNext Preview: Product and Pricing

January 27th, 2010 · 31 Comments


Westlaw will be launching its new search engine, called WestlawNext, at Legal Tech New York next Monday. Yesterday, the folks responsible for WestlawNext gave a pre-launch presentation about the new platform to a group of bloggers and legal journalists who write for various audiences. Carolyn Elefant and I were there representing the small firm and solo practitioner perspective. Other participants included Greg Lambert of 3 Geeks and a Law Blog (large firm perspective), Donna Tuke of Legal Information Alert (a publication for law librarians) and Canadian practice management advisor David Bilinsky (among others). (Disclosure: West paid the participants’ expenses to travel to its Eagan, Minnesota headquarters for the meeting). Everyone at the Eagan meeting (as well as a few others who were not able to attend) had already had an opportunity to use the beta version of Westlaw Next and to provide feedback to the developers.

How Does WestlawNext Differ from Westlaw?

Although he couldn’t make it to Eagan, Bob Ambrogi (who was one of the bloggers who got a beta preview) hit most of the high points of the new search tool in a post published yesterday. Laura Bergus of Social Media Law Student and David Bilinsky have also posted product reviews.

A few additional points are worth mentioning. First, although the ABA Journal reported that, as of December, West was still considering whether or not would allow users to perform boolean (terms and connectors) searches, at yesterday’s meeting the West representatives clarified that boolean searching is not being eliminated.

Second, although both Ambrogi and the ABA Journal refer to the ability to do “natural language” searches in WestlawNext, the West representatives explained that the WestlawNext algorithm for non-boolean searches is much more sophisticated than the algorithm used for natural language searches on Westlaw.com. In particular, it leverages West’s human-created content—including the key number system and other proprietary analytical content (such as statutory annotations and treatises)—along with KeyCite results and customer usage information to return more relevant results earlier in the research process.

Third, I’m intrigued by the fact that you can search in a database that is outside your subscription plan, and review the results list, without incurring search charges. Instead of charging for the search, with WestlawNext, you’ll be charged only for accessing the documents that you view in full text.

Pricing: the Elephant in the Room

There’s no question that WestlawNext is superior to Westlaw. Unfortunately (as the ABA Journal noted on Monday), that performance comes at a price.

When we asked, point blank, what that price would be, the West representatives didn’t have a simple answer. Instead, they explained that the company’s sales reps will try to convince customers to add additional content to their subscriptions at the time of upgrade. When pressed as to whether the upgrade would be pegged at a certain percentage of the cost of a subscriber’s plan, West denied taking that approach.

West’s non-response essentially leaves its subscribers in the dark and on their own when it comes to upgrade negotiations. As I see it, the best way to counter West’s strategy is to crowdsource solutions, a la BidonTravel.com. Perhaps some enterprising legal tech expert will set up a site like BidonTravel.com in the not too distant future; in the meantime, I invite you to discuss your experiences in the comments below.

I’d like to upgrade, but I know I don’t want additional content within my subscription plan. How West will respond to this position remains to be seen; I’ll report back on my negotiations with my account rep.

Finally, some advice for West: although I don’t have any statistics at the moment, my sense is that, since it lowered its prices a number of years ago, West has captured a significant portion of the small firm lawyers and solo practitioners who previously used Lexis. If WestlawNext comes at too high a premium, West may lose the ground it’s gained.

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Tags: Legal Research · Practice Management

31 responses so far ↓

  • D. Todd Smith // // Jan 27, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Google Scholar and similar free or low-cost services seem to be making serious inroads into the legal research market, and it’s interesting to watch Thomson West and LexisNexis scramble in response. In theory, this ought to lower prices. I agree it would be a bad move for West to try and gouge existing customers for an “upgrade.” Improvements fall within the doing business, folks.

  • D. Todd Smith // // Jan 27, 2010 at 9:45 am

    I meant “cost of doing business.” More coffee…

  • Rick Horowitz // // Jan 27, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Two things — make it three — always amaze me about Westlaw and Lexis.

    1) The assumption that I’m willing to spend up to 40% of my overhead on legal research services I only use at most one to three times per month, or,

    2) The assumption all attorneys have amazing amounts of money, so cost is not a significant factor, and,

    3) Upgrades that always feel like downgrades.

    As relatively new solo doing only criminal defense in an economically-depressed area — I recall reading the other day that unemployment here is around 16.8% — even their most basic services strain my monthly budget.

    What is so hard about creating a decent basic search package that doesn’t break my bank?

  • Lisa Solomon // // Jan 27, 2010 at 10:14 am

    I heartily agree, Todd. Indeed, many marketing experts discuss the importance of treating existing customers better than (or at least as good as) current customers. (See, for example, Kathy Sierra’s post on this subject at her blog, Creating Passionate Users, http://tinyurl.com/3x659h ) A company like West shouldn’t try to recoup its R&D costs for a long-overdue product improvement by charging its current customers to upgrade to the improved version, just as lawyers shouldn’t bill the cost of their Westlaw (or WestlawNext) subscriptions back to their clients (a subject I wrote about at http://tinyurl.com/ktpynx ).

  • Greg Lambert // // Jan 27, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    One thing I’d have to say is that I don’t think that this is really a reaction to Google Scholars introduction of cases into the ‘free internet’ market. I’ll admit that when I heard things like Westlaw was going to Googlize/Googlesque the WestlawNext product, I thought the same thing. But, after sitting down and discussing the in’s and out’s of what Thomson Reuters has done, and what their aim is in the next year, I no longer thought that it was a rush to put out something that was Google-like.
    This project has been a five year undertaking and a $1 billion+ investment from Thomson Reuters to finally leverage all of their value added products (KeyCite, KeyNumbers, lawyer edited information, and secondary sources) to make the Westlaw search better on the backend, and easier on the front end. Placing the issue of “how much more is this going to cost me” to the side for a minute, I’d have to say that from what I saw and from what I heard from the research attorneys at West, this product is a significant improvement over Westlaw.com.
    It still has a way to go, and the pricing issue is something that you’re going to have to argue about with your local Westlaw rep. But, if you compare this new search interface against the old in an apples to apples comparison, it looks like WestlawNext is a much better resource for anyone doing legal research.

  • WestlawNext: It's About Time | Social Media Law Student // // Jan 27, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    [...] Rex’s contacts I was able to preview WestlawNext and it is very impressive. Bob Ambrogi and Lisa Solomon are writing about the impact and features, and speculating on pricing. But here are the highlights [...]

  • Lisa Solomon // // Jan 27, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I agree that WestlawNext is a significant improvement over Westlaw.com. But, as Mike Dane of West noted yesterday in the context of discussing browsers, many lawyers continue to use older technology that still works, even though it’s not the best possible tool for the job (and with browsers, upgrading is free). So West has to overcome both everyday inertia and the upsell challenge.

  • Jason the Content Librarian » Video: discussion of WestlawNext // // Jan 27, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    [...] Journal and New York Times have already written about it. Lisa Solomon and Robert Ambrogi have seen it also. On Feb. 1st Westlaw unveils it’s new product WestlawNext to [...]

  • Carolyn Elefant // // Jan 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    I made the point about the balance between older and newer attorneys in my New York Times quote. Frankly, I think that’s largely what held West back from making changes sooner – the fact that many lawyers are stodgy when it comes to new technology. Though I don’t necessarily believe (as we were told) that this launch date was set five years ago, I knew that this was not a reaction to Google Legal. That’s not West’s target market.

  • Legal Geekery Podcast Special: WestlawNext // // Jan 28, 2010 at 2:48 pm

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  • David Bilinsky - Thoughtful Legal Management // // Jan 29, 2010 at 11:43 am

    [...] Lisa Solomon posted a review exploring pricing and other thoughts on her blog Legal Research and Writing Pro. [...]

  • Legal links of the week: WestlawNext « Legal Current // // Jan 29, 2010 at 8:28 pm

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  • AdamsDrafting » Blog Archive » Kicking the Tires of WestlawNext // // Feb 1, 2010 at 12:31 am

    [...] Lisa Solomon [...]

  • Robert Brooks // // Feb 17, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I have a $285/mon. subscription and was quoted an extra $100/mon. for Next.

  • Lisa Solomon // // Feb 17, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Thanks for your feedback, Robert. Was that based on an identical subscription to your current one, or did they insist that you subscribe to new content as well?

  • Robert Brooks // // Feb 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Well, I got the rep to cut the price in half (334 as opposed to 285 now. Initial offer was 385.), and throw in 3 specific databases a la carte , in addition to the several additional databases I’m getting that I want. So, I’m getting all the databases I want. No extension in my contract. Along with the new interface, it’s worth it to me.

  • Greg Lambert // // Feb 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Robert… reminds me of that seen in Fargo where they try to sell you undercoat protection for your car:

    Jerry Lundegaard: Well, we’ve never done this before. But seeing as it’s special circumstances and all, he says I can knock a hundred dollars off that Trucoat.

    Throw in two or three additional things to make the initial product seem like a bargain. It will be interesting to see what they try when you come up for your renewal on this contract.

  • Lisa Solomon // // Feb 22, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Fantastic news, Robert! I’m still waiting to get full database information from my rep’s sales manager.

  • Amy Kleinpeter // // Feb 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I was quoted about $70 increase for WestlawNEXT, I changed my plan though to get ALLSTATE and ALLFED instead of just California so now I can research to my heart’s content for $100 increase. I do think it is worth it (obviously, I signed the contract) both to not have to deal with database selection in search and also to save research in folders and also to have the ability to see a portion of documents that are out of plan before choosing to click or not.
    However, I did have to wonder “How did they just figure out how to make a clean and pretty interface now? Nice of them to keep the cheaper version ugly!!”

  • WestlawNext: Legal Research Goes Human « Technology at Albany Law School // // Apr 19, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    [...] Lisa Solomon discusses product and pricing.  [...]

  • H. Scott Leviant // // Apr 28, 2010 at 2:14 am

    We just met with our Westlaw rep today. When pressed on pricing, she was very evasive. When “deposed” for an answer, she finally said that WestlawNext was running “about 20%” above the Westlaw.com price for similar content. She suggested, but did not exactly state, that we would have no choice but to increase the databases covered in our subscription to have the upgrade. This appears to me to be an attempt to bury the price increase under a service expansion. What is the marginal cost of access to an extra database from Westlaw’s point of view? I assume it is nearly zero. Any dollars they get from us are almost pure gravy, other than some bandwidth expense, which isn’t that high.

    I am going to suggest to our office manager that she give Westlaw a take-it-or-leave-it offer of 0% price increase and move to WestlawNext or we abandon Westlaw entirely at the end of our contract. I suspect that they want the account (about $2,500 a month) more than they want the small price bump for WestlawNext.

  • Lisa Solomon // // Apr 28, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Scott, thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. It’s exactly what I expected, in light of both West’s responses to questioning (described above) and my own contract negotiations (described in many of my recent posts).

    I look forward to hearing about the ultimate result of your negotiation.

  • D. Todd Smith // // Apr 28, 2010 at 10:08 am

    I meet with my West rep on Friday and will follow up on how it goes.

  • Anonymous // // Nov 2, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    I contacted Westlaw to consider signing up for an account and was very unhappy with the experience.

    Using an internet-conferencing program, a Westlaw rep was able to give me a good presentation of WestlawNext.

    Anyway, when the rep finally told me about the pricing, she gave me one price, but then told me that there was a special price that was good only for the current month. That basically ended my interest in Westlaw, as I didn’t enjoy the feeling that I was being treated as a sucker who would fall for such a high-pressure sales gimmick. I had a fairly lengthy discussion with the sales rep about my objection, although I was perfectly polite, as was the sales rep.

    The very next day I received an email from this rep, from which I quote:

    “I have talked extensively with my boss about earning your business.

    “This pricing is especially created and designed by my manager, Jonathan – but he has asked for a time frame of Thursday by 3PM CST.

    “I have explained our previous conversation that you do not take kindly to sales tactics or games and that these are not my ways of selling either!!!

    “With that being said – he’s the bad guy in this – but he is really offering you a great deal for a lot less to earn your business this month.

    “Because this is a final notice I personally want to offer you some free books ($1600 in value) of your choice (95% of our books I can offer you) and postpone your 1st month WestlawNext billing to end of December.”

    Apparently, Westlaw preferred that I look elsewhere for my legal-research needs, and its preference has been granted.

  • Kennedy-Mighell Report, Episode #22: iPad: Gadget or Game Changer? | The Kennedy-Mighell Report // // Nov 10, 2010 at 10:22 pm

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  • Practice Management // // Dec 16, 2010 at 11:30 am

    It was pretty pricey when I checked it out.

  • Walt // // Dec 25, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Nothing the merry marketeers at Westlaw have done since my first encounter in the 80′s has ever reminded me of even-handed treatment. So. Is it a great product? Don’t care.

  • Charles Grey // // Jan 25, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    What about the options in developing countries?. I do not think a firm in Africa can pay 300$ a month. How they make research?. Maybe they look in Google Schoolar, or in Wikipedia. Cornell or the Encyclopedia of Law (lawin/org) may be a better option.

  • Charles Grey Law Options // // Jan 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    I include the Encyclopedia of Law Project website above with my name because I made a mistake typing it in the last comment.

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    My blog; pit 28 interaktywny (Numbers)

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