Friday, July 27, 2012

Next Generation Legal Search Engines: Westlaw Next, Lexis Advance and Bloomberg Law:The Good, The Bad and The Baffling

On Sunday,  July 22nd, I participated in the AALL program  on the Next Generation Of Legal Research Databases where co-panelists,  Jean Davis, Emily Marcum, Susan Nevelow Mart and Victoria Szymczak delivered the results of the survey we conducted regarding academic, law firm and government adoption of Lexis Advance, Westlaw Next and Bloomberg Law. A lively discussion was led by Victoria Szymczak which focused on a wide range of issues impacting each constituency. It would be impossible to summarize the entire program, but I have touched on some highlights below.

Law schools are challenged by the variety of platforms they now need to train students. Two years ago they taught only the Lexis.com and Westlaw.com platforms. Now they are challenged with training students on the three new platforms: WestlawNext, Lexis Advance and Bloomnberg Law.

Law Firms are concerned about the variety of pricing schemes available under both the old and new platforms and never ending  challenges of cost recovery.

Government libraries reported that they are being ignored by Bloomberg.Law, although they see a strong interest in the product by judges.

The Publishers Respond The discussion was especially lively because each of the vendors had executives in the audience who were available to respond to questions from the panel or audience members. Brian Knudson , Vice President, Strategic Marketing, Large Law Firms at Thomson Reuters, Bob Hopen , Head of Sales and Customer Experience at Bloomberg Law and Marty Kilmer, VP of Product Platforms and Paul Speca VP of Law Schools represented Lexis Nexis.


Who Participated In the Survey?


The Good

The chart below shows the two most positive aspects of each service noted in private firm, law school or government libraries.



The Bad

The chart below shows the two most negative aspects of each services noted in private firm, law school or government libraries.



The Baffling

One of the more interesting discussions surrounded the mysterious algorithms driving the results of each advanced platform. The "secret sauce" behind each search engine is perhaps the one common trait shared by all the services which makes librarians of every stripe uncomfortable. Librarians who have highly refined expertise in refining and controlling search results are perplexed by the "black box" quality of the  search results.

In one of the most fascinating discussions Jean Davis presented slides showing how the search results varied between vendors but also within the same product when the same search was conducted two weeks later.

The Promising

It is somewhat unfair to compare the market penetration of the three products because each product entered the market at a different point over the past two years. Westlaw Next was available in February 2010,  Bloomberg Law had it's major relaunch in mid-2011 and Lexis Advance was released in early 2012. Those launch dates have had some impact on the results reported in the chart below.

Here are some observations about the Private Firm adoption data: shown below:

  • Younger lawyers ( 1st - 3rd year associates) are embracing the advanced platforms, regardless of whether they were exposed to them in law school.
  • Partners and Senior associates appear to be remaining loyal to Westlaw.com and have not migrated to Westlaw Next. 
  • Lexis Advance is showing a somewhat equal adoption among midlevel, senior associates and partners.
  • Bloomberg Law appears to have the deepest penetration among partners. Presumably this may be due to the easy availability of client and industry data which can be easily retrieved from the Bloomberg "Go bar."




Works In Progress

As a former research librarian who is nostalgic for the Dialog Boolean search commands, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the mysterious algorithms that drive the advanced platforms.

However, I do recognize the benefits of the more simplified search protocols offered by the new platforms which sweep a broader universe of data and uncover results as a hierarchy enhanced with faceted terms and categories which can be explored and "re-mixed" on the fly.

Lexis Advance, Westlaw Next and Bloomberg Law will continue to evolve and improve. The executives at the meeting left with competitive and market insights which will no doubt spark and new round of  product enhancement as the legal giants "thrust and parry" for market dominance.


 

4 comments:

  1. In classic Westlaw, a natural-language search can sometimes produce better results than the new Westlaw Next algorithm.

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  2. Thanks for posting this excellent summary of a great program.

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  3. I too am nostalgic for Dialog Boolean search commands. In the days of UBIQs and WALTs I could tell you exactly how my results were generated. We only had to worry about the order of operators, whether the system used automatic plurals or if they counted stop words. These new systems are based on proprietary algorithms where there is no way to follow how the search was performed.

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  4. You can use terms and connectors in Westlaw Next to have control over the search. That gives you the precision you are used to from Westlaw.com but the enhanced benefits of Westlaw Next, including the filters, folders and multi-source search results.

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