Friday, April 1, 2016

“Westlaw Answers” Looks A lot Like AI to Me. Westlaw Releases Major New Features – And It’s All in Your Contract!

Westlaw Adds 6 New Features: "Westlaw Answers," Research Recommendations, Snapshots, and  Folder Enhancements… At No Charge to Subscribers!

There has been great anticipation surrounding the recent announcement that Thomson Reuters was entering into an alliance with IBM to use their Watson technology.  Westlaw’s new features especially “Westlaw Answers” caused me to assume that this must be a progeny of their Watson collaboration—but I was wrong. Westlaw has just built a number of powerful new features for workflow, analysis and collaboration using their existing algorithms and technology.  Westlaw doesn’t seem to be promoting this as AI but the results are pretty darn close to what I have see from AI platforms. Since Westlaw will not charge for "Westlaw Answers," they may have finally developed the long awaited antidote to associate angst about incurring charges on Westlaw. If Westlaw has an answer to the associate's question – the answer will be delivered automatically without incurring any special charges.  Let me be the first to shout “Hallelujah!”

All of the new features  released this week are available to all Westlaw subscribers and do not incur any charges or supplemental agreement. Hooray!

Westlaw Answers  - I would describe this as the first pass at the “robot lawyer.” You put in a question. Westlaw provides an answer.  

Westlaw Answers

Here are the caveats:

  •                 It cannot provide answers to every legal issue.
  •                 Answers are limited to what West considers to be “black letter law.”
  •                 The answers are designed to address issues in individual states.
  •                 Typical questions involve:
        • Identifying legal elements of...
        • Statute of limitations for...
        • Judicially defined legal terms
  •                   Lawyers should still Keycite their results to validate that there are no recent adverse  treatments.
What about federal answers? Although the product was built to provide state law answers it can also provide federal law answers by circuit on topics which fit in to the "black letter law" criteria.

How does it work? Westlaw Answers is powered by a combination of algorithms developed for the most commonly asked questions. Attorney editors have reviewed and validated answers.

"Westlaw Answers" starts working when you type your query. Relevant questions  are suggested as   “ type ahead” text. The answer appears above the traditional search results.    

 Research Recommendations – This new feature  can be turned on and off with a “ Click”.  TR describes this feature as working like an expert researcher and applies Westlaw’s editorial enhancements (keynote, topics, synopses, keycite etc.)  to supplement search results. It automatically identifies legal issues during the research session and suggests  additional documents and key numbers which are relevant to the search session.  It analyses the entire research session and not just the latest query.  The research recommendations appear in a box above the research results and are designated with a  “pair of glasses” icon. The recommendations and can also be viewed in the researchers “search history.”


When you are conducting legal research the result is enhanced with relevant “snapshots” which pulls information from specialized Westlaw databases.  Snapshots can be provided for:

  •                 Legal professionals (attorneys, judges & experts)  extracts data from Profiler
  •                 Companies extracts data from Company Investigator
  •                 Popular Names of Statutes provides codification and Public Law numbers from Popular Name tables.

                Only one snapshot will appear at a time. ( I assume this will be expanded since clearly many searches could trigger multiple snapshots)

Judges Snapshot in Right column

 Folder Analysis

For several years Westlaw has allowed researchers to save and share their research results using online “folders.”  Now Westlaw offers the ability to analyze the folder's contents and  identify the issues in the cases and suggest additional relevant cases. A graphical view provides a visual display which allows a researcher to navigate documents based on each issue.

 The folder analysis is triggered when a lawyer opens their folder.

Folder Analysis
Research Reports

 This is another new "folders feature" which allows lawyers to create a report which summarizes the research with in the folder. The summary includes all documents and all  personal or shared notes associated with each document.

Shared Notes

Another "folders feature" which allows lawyers to share notes with colleagues.

 Pricing All of these enhancement are available to all subscribers. These features will be “no standard cost” events in transactional pricing. (In hourly pricing mode- time online will be charged.)  Opening documents which are suggested by the enhancements will trigger normal document charges, but there are no charges for primary law documents. Clicking link in snapshots is a chargeable event for companies and people but not for statutes.

Product  Integration and Augmented Intelligence

Westlaw’s latest round of enhancements show TR’s commitment to integrating all of their resources from across TR platforms more seamlessly. It also shows how close Westlaw’s algorithms come to delivering an AI product  with Westlaw Answers. One has to wonder what will the “Post Watson" version  of Westlaw will deliver? All of the new features respond to the market demand for tools which support efficiency and collaboration. In January Thomson Reuters rebranded itself as "the answer company," today they delivered their first feature which offers the elegant simplicity of a question and answer pair. Not a full blown AI system but an impressive foreshadowing of the future of legal research.

As a long term observer of Westlaw, I am really impressed that they are finally releasing features without enraging their subscribers with the prospect of new charges, excluded content or contract addendum. Is this influence of BloombergBNA’s entry into the legal market with their  “everything’s included” contract model? Does it reflect a new pricing  philosophy from  Susan Taylor Martin, President, Thomson Reuters Legal? Whatever the cause – this new approach will be applauded in the legal information community.

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