Next Generation In Legal Research Drives Efficiency, Productivity And Confidence For Corporate Counsel

Monday, April 5, 2010 - 00:00

Mike Suchsland

Thomson Reuters, Legal

Corporate legal departments have never been under more pressure than they are now. In good times, but even more so during difficult times, they're pushed to do more with less: to be more productive, more thorough, more accurate, reduce risks, and increase recovery opportunities. The litany seems endless.

It's no wonder then that corporate legal departments are continually looking for new approaches, tools and technology to help them increase their confidence in getting complete answers productively and efficiently, while driving down costs and eliminating or reducing the need for outside counsel.

One new tool that many corporate legal departments are assessing, and quickly beginning to embrace, is WestlawNext (http://westlawnext.com), the next-generation legal research platform recently introduced by Thomson Reuters.

The Power Behind WestlawNext: WestSearch

WestlawNext is the result of a major research and development program launched five years ago. According to Peter Warwick, president and CEO of Thomson Reuters, Legal, WestlawNext represents the largest and most complex product development project the company has ever undertaken.

WestSearch, the powerful new search technology behind WestlawNext, leverages West's editorial analysis of the law and emulates the best practices of experienced legal researchers. Whether using precise Boolean syntax or simple descriptive terms, WestSearch employs West's editorial assets much like an expert researcher would - only faster - to find the best documents for the research. (How was WestSearch developed? See a video on how WestSearch works at http://west.thomson.com/westlawnext/about/smart-search/default. aspx.)

After watching hundreds of legal professionals perform research and poring over thousands of hours of Westlaw log analysis, our product development and research teams found that researchers typically start by finding relevant documents, then turn to powerful finding aids that link documents together, such as the West Key Number System, KeyCite®and Westlaw's collection of authoritative treatises and practice guides, to complete their research. Observing this interactive process, the product development team wondered if these steps could be replicated with sophisticated search algorithms: Could a new search engine find relevant documents and then automate the process of applying key numbers, KeyCite and secondary sources to find additional critical documents then rank them with the most relevant documents at the top of the results list?

Tapping computer scientists who specialize in artificial intelligence, machine learning, data mining and natural language processing, we went to work on the problem, and WestSearch was born.

Our research and development team, led by Peter Jackson, Thomson Reuters chief scientist and head of R&D, began by looking at what's next in legal search. Jackson and the others on the team believe that in the future, legal search will be focused on finding the right answer to a specific query rather than simply providing a list of documents. The ability to cast a very wide net when doing an initial search, and then zero in on the most useful documents, really brings a new lens to searching. Also, any platform that helps an attorney - corporate counsel or otherwise - get up to speed quickly in unfamiliar areas, and even suggest related topics or resources, can help the attorney be more effective and productive.

Professional researchers have a world of information at their fingertips. But what they really need are tools that help them sort and identify relevant information - finding not just answers to their questions, but also the context and nuance of the issue at hand.

WestlawNext ranks your searches, eliminating the precious time otherwise spent digging through unrelated material. It also looks at search activity in aggregate, tracking the documents that researchers download or print. WestlawNext then applies that intelligence to future searches, making the search even more powerful.

This process gives corporate counsel the confidence of knowing that their search has considered every source or scenario.

Marriage Between Technology and Human Knowledge

The marriage between the latest search technology and human knowledge means that WestlawNext has the capability to help corporate legal departments dramatically improve their legal research process. Brian Kramer, Corporate Counsel for a large bank in Minneapolis, served as a beta tester for WestlawNext. He stated, "As an in-house attorney, there are unique challenges to the work that I do that make WestlawNext a powerful tool. It's a benefit to get the most relevant results quickly from WestlawNextbut it also gives me confidence that WestlawNext is finding the right results and that I won't have to do multiple searches, using many different terms, in order to find the results that I need for my projects." (Hear What People Are Saying: WestlawNext Legal Research System: Thomson Reuters) http://west.thomson.com/westlawnext/hearit/ default.aspx.

The easy-to-use single search box turns average searchers into experts, and in the end, WestlawNext allows corporate counsel to focus on providing the value-added services for which they were hired in the first place - providing management the legal advice and counsel that's needed to effectively manage risks and opportunities.

"By combining our 138-year legacy of analyzing and organizing legal information with cutting-edge search technology," says Warwick, "WestlawNext sets a new standard for legal research platforms. This combination of authority and insight, driven by peerless technology and innovation, is the essence of intelligent information and provides a powerful advantage to corporate legal departments as well as their outside legal counsel."

Power to Help Corporate Counsel Act Fast

We believe a search system with this level of power will transform early case assessments (ECA) for corporate litigators, which in turn can further drive down department expenses. In addition, the powerful search capabilities of WestlawNext may be beneficial in helping identify recovery opportunities or culling IP assets to determine which are worth protecting or could be sold. And, for general counsel who work with a company's business development team, WestlawNext will serve as an essential tool in vetting acquisition targets to determine potential risks and upside.

When corporate counsel are in crisis mode, they need the search power to clearly deliver answers to senior management within minutes, not hours. A company's ability to act with speed in correcting a problem is essential when government regulators or opposing counsel ask the questions "When did they know, and when did they do something about it?"

Working with corporate counsel as well as outside legal counsel, the WestlawNext team also learned that legal professionals could benefit from solutions beyond search. Using current tools, it's cumbersome to annotate and organize relevant documents. With WestlawNext, researchers can highlight relevant sections of text and create notes on a document - all online. Important documents also can be organized in the WestlawNext online folder system. These folders not only save users' time and map to their workflow, they also support an organization's efforts to "go green." Kramer states, "Using the folders in WestlawNext makes me more efficient because I don't have to rerun my search when I go back to work on the same project. It saves the results from my previous work. I also like that the research that's stored in the folder will automatically be updated by WestlawNext if there's a change."

With WestlawNext, we've incorporated an intuitive design that anticipates the way a customer searches for information and organizes that information. Ultimately, it's about helping corporate legal departments feel in complete command of the process from the moment they begin accessing our system, whether it's from their desktop or a mobile device.

"WestlawNext reflects generations of authority, expertise and innovation stretching back to 1872 - something that could only come from Thomson Reuters, Legal," Warwick says. "Each search on WestlawNext draws on the collective wisdom and expertise of our attorney editors. And the technology that drives the WestlawNext research system helps to focus this expertise in powerful new ways, giving our customers deeper insights into the issue at hand. Our customers trust that we'll help them explore every source and scenario, and because of this, they can have greater confidence in the result."

A Time For Innovation and Investment

Five years of research and development preceded the 2010 launch of WestlawNext. This was no small task that involved thousands of customers, hundreds of employees and months and months of testing.

"Because of how widely used Westlaw is, we had to make a brave decision about creating a new platform from the ground up," says Warwick. "We wanted to build on our editorial excellence, push the technology and create something that would last for many years. Rather than cut back on R&D spending, we did the exact opposite: we doubled down, making one of the largest investments in a single new product in our company's history."

And really, Thomson Reuters was the only company that had the capability to create the next generation of legal search. That's because WestlawNext is not just about groundbreaking technology, it's about human knowledge and legal expertise. We employ more than 1,000 attorneys, many of whom write headnotes (there are more than 20 million headnotes on Westlaw), prepare case summaries and classify decisions and statutes into the West Key Number System®- all of which is incorporated into WestlawNext.

According to Warwick, this insight and legal authority is at the heart of WestlawNext. "We are ever mindful of our business's relationship with the legal profession," he notes, "and we take this role seriously. WestlawNext will help take that relationship to the next level."

For more information about WestlawNext, visit www.westlawnext.com, and watch a short video on how WestlawNext was created and developed (http://west.thomson.com/westlawnext/about/people/).

Mike Suchsland is President, Corporate, Government and Academic, Thomson Reuters, Legal.