The next Westlaw Next is here and it’s called Edge. I’m not entirely sure if that’s an homage to what Microsoft is now calling its browser. I imagine not — and let me tell you candidly that I’m far more impressed with the new developments in Westlaw research than with anything that’s come out of (or been destroyed by) Microsoft in years.
Like Microsoft, Thomson Reuters, which is the company that owns Westlaw, has always had the heft: lots of clients, lots of data. And the good news is, it’s finally starting to put that to good use — across a number of areas. Westlaw Edge is all about significant investment in (more) intelligent search and leveraging big data (mostly court docket-related information and case law) for analytics applications.
Just to clarify, before you ask (and you will, I know you): regular Westlaw will still be available after today’s release of Westlaw Edge. As of now, Westlaw Edge is a separate product that law firms will need to upgrade to.
Depth Charges: Westlaw Edge Delivers Deep Search
Now, I like legal research about as much as Forrest Gump likes all kinds of rain. But honestly, there’s some cool stuff that Westlaw is doing with Edge.
I think my favorite is the new orange symbol referencing the “implied overruling” of a case. It’s about time the universal sign for caution was added to the Westlaw universe, right? So, what’s an implied overruling? Essentially it’s non-traditional, significant negative history. In Westlaw, a red flag appears when there is a direct overruling of a prior case, and a specific cite is required for that. A yellow flag means that a later case has distinguished or criticized a prior case — but that the precedent is still good law. An orange flag indicates a higher level of risk — that the law you intend to rely on is probably actually bad law, even if it hasn’t been overruled … yet.
Of course, an attorney can review the specific facts of the case and determine that, while caution is warranted, for the particular set of facts she’s investigating, the law is still good. But, she is made aware of the increased risk and can apply a higher level of scrutiny. Lawyers will really get off on this. This change has been driven by artificial intelligence. When Westlaw yokes its massive collections of documents to AI-aided search strategies, the natural outcome is more refined and nuanced search results. In the future, there may be a need to figure out the color that exists between orange and yellow on the caution spectrum.
Additional changes include Westlaw Search Plus, featuring responsive text and more robust answers to specific questions, along with easily-accessible links to relevant case law and statutes. Standard Westlaw searches may not yield viable answers to long-tail questions until results reach the 10s and 20s; with the revised search tools, the top answers to complex questions are delivered directly to the top of the page via a trained AI. The company line on this is that Westlaw is not (let me repeat NOT) building a robot lawyer, but just saving actual human lawyers more time.
For my money, though: Bring on the robot lawyers!
Also, a new “statutes compare” tool offers built-in comparison features for statutory changes, including with respect to redlining.
There are interface changes across the whole platform as well, including the ability to favorite specific research trails and better refine notification options for those same research trails.
Judgment Day: Westlaw Edge Delivers Litigation Analytics
As y’all know, I love me some data analytics. Westlaw has added some very accessible analytics tools within Westlaw Edge. This suite of features is being labeled “Integrated Litigation Analytics” — in a nutshell, Westlaw is aggregating all of its docket data from courts across the country and using it to define historic results.
The obvious implication of this is that past behavior predicts future behavior, and that law firms will now be able to make data-driven decisions (predictions) about litigation-related processes. One obvious way that a law firm would use this tool is to acquire an overview of a particular judge’s ruling history — and not just for decisions, but also for a large number of motion types, including for challenges to expert witness testimony. The results include motion and decision grants for plaintiffs versus for defendants, average time for a final ruling (and subsidiary rulings) and comparisons for a specific judge’s history to the hypothetical average judge’s history.
In addition to driving down to judges, researching lawyers can leverage other filters, including looking at the same data sets for entire courts, by jurisdiction. There is even a feature, related to venue selection, that provides law firms a color-coded map with the top five and bottom five states for resolving specific issues in favor of a client.
This all has massive implications for law firms’ ability to better control litigation processes, budgets and timelines.
Speaking to the interface, there have also been major updates to the ease of use of the analytics tool from regular Westlaw — Integrated Litigation Analytics is essentially an immense upgrade on Monitor Suite — including the cleaning up of the look of the docket displayed, and quicker access to any of the trial documents related to the matter.
This is Daryl Morey’s wet dream, if Daryl Morey were a lawyer. And, the broad effect of a tool like this is that it should allow law firms to gain an actual understanding — not a guess — as to the scope of projects. This will then define internal processes, as well as refine conversations surrounding expectations and outcomes with clients. All of which will lead to more accurate pricing of legal services and potentially — pray for it —the advance of value billing across the legal industry.
Butterfly Effect: What Does This Mean for Law Firms?
Like the time Homer Simpson accidentally killed the dinosaurs and changed history, the availability of Westlaw Edge, and other products that will be refined and built and that focus on data and analytics, represent ramifications beyond the system features, as alluded to above:
First, while the Westlaw reps I heard from yesterday soft-pedaled this notion — they’re really into the analytics on motion practice, by the way — the notion that law firms could now discover and review the litigation habits of opposing counsel has fairly dramatic implications in its own right.
Second, as legal departments continue to bring Thor’s hammer down upon outside counsel, pushing efficiency requirements, the use of the analytics tools in Westlaw Edge will allow those same departments to have a much better idea of just how efficient (or inefficient) their outside counsel are. Decisions should then become more practical — or ruthless, depending on your perspective.
Third, if law firms can more accurately predict case progress they can give clients a more accurate set of expectations for the likelihood of success and time frame. If this information is relayed effectively, it can strengthen the attorney-client relationship. Taken to its logical extreme, this should allow law firms to better predict case-related costs and fees, as well as billable hours. And, if a law firm can get more accurate case value predictions, it can pass that cost certainty along to clients by constructing value billing arrangements that inherently carry less risk, which should lead to better client conversion and retention.
Westlaw Edge has moved the ball forward in a significant way in terms of the conjoining of big data — this is about as big as data gets in legal — and analytics. Hopefully, lawyers will trample overblown fears about AI stealing jobs, and use this sort of technology as a market differentiator. After all, it’s always been the case that the more efficient businesses are more likely to survive — and that was true of transportation and steam engines just as it’s true in the practice of law and legal research today.