Thursday, January 13, 2011

A New Semester and A New Westlaw

If you haven’t noticed yet, Westlaw has unveiled a new version of its legal research service, “WestlawNext”. Westlaw has been slowly rolling out WestlawNext during the past year, and it is now available for law students around the country and here at Loyola New Orleans. But, at least for the time being, you still have the option of using either WestlawNext or Westlaw “Classic”, the version we’re all familiar with. What's the difference? Let’s take a look.

First of all, when you log in at the main law school Westlaw page, you’ll see links at the top of the screen for both WestlawNext and “Plain Vanilla” Westlaw (see the screen shot below). Click either link for the version of Westlaw you want to use, but realize that you can’t switch between the two in the middle of a research session: you’ll have to log out and log back in to switch to the other flavor of Westlaw.
Westlaw law school page

The biggest difference between the two versions of Westlaw is that WestlawNext was designed with a “one stop shopping” philosophy. Everything you need is on the main screen, shown below. You no longer have to select a specific database before you start searching - just type in what you’re looking for in the main search box:

WestlawNext search screen

If you need to search others jurisdictions, click on the jurisdictions button, the one that says “Louisiana” (the default jurisdiction for us here at Loyola). You can also select specific types of content and legal topics to search, or access various Westlaw research tools, by using the tabs in the “Browse” panel below the search box.

WestlawNext also has some enhanced features that make it easier to save documents in personalized folders and to tweak your search experience in other ways. Westlaw has plenty of information and how-to instructions about WestlawNext, so give those a look if your want to learn more (follow the link on that page for “WestlawNext”). Also, our law school Westlaw rep, Anna Guerro, will provide some training for WestlawNext in February, so be on the lookout for announcements about the time and place for those sessions.

There has been a good bit of healthy debate about the benefits and/or drawbacks of WestlawNext vs “Original Westlaw”, but upon its initial release last spring to law firms and academic law librarians, the reviews were generally positive. In my personal opinion, WestlawNext makes doing basic Westlaw searches easier, but makes doing more advanced Westlaw tasks trickier. The bottom line is that for 80%+ of the legal research that attorneys and law students use Westlaw for, the new WestlawNext interface will be a welcomed streamlining of the legal research process. But beware of this: there are still some open questions about how WestlawNext charges for certain resources and types of searches. So, after graduation, when you, or your firm, are paying serious money to use Westlaw, double check with your Westlaw rep or you firm’s Westlaw contact person to make sure you’re not racking up excessive amounts of search fees when using WestlawNext.

Until then, while you're still in law school, give WestlawNext a thorough test drive, play around with it, compare it with Westlaw "Classic", and see what you think. If you have any questions about Westlaw/WestlawNext, Lexis, or any other electronic or print resources in Loyola's law library, ask one of the reference librarians - we’ll be glad to help in any way we can!

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