It is a natural human condition to be resistant to change. Especially change for something that we do on a daily basis and rely heavily upon. In my experience, that resistance proves to be particularly true for changes to technology. Apple fanboys notwithstanding, technology is commonly found to be confusing, and changes to technology end up that much more confusing.
I am no exception to this rule. Some years back, I noticed that whenever Microsoft came out with a new version of Word, I would find many of its updates vexing and needless. After a few months’ time working with the new version, however, I would find those same updates wonderful and necessary.
I reminded myself of that when I was offered the chance to be trained on the newer Westlaw search engine (known as Westlaw Next). So I decided to set prejudices aside for a moment and give it a try. After going through the training, I decided to try the new search engine for a few days. If I wasn’t happy with how it worked after the third day, I decided I would just go back to the older version of Westlaw.
By the end of the first day, I was hooked.
As I’ve said before, the goal of this column is to let appellate lawyers know about electronic resources that are available to make their jobs easier for them. Since everyone is aware of Westlaw and LexisNexis, there won’t be much reason to write articles about them. This article is an exception to that general rule, however. It comes as no surprise that other people share my initial reluctance to trying Westlaw Next. This article is meant to show the benefits to those Westlaw users who have not made the switch yet.
For LexisNexis users, this is not meant to try to convince you to switch to Westlaw. I don’t have enough experience with LexisNexis to determine if a switch is beneficial. (For those of you familiar with Lexis Advance, LexisNexis’s corollary to Westlaw Next, please see my plea below.) But if your experience with LexisNexis shows you it is more cumbersome than what is being described, it might be worth investigating more.
Everyone who has a Westlaw account has access to both what is now called Westlaw Classic and Westlaw Next. If you’d like to follow along with me, you can access Westlaw Next by clicking here.
I don’t intend to chronicle every difference between Westlaw Classic and Westlaw Next. In my opinion, there are about three key distinctions that make the Westlaw Next experience superior. The first is the simplicity of the home page. Here’s what the home page for Westlaw Classic looks like:
If you want to pull up a case, you type the citation into the “Find by Citation” field. If you want to use search terms, you type into “Search” field and select the databases you want to search in.
It’s not bad. But Westlaw Next is better. Here’s its home page:
One search field for everything. Before I tried out Westlaw Next, I assumed having one search field would be a weakness. I now see it as a strength. The reason it is a strength is because of how Westlaw allows you to refine your searches. Let me give you an example. Suppose you wanted to research the law on the excited utterances exception to the hearsay rule. Let’s use the following search criteria:
“excited utterance” /s hearsay
Here’s what Westlaw Classic gives you if you search in the Texas Cases database:
There are 578 cases. If you want to refine further, you either need to do a new search or use the “Locate in Result” function.
Now, here’s Westlaw Next’s result if you use that search criteria:
First you come to an overview page. You won’t want to stay here, but you’re given a quick idea of how to refine your search. There are 578 cases that match our search criteria, 23 statutes (mostly supplemental text for 23 statutes and rules), and 1,396 secondary sources, to name a few. Click “Cases” and we will see the one of the most useful improvements that I believe Westlaw Next offers.
Just like Westlaw Classic, we have 578 cases that match our search criteria. Now, look that the bottom left. There is a section entitled “Narrow.” It looks like this:
These are some of the options available to quickly refine the search we have already performed. We know that 190 of the cases are reported. If we want to only see those, we check that box. If we only want civil, we check that box as well. There’s also jurisdiction. See the plus sign next to the box? If you click on the plus sign, you get this:
If you’re working on a brief to be filed with the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, you probably want to look into the 70 cases coming from that court first (along with the two from the Texas Supreme Court, assuming you are working on a civil case).
You can accomplish much the same thing in Westlaw Classic. But knowing the number of cases in each refinement is incredibly helpful. Also, it is very simple and quick to switch between refinement options in Westlaw Next.
Finally, there is the little gem that saves me a lot of time in citing my cases. Let’s say we’ve found the legal authority we’re looking for, and we are ready to insert that into our brief. With Westlaw Classic, you can highlight the relevant text, copy it, paste it into your brief, and then type in the citation. With Westlaw Next, you can highlight the relevant text, and copy both the text and the correct citation. First, select the relevant text.
A pop-up appears next to the text. Select “Copy with Reference (Texas).” (If “Texas” in not in parentheses, click on the drop-down button to select your preference.) Now go into your document and select paste.
Automatic citations! Tell me that’s not worth giving up your Westlaw Classic for!
If you already have a Westlaw account, you should definitely give Westlaw Next a try. Plan a time that you can try it for about three days. If you’re not hooked by the third day, my guess is you never will be. If you still prefer Westlaw Classic by the third day, you should go back to it. But I expect you will become a convert before the third day is over.
My plea to Lexis Advance users: I would love to put together a similar article for Lexis Advance. Unfortunately, I have no experience with it. If you have a basic familiarity with it and would be interested in being a guest writer for AppellaTech, please contact me at the email address below.
Staff attorney, First Court of Appeals
Comments, questions, and useful information are always welcome (and desperately sought). Please send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.