• Creating a new platform for law document retrieval—and company growth
In the legal profession, like just about everywhere else, “everyone’s demanding more efficiencies,” Andy Martens notes. “Large law firms have laid off huge numbers of associates. They’ve got fewer lawyers to do the same amount of work.” What’s more, “firms have been under huge pressure from their corporate clients to cut their costs.”
Those changes weren’t at the top of the docket when Martens and his team began work six years ago on what would become Westlaw-Next. Thomson Reuters had introduced a Web-based version of its Westlaw legal document database and search system in the late 1990s. Over the years, it made improvements, but legal researchers still had to work with Westlaw’s roughly 50,000 databases. “Our prior model required people to know which database their answer was likely to be in, and find an answer and use a bunch of linking tools that we built up to get the rest of the answer,” Martens says. Westlaw users worried that the product’s search function didn’t come up with every potentially germane document from all those databases.
In February 2010, WestlawNext was launched. “We can now search everything, give users back the very best documents in response to their questions, and then provide them with easy ways to get to everything else, no matter where it’s located,” Martens says. WestlawNext also allows legal researchers to access information over smartphones and iPads. According to Thomson Reuters, more than 15,000 law firms, government organizations, and corporate legal departments have signed up, with hundreds more every month.
Biggest challenge: “Making the case for change. Westlaw.com . . . enjoyed very strong preference in the market, yet we argued to the organization that we needed to invest heavily to fundamentally reinvent it.”