Entries in research (3)


The WestlawNext App for the iPad Redefines Legal Research for the Mobile Lawyer

Several months ago Westlaw unveiled its next-generation web-based legal research service, called WestlawNext. Although I knew an overhaul of their system was in the works, once I got my hands on WestlawNext I was blown away by Westlaw's implementation of the new service. I was also pleased to see that they had designed an "iPad Edition" of the website specifically formatted for viewing on the iPad. Although it wasn't a native "app" for the iPad, it was easily accessible from the iPad's web browser and the bookmark could be saved as an icon to the iPad's home screen.

My best attempt at describing WestlawNext is that it takes all of the best features and components from Westlaw and reorganizes and reintegrates them into a single web-based interface that is extremely easy and efficient to use. Westlaw clearly had the end-user in mind when they added much needed features, such as saving research and documents (including snippets and notes) to custom-named folders.

The "iPad Edition" of the WestlawNext site was quite usable from the iPad's mobile browser and I could have lived with it for my mobile research needs. But when Westlaw released its native WestlawNext app for the iPad in late August, I was ecstatic, as the iPad app itself is phenomenal.

The application's user interface is well designed and intuitive. The "Home" screen is where you start your research. A search bar is located at the very top of the screen, where you can enter citations, database names, and search terms, in either natural language or Boolean syntax. It also includes a button to select the jurisdiction(s) for the search. The center of the home screen contains five buttons that, when selected, list either your recent searches, recent documents, frequently used databases, favorited items, or a list of categories to browse from (cases, statutes, secondary sources, etc.) A button bar located at the very bottom of the screen takes you to your complete search and browsing history and to your custom folders where all of your saved research is stored.

If a search is entered into the search bar, the application takes you to a results page showing a list of search results on the right side of the page and a list of various filters (content type, jurisdiction, date, etc.) on the left. Depending on the type of search conducted (e.g. cases), the results list shows the case caption, court and date information, a short synopsis of the case, and snippets from the case containing your search terms, highlighted and in bold text. You can press a button located at the top right-hand corner of the page to send the results list to any email address.

Selecting a result from the list takes you to the document reading page, which is where the application really shines. There is quite a bit of functionality is designed into this part of the application, as this is where you will be spending most of your time reading documents and making decisions about the utility of those documents. The main part of the screen displays the document in typical Westlaw fashion, showing the full caption, a case summary, West Headnotes, and the text of the opinion. Search terms are highlighted and bolded in the document.

A tool bar at the top of the screen contains buttons that provide access to KeyCite (Westlaw's citation service), as well as buttons that let you adjust font size and typeface, email or save the document to a custom research folder, or attach a research note to the document. A tool bar at the bottom of the screen allows you to cycle forward and backward though your results and search terms.

In addition to searching by search term or citation, from the home screen you can also browse through databases and categories, such as statutes and regulations. You select your jurisdiction and then drill down through the jurisdiction's organizational structure or table of contents (e.g. volume, chapter, section) until you find the statute you are looking for. The text of the statute is presented in the document viewer with all the bells and whistles I mentioned above (KeyCite, email, font adjustments, etc.) You can also access legislative materials and Notes of Decisions (annotations.) 

Access to Westlaw's KeyCite information is available just about anytime a document is being viewed or listed in a results list. When you press the KeyCite button or color-coded indicator flag, case treatment information is presented with helpful text and graphics to indicate the status and depth of treatment of the case, captions, dates, and headnote references.

The application also tracks your search history, recent documents, notes, frequently used databases, favorites, and saved documents and, best of all, automatically stores the information on the WestlawNext servers so that the information stays in sync with your account. In other words, all of your mobile research is available when you sit down at your desktop in the office or at home (and vice versa.) 

Needless to say, I was very impressed with the WestlawNext application for the iPad. WestlawNext is a premium paid service and, therefore, a WestlawNext subscription is required in order to use the application. If you are looking for a free alternative to WestlawNext, you should consider the Fastcase application, which I have discussed in a previous post and is a terrific legal research application in its own right. However, it does lack some of the premium features offered by WestlawNext, such as the KeyCite citation service. If you are a Westlaw subscriber and have not yet tried out WestlawNext, it is definitely worth a look. And if you have an iPad, a subscription to WestlawNext becomes even more compelling.

I included a few more screenshots below.


Fastcase Brings Mobile Legal Research to the iPad

Fastcase has released its new legal research application for the iPad. Their iPhone version of the application has been available for some time now. However, I was looking forward to their release of the iPad version because I think the iPad is a much more suitable platform for conducting legal research.

The iPad version of Fastcase is the first native application of its kind for the device. If you are a WestlawNext subscriber, they had the foresight to create an iPad-formatted version of their new web-based service. WestlawNext is amazing, and is what I normally use for my day-to-day legal research needs. But the Westlaw service can be pricey and, for the sole practitioner or small firm that cannot afford the service, a free legal research service is a life saver. The fact that Fastcase for the iPad is a fully-functional and very well executed application makes it a must-have for the mobile lawyer.

The Fastcase user interface is clean and uncluttered, yet takes full advantage of the iPad's best features.  The initial view presents the user with the option of searching caselaw, searching statutes, or browsing statutes. Selecting "search caselaw," for example, will take you to a screen where you can, among other things, select the jurisdiction(s) to be searched and limit the results by date. Cases can be searched by both citation and keyword/search phrase. The statute browser (shown below) allows you to drill down through various titles and chapters until you get to the section you are looking for.

Statute Browser

Search results first appear in a table with a short summary (optional) under each citation.  Upon selecting a citation, a new split-view window appears which, if the iPad is in landscape orientation, shows a list of the search results in a table on the left and the selected document on the right. If the iPad is in portrait orientation, the main view shows the selected document and the search results list is accessible from a pop-out button in the upper lefthand corner. The search terms are also highlighted in the document. Another great design feature is a slider that allows the user to resize the text of the selected document.

Initial Search Results Page

Split View Search Results Page

Aside from a well-designed screen layout, Fastcase also provides some great legal research tools.  One such feature is the ability to save documents at the push of a button. The saved documents can be retrieved anytime from a tab bar at the bottom of the main screen.  Pressing the "Most Relevant" button on the search results page will scroll to the point in the document that contains the text most relevant to the search parameters.  The application also keeps track of your recent searches, so that you can always go back to them at a later date.  By tapping the orange numbers at the top of the search results page, Fastcase takes you to its "Authority Check Report," which lists other cases that cite to your current document. Unlike Westlaw's KeyCite service, Fastcase does not discuss the treatment of the cited case but, nevertheless, it is a useful tool so long as you don't mind doing a little extra reading.

Authority Check Report

All-in-all, Fastcase did a good job in creating a very usable mobile legal research application. It does not contain all of the features available in WestlawNext's full-service web-based application, but again, Fastcase is free.  If you own an iPad, Fastcase is definitely worth a look.


Google Enters Into The Realm Of Legal Research And Adds Legal Opinions To Google Scholar

Is this the beginning of the end for Westlaw and Lexis? Today, Google added the ability to search legal opinions through Google Scholar. As a litigator, I rely quite heavily on Westlaw to conduct online legal research and have become quite proficient at creating searches that will quickly and efficiently get me good results. (I have used Lexis as well, and don't intend to debate the differences between the two services.) But, as good as Westlaw's database is, their searches are slow and their web interface is cluttered.

I was wondering when Google was going to enter the legal research field and was excited to hear that the day has finally come. Considering that Westlaw and Lexis have had a monopoly over online legal research for the last 20 years, I was curious to see Google's take on legal research. After all, who knows search better than Google?

After playing with Google Scholar for a couple of hours, I am very impressed with the service. It is nothing short of amazing and will create some serious competition for Westlaw and Lexis. It is important to note that, as of today, only legal opinions and journals are available through Google's database. In that sense, and until statues and regulations and included, it is not yet a comprehensive research tool for attorneys. I wouldn't think this would be very difficult for Google to add and, as is evident from the way Google treats case citations and references related cases (see below), statutory annotations and links to citing cases should follow.

In order to get the full benefit of Google Scholar's legal search capabilities, searches should be conducted through the Advanced Search page. Scroll to the bottom of the page to select your jurisdiction. You may also want to increase the number of returned search results to 50 or 100 in the upper right hand corner of the page or in your search preferences. Once your jurisdictions are selected, the various search fields at the top of the page provide a lot of flexibility in specifying search parameters.

Once you hit the search button, the beauty of Google Scholar become apparent. For example, my search for cases in California containing the phrases "breach of fiduciary duty" and "exemplary damages" produced 90 case results. [my search] The same search in Westlaw produced 96 results. Once you click on a link to a case citation, Google Scholar displays the text of the opinion in a clean, well organized, format. [link to cited case] The case name and citation are displayed at the top of the page, search terms are highlighted, and links to inline case citations are provided. One feature I really like is that pagination is displayed in the left margin, rather than within the actual text. Also, you can print the text of the opinion directly from your browser, unlike Westlaw, which requires you to jump through hoops to print.

The other noteworthy feature of the "How Cited" tab at the top of the results page. This tab takes you to a page with three sections: "How this document has been cited," "Cited by," and "Related Documents." [link to "cited" tab] Each of these sections contains links to the citing authority or document.

Another benefit of Google's simple web-based format is that the search and result pages are easily and quickly displayed on mobile devices, such as the iPhone and Blackberry. I conducted a few searches from my iPhone and was pleasantly surprised with the results.

As I mentioned earlier, until Google includes statutes and regulations in their databases, Google Scholar is not yet complete as a research tool for lawyers. It is, however, a promising tool for conducting case law research.

I am interested in hearing others' opinions on Google Scholar for purposes of conducting legal research.