May 16, 2012
Now You See It, Now You Don't, Part II: The Coming Vaporization of Classic WEXIS
In Part I of this series, I mentioned that in the commercial space for caselaw research Fastcase's SE is competitive. A very strong case can be made that under the New Normal, Fastcase is the "smarter alternative." The argument, however, would not be based on the algorithm. It is a smarter alternative because the Company provides sufficient information for professional legal researchers (ah, that would be us) to understand how the SE works in the context of the Fastcase platform so we can assist our institutional user populations.
Fastcase does that by a number of means but the means I like best are video tutorials created by professional legal researchers (you know, us) who are not employees of Fastcase. See Fresh Batch of Fastcase Video Tutorials Courtesy of the Jenkins Law Library (Fastcase blog post, Oct. 2011(?)). From Creating Video Tutorials of Today's Online Search Services: The example of Fastcase endorsing best practice videos authored by law librarians (Nov. 7, 2011):
I'm thinking the folks at WestlawNext, Lexis Advance, Bloomberg Law and IntelliConnect might learn something about providing law librarian created video tutorials of their very expensive online legal search services that are not tainted by their marketing departments. My hunch is there are law librarians "out there" willing to do this for free (except for waiver of any search charges) to help fill in the huge gaping hole in reliable instructional materials for those new search services.
The vaporization of Classic WEXIS is coming. We all know that. So far, I have not seen one shred of evidence from either vendor that they realize when it comes to their new SEs the only competitive advantage lies in whichever vendor is the first to provide detailed information about how their SE really works because search engines do not sell online legal search service. Selling the "sizzle" has produced less than stellar adoption rates for WLN's premium priced butt steak. Butt steaks can be a tender piece of meat if cooked properly. That, however, may require more imagination than practitioners of Six Sigma culinary arts have.
To date, all print and video instructional materials I have seen produced by New WEXIS are providing a less than fulfilling UserX training experience. (I initially wrote "are crap;" not a bad food-for-the-mind metaphor.) The consequence --
From the "UserX: Then & Now, The New Normal of WEXIS Online Legal Search" introduction I will be giving at our Lexis Advance training session to my Lexis users by my Lexis account rep later this week. At least I gave my account rep a heads-up by providing the complete stack to her a week in advance.
No WLN training session on the horizon unless all my Classic Westlaw account holders get WLN free for the duration of our current license like right now, just like Lexis provides for Lexis Advance. No level playing field if Thomson Reuters doesn't do this; advantage goes to Lexis Advance. The alternative, perhaps I can obtain free access to Lexis Advance for my Classic Westlaw users soon.
"Free" is a very good business tactic when rolling out a New Normal research platform if a vendor wants to retain current and extend user populations to move beyond the 1:1 ratio. It is no coincidence that my WEXIS licenses come up for renewal right about the same time. While I don't know when either WEXIS vendor intends to vaporize their classic services, I doubt I will have the opportunity to renew (read renegotiate) more than one more multi-year license before hearing Old WEXIS has been vaporized.
I've been in the business of full-text legal database researching since 1980. I've seen my share of WEXIS changes but I have never in my career seen WEXIS make as huge a collective goof as this one. Classic WEXIS users typically were averse to changing from one service to the other in no small part because they knew how to use their familiar platform -- from the interface generally to knowing how to find their databases before performing a search and how to modify their searches when poor results were produced. There was enough of a difference between services that users did not want to remove their protective snuggy.
The gain-loss ratio for licenses approaches 1:1 for Classic WEXIS; lose one client, acquire a new client. Because "customers wanted it" (meaning because WEXIS wanted to improve the 1:1 ratio to their own advantage), both vendors crafted the Google-inspired "search first, then filter by displayed options" for the now normal New WEXIS platform. But what did this collective WEXIS mindset really produce? My presentation's last slide:
By "and tools matters," I do not mean search engines but I do include instructional materials. "Editorial" means produced by intelligent human beings with demonstrated expertise in the law. It also means demonstrated expertise in legal research that extends well beyond the myopic world of the vendor's product line. [JH]