Westlaw Classic Post Mortem

by Erik Y. Adams

Requiescat in pace, Westlaw Classic. As of August 10, 2015, RIPWestlaw Classic is “mostly dead,” and no chocolate covered miracle is going to bring it back. I thought it would be instructive to provide a perspective from the firm on moving attorneys to WestlawNext with an eye toward easing the next inevitable transition—from Lexis Legacy to Lexis Advance.

I understand that the transition for students was handled generationally: one year Westlaw simply stopped providing training in Classic to students, and after three years (as far as students were concerned), Westlaw had always been Next. Turnover in law firms can be a little slower than that (I have one practicing attorney who learned to drive in a Ford Model T), and if Westlaw waited to retire an old platform until after all the hold outs were gone, they would still have to support dot commands and terminal software.

WestlawNext was released to the world on February 8, 2010. Promotion and training at firms didn’t really start to ramp up until almost two years later. At first it was a gentle push. The reps would offer help with research and training, and oh! since you’re here, how about an overview of WestlawNext?

This approach was eventually supplemented by more obvious marketing efforts. Training was still left to regular visits from Westlaw trainers, but Thomson Reuters sponsored events at law firms promoting the new platform, luring attorneys with food and orange colored swag. I have heard from some law firm librarians that these events were successful in generating interest, but at my firm they were generally sparsely attended. And neither does interest equal use. Most of my attorneys did not make the move until forced to, and no amount of marketing convinced them that it would be good to get a head start.

We tried luring attorneys with new content available only on the WestlawNext. For two months we had two versions of our West electronic library: one hosted on the Classic platform, and the other on WestlawNext. We made several titles available on the new platform that had not previously been available. But this didn’t lure attorneys over. They preferred the old platform, and it wasn’t until we completely retired the old version that the new one was used in earnest. Even now, months after the switch, I am still getting calls from attorneys who are surprised and disoriented.

An issue that plagues some firms is password management. It may seem hard to believe, but many people are unable to recover a user name or reset a password. I’ve spoken to many attorneys who were big users of Westlaw, but thanks to intranet links that handled authentication automatically, did not know their user name and password. Some of our biggest Westlaw users had never even signed up for a OnePass. Westlaw did not help things by forcing passwords to expire after certain amount of time.

One firm took a “train the trainer” approach: librarians were trained on WestlawNext and then literally went door to door, leading attorneys one by one to the new platform (and rewarding them with baked goods!). This eased the transition for the attorneys, but was a lot of work for the librarians.

What didn’t work?

Requiring a password for electronic libraries. I have heard from several law firms that West’s decision to require lawyers to log in to access all content, even when placed in a “non-billable zone,” created friction. At many firms, attorneys were trained that if they were prompted for user name, password, and billing code, then they needed to be careful lest the client could get a bill. WestlawNext changed that: now the sweet, non-billable content is hidden behind a login.

Putting the burden of password management on attorneys. Way back at the dawn of the twenty-first century, a law firm librarian had access to all the attorneys’ Westlaw usernames and passwords. We could create them for attorneys and reset them if needed. Now, attorneys are expected to manage their own passwords. While this is more secure, it is a nuisance, both for the librarians (who like being able to do things for the attorneys) and for attorneys (who aren’t interested in good security practice and just want to get their work done).

Marketing without substance. WestlawNext may be superior to Classic. I  find it easier to use the “search everything, then narrow down” approach. But this is not a truth all hold to be self evident, and no amount of popcorn and orange colored iPhone chargers are going to change that.

What worked?

Personalized, individual training. West may have hoped that the new platform was so easy to use that attorneys would train themselves, but the fact is that practicing attorneys are reluctant to learn a new research tool even if it is superior to the old one.

New content. Although at my firm it wasn’t enough to drive attorneys to switch, having new content did make the new platform a pleasant place to be after making the move. We put Black’s Law Dictionary on the new platform, and the attorneys really like not having to actually visit the library to look up a word.

Forced migration. Ultimately, when you have no choice, you make the switch.

Lessons for Lexis

The Dread Pirate Roberts said, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says different is selling you something.” Lexis will eventually have to retire Lexis.com and move everyone to Lexis Advance But there are some lessons to be learned from how West handled things that will make the move go more smoothly.

Get the username and password situation sorted out. West created OnePass for this purpose, and Lexis needs to do something similar. Requiring different passwords for all of Lexis’s different offerings is frustrating and annoying. Ideally, librarians should be able to set up credentials for attorneys, but that may be a pipe dream.

Some content needs to be available without authentication. If West had made an electronic library platform that did not require a user to type in a username and password, it would have been a successful way to introduce users to WestlawNext without the fear of accidentally running up excessive charges that show up on a client’s bill. A “free” electronic library would be the aroma that lures you into the bakery for a maple glazed buttermilk donut.

Be ready for a lot of one-on-one training. This can be done electronically via remote learning. But ultimately, having someone show an attorney how the new platform solves their specific research problems, and does it in a way that is faster and cheaper for the client, will be more effective than any group presentation. And much better than red stress balls.

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