Thomson Reuters’ Westlaw Edge applies new algorithms for search analytics, tracking statutory changes and invalid law.
Billed as its biggest Westlaw update in years, Thomson Reuters announced on July 12 the release of ‘Westlaw Edge.’ A new take on the company’s classic Westlaw engine, Westlaw Edge takes a more machine learning-based to search and analysis than years prior.
At a July 11 event announcing the offering, Thomson Reuters personnel highlighted five major components that set Westlaw Edge apart from its predecessor, Westlaw Next:
- Enhanced search capabilities, with a new algorithm (WestSearch Plus) that looks beyond terms and at metadata and case citing relationships for more responsive search and a predictive question-asking system.
- Warnings for invalid or questionable law, which flags both bad, outdated law and risks for overruling, even on cases that are not directly cited by a new case that changes the law.
- A tool for statutory change analysis, allowing comparison between versions of statutes and highlighting added and deleted language, similar to Microsoft Word’s tracked changes.
- Integrated litigation analytics, which employs machine learning and the company’s stable of legal editors to break down state and federal dockets for analysis by attributes like judges, motions, attorneys and more.
- “User Experience improvements,” such as synopsis-like case backgrounds, holdings, and more.
Mike Dahn, senior vice president of Westlaw product management, said the project was “in the making” for the past three years, describing it as Thomson Reuters’ “biggest investment in AI since 2010.”
Westlaw Edge isn’t slated to replace Westlaw Next. Andy Martens, global head legal product and editorial at Thomson Reuters, explained that the latter is currently slated to be retired in 2024 or 2025, and that users can upgrade their platform at an increased monthly price that wasn’t disclosed. Westlaw Edge has already been evaluated and purchased by “a number” of firms, the company noted in a press release, specifying Sherman & Sterling, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, and Locke Lord among them. Martens also added that some capabilities from Practical Law will be integrated into Westlaw Edge.
Westlaw search will also be made available through the Westlaw Edge iPhone app. The company has no plans to build an Android app at this time.
At present, the upgrade is only available in the United States, though Thomson Reuters noted that it’s looking at an international offering, specifying New Zealand and Australia as potential markets.
Thomson Reuters plans on rolling out Westlaw Edge to law schools as well, starting with law professors later this summer. Currently, law students are slated to get access beginning January 2019.
The impetus for the upheaval of Thomson Reuters’ current offerings comes as a direct response to market realities the company unveiled in their own surveys of both law firms and corporate legal departments. Martens said that for corporate legal departments purchasing legal services from law firms in Q1 of 2018, “overall demand has been negative,” in what research suggests should have been the strongest quarter since 2013.
However, in Martens’ telling, things get more complicated when you divide law firms by their Am Law rankings. He explained that this is the sixth consecutive quarter in which “demand rates have been increasing” in the Am Law 100, though noted that the second 100 “suffered from declining demand and stagnant growth.”
“Even within these market segments, there’s more and more variation, more and more volatility in performance, firm by firm. And that volatility appears to be becoming the norm rather than the exception,” Martens said.
Martens also noted that Thomson Reuters research found corporate clients change legal providers roughly every two years, and that they typically focused on four things when purchasing legal services from law firms: controlling outside counsel cost, controlling legal operations, allocating work to providers that deliver on efficiency demands, and more efficiently managing their own in-house tech use