In the 4 decades since its launch, Westlaw created the “gold standard” of research support with a cadre of reference attorneys who were available any time a lawyer was working – that is, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thomson Reuters executives are apparently ready to “pass the baton” to one of their competitors. Tonight for the first time in almost four decades, attorneys who call the Westlaw Reference Attorney helpline after 8 PM CST will presumably be greeted with a recording telling them to call back tomorrow.
On December 10th, Law Library Directors and Knowledge Managers around the country received this startling announcement: “Currently, Reference Attorneys provide 24/7 research support to subscribers of Westlaw Edge, Westlaw Classic, Practical Law, CLEAR, and over 30 other Thomson Reuters products. Beginning January 3, 2022, the Reference Attorney Service will move to a core business hours model and will be available Monday through Friday, 7am -8 pm Central for both chats and calls.”
Spectacularly Out of Step with Reality. Let’s think about this – the rest of the world has shifted away from “core business hours” and Thomson Reuters has devised a 1980’s style customer support model. How many recent trends are screaming contrary indicators: the growth of global law firms, the demand for work-life balance and flexible schedules, pervasive mobility, not to mention a little thing called COVID-19 which has up-ended the time-space continuum of work. What do time zones even mean in a connected post-pandemic world?
On December 19th I interviewed Jonathan Meyer, Director, Reference Attorneys at Thomson Reuters. I spent more than 30 minutes on the phone with Meyer trying to understand why there was no alternative to ending 24X7 support. After all, every law firm which entered into a long term Westlaw contract entered that agreement with the expectation that users of the premium priced product would continue to receive premium support. Thomson Reuters executives routinely justify price increases based on the company’s investment in new products – well today they are making an unforeseen cut in support – can subscribers expect a credit?
This was obviously a data driven decision, but so far I have not seen any really compelling or specific data. As a follow up to my call with Mayer, l I received the following data points to explain the change:
- More than 95% of all customer calls to the Reference Attorney group occur Monday-Friday between 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. Central Time.
- Over the last several years, the volume of customer calls during off-hours has decreased 60%.
- Fluctuating throughout the year, customer wait times have increased more than 50% at certain times over the last two years.
- This adjustment should decrease customer wait times between 30-40%, giving customers valuable time back during their busy day.
The “bullet points above” sidestep obvious alternatives including –hiring more reference attorneys… So for the premium price Thomson Reuters customer are paying, TR is saying they can’t afford to keep a few attorneys on the night shift – this simply doesn’t pass the “smirk test.” And they seem to be comfortable with the inconvenience they will cause 5% of the time. Five percent does not represent a negligible number of attorneys nor does it address the heart pounding anxiety experienced by an associate with an deadline and a complex research problem in the middle of the night.
Most of my questions remain unanswered. During my call with Meyer he admitted that there had been a reduction in simple requests e.g. what database should I select – now a moot issue with the latest versions of Westlaw. Was this was more than offset by an increase in complex requests? Are the TR “bean counters” only looking at one metric– the number of calls and not the minutes spent responding to calls to determine staffing? Anyone who manages staff knows that one metric doesn’t tell the whole story. This also doesn’t square with Westlaw Edge being sold as a product that makes research easier and more intuitive.
So possibly advanced features such as Westlaw analytics take more time for Reference Attorneys answer? I couldn’t get Meyer to answer to my query about which aspects of Westlaw were driving the more complex and harder to answer questions… which in turn were increasing the wait times for customers calling for help…. I remain puzzled.
Will Lexis and Bloomberg Law Follow?
I reached out to Lexis and Bloomberg to determine if they are committed to retaining 24X7 research assistance. Joe Breda, president, Bloomberg Law offered this comment on the importance of 24 hour customer support “ “Bloomberg Law is a premium legal information service, and as such our clients expect world-class service. Consequently, we have and continue to offer 24×7 U.S.-based support that is staffed by attorneys and research specialists who have extensive product and legal research knowledge.”
A Lexis spokesperson provided this quote “We will continue to provide flexible 24/7 support options for our customers, particularly as legal work needs evolve in the current environment. We are also committed to investing in modernizing our Customer Success processes and resources to enhance the customer experience and provide exceptional service.”
A Few Choice Words From the Library and Knowledge Community:
Impact on the Law Firm Research Teams: The Manager of Research at a global law firm provided this comment: “As for the impact on our research team, I would say that we are all concerned that this will increase pressure on us to work longer hours and on weekends. If an attorney calls up Westlaw on Saturday morning to discover they can’t get help until the following Monday (or Tuesday if there’s a holiday), the first thing they are going to do is start calling and emailing our research team. I have worked remotely for many years, so when our entire team was forced into a fully remote model during the pandemic, I made it a point to emphasize the need for a healthy work-life balance. It is too easy to fall into the trap of working all the time when you’re always connected, and Westlaw’s decision only makes it harder for us to unplug.
Will West Coast Lawyers Suffer the most? Another Director of Knowledge Services at an ALM 100 firm offered this observation: “ I’m quite bothered by this move and considering the extensive business relationship my firm has with TR I find it downright offensive that I only found out by accident. For our attorneys in CA this takes away a large portion of the hours they need the support. They oftentimes work past 8:00pm CT/6:00pm PT and the times chosen by TR clearly don’t take the Westcoast into account. What I find even more bothersome though it’s the move away from any weekend support. WL is largely a database used by litigators, and given the fact that many cases start on Monday and lawyers are in the midst of trial preparation until late Sunday, shows an absolute disregard by TR for this important group of attorneys.”
This is not likely to be my last post on this topic. Please send your additional insights and comments as well as any feedback on the impact of this change to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.