Today Thomson Reuters is announcing the release of a new platform Westlaw Precision which promises to dramatically cut research time and improve the quality of research results. Westlaw Precision will be sold as an upgrade to Westlaw Edge. Westlaw Precision is tackling the gnarly and perennial problem of language ambiguity by doubling down on taxonomy. At launch, Westlaw Precision covers 8 topics (Commercial law, Federal Civil Procedure, Federal Discovery and Evidence, Federal Remedies, Federal Class Actions, Employment, Securities, and Anti-trust.) Fifteen new topics will be released through 2023. Only the most recent 12 years of caselaw in each topic are included in search results.

Westlaw Precision includes 6 new features at launch. Precision Research is the “Star of the show.” The other 5 features offer cite checking or workflow enhancements.

“Our customers tell us difficult legal research can often take more than 10 hours per case,” said Mike Dahn, head of Product Management, Westlaw, Thomson Reuters. “It’s time consuming because they are often looking for something very precise, but traditional searching rarely allows for such precision. Our customers needed more precision in searching to substantially reduce research time. To do that, we made the largest-ever investment in our editorial operations, and the result is Precision Research.”

During a recent demonstration for members of the press, Dahn provided an overview of the key steps in the development of Westlaw Precision. With Precision Research Thomson Reuters is doubling down on the 150 year old West legacy of human curated taxonomy.  In order to build the product, they hired 250 lawyer topical specialists to focus, curate, and tag opinions with facts and procedural outcomes. They also interviewed practitioners to help them identify the most common litigation issues in specific types of controversies.

Precision Search Attributes

In testing with more than 100 practicing attorneys, those who used Precision Research found relevant cases more than twice as fast as those using traditional search methods. At the end of their research sessions, those who used Precision Research also found nearly twice as many relevant cases as those who researched with traditional methods.

Leann Blanchfield, head of Primary Law, Editorial, Thomson Reuters noted in the press release that additional tags were added to each case  to improve both speed an precision. Precision Search provides lawyers with the ability to get highly targeted search results using the new tags and filters including: issue outcome, fact pattern, motion type, motion outcome, cause of action, and party type.

Dahn used an illustration which compared the results of keyword search with the results of Precision Search. Traditional Boolean search using keywords may miss relevant cases because not every synonym is included in the search string, the English language is ambiguous and words have multiple meanings which could result in “false positives,” … right word, wrong meaning. A keyword search might retrieve 200 cases which have to be reviewed. Precision Search will narrow that result to 10 highly relevant cases.

Traditional Keyword Browse Displays 200 Cases But Only 10 Are Highly Relevant

Meet the Browse Box Precision Search presents results in a” Browse Box” Each case includes the traditional summary data: case name, citation and  now also includes the exact issue and outcome as well as material facts. Another valuable new feature is a command “more like this”  which quickly retrieves similar cases.

Precision Research Browse Box

Current Limitations to Westlaw Precision

  • There are currently eight topics available: Commercial law, Federal Civil Procedure, Federal Discovery and Evidence, Federal Remedies, Federal Class Actions, Employment, Securities, and Anti-trust.
  • 15 more topics will be added by the end of 2023.
  • The cases are limited to cases published in the last 12 years and older leading cases on the topic including any US Supreme Court decision related to the topic.
  • Unreported cases are not included at this time.

Westlaw Precision Additional Features

The other five new features are:

  • KeyCite Cited With: Shows related cases that have a pattern of being cited together even if neither cites the other
  • KeyCite Overruled in Part: Indicates, via a new red-striped flag, that a case has been overruled in part and enables navigation directly to the language in the case discussing the point of law that has been overruled
  • Graphical View of History: Displays a graphical visualization of research history, mapping out each step and highlighting the searches and documents with more research interaction
  • Keep List/Hide Details: Allows users to save cases of interest and hide cases they have determined are not relevant to current research
  • Outline Builder: Enables users to organize research with ease by dragging and dropping text into a customizable outline. Linked and formatted citations and KeyCite information integrate automatically, and the outline can easily be exported to begin drafting a brief.

What Lawyer Doesn’t Want Less Aggravation?

There is no question that the new Westlaw Precision features and Precision Search in particular can reduce the aggravation and drudgery of reviewing a long list of research results. “More cases like this” and “Keycite Overruled in Part” features are bound to be popular. I have rarely met an associate that “loved” diving in a complex legal research project. I suspect that TR’s biggest hurdle to adoption of Westlaw Precision will be tied to the cost of the upgrade. They may face some headwinds.

How Do You Sell a Product That Reduces Billable Time During a Recession?

The main value proposition of Westlaw Precision is in the promise of dramatic time savings. We are in a recession and law firms are concerned about revenue. (When are law firms not concerned about revenue?) The majority of law firm revenue is still driven  by the  billable hour. Is a recession the right time to sell law firms a tool that will cut associates billable research time in half?  Maybe associate research time is often a “write off” anyway – the problem is that very few firms have this level of granular data on write offs and write downs. If I were Mike Dahn, I would be talking to the executives at TR sister products Peer Monitor and Elite to see if they can help law firms understand and quantify the value of associate time that gets written down or written off due to research taking too long.

Westlaw Upgrades Don’t Come Cheap: The Headwinds

There are firms which have not yet upgraded from Westlaw Next to Westlaw Edge. Now only four years after the launch of Edge, customers will be asked to invest in another pricy upgrade. Any firm which signed a long term contract in 2022 is going to be very irate to find that they are paying a premium price for what TR now regards as their “second best” product. To get the  new “premium” features they will be faced with even steeper price increases for a product which has substantial amounts of content still in development.

The Market – Westlaw Precision is Unique – But They Are Not Alone in the Quest to Improve Search.

Westlaw Precision is not the only research product grappling with the ambiguities of language and the need to make research more precise. But their huge investment in human curation is unique in the marketplace. According to Dahn there are over 1,000 lawyers involved in editorial work at Westlaw. The significant investment in human capital to build Precision will no doubt be passed on to customers. Since cost recovery for online research has been dropping over the past decade, the increased cost for Westlaw Precision is pure overhead for law firms.  What can the market bear? Will customers search for lower cost competitors who are using neural nets and machine learning to enhance search precision and recall?

Lexis recently launched Fact and Issue Finder in Lexis+ which was primarily developed using AI and neural net technology. This tool also focuses on enabling lawyers to find cases using similar facts.

Casetext Parallel Search, the earliest player to reject the tyranny of the keyword, uses neural nets  to tame the ambiguities of language. Their tools enable lawyers to locate caselaw tailored to their specific legal and factual issues. The Casetext Compose product can also identify highly relevant caselaw based on facts, jurisdiction, and motion outcome.

Bloomberg Law used AI to develop Points of Law and Citation maps to enhance the speed and precision of search.

Lawyers and clients benefit from the intense competition to improve the speed and precision of research.