Visitors to the Westlaw logon page are currently greeted with tantalizing messages that promise a "statute research breakthrough," and "Coming in February…Westlaw is easier, faster, better." A product page gives some highlights and a link provides users with a short flash demo of what is coming (http://west.thomson.com/westlaw/statutesplus). The company will make an official announcement of its new Westlaw StatutesPlus in the next week or so, but a team of excited product developers and company representatives gave me an advance look. West says its new StatutesPlus will make statutes easier to find, view, interpret, and verify. The company is also unveiling a new user interface across all westlaw.com document types that better organizes search results and related links. West is showing its new product Feb. 2-4 in New York at LEGALTECH, the legal industry technology exposition and conference, and the official launch is targeted for Feb. 7.
West's product developers say that the core advancement in StatutesPlus is the reengineered way of presenting statutes that fully leverages the online environment for the first time. West says it combines the best of statutory research using books with the advantages of online research—"StatutesPlus combines book-like indexing, browsing, and viewing with links to everything discussing your statute—all in one place."
StatutesPlus offers better finding tools, all available from the same page. Statutes can be searched by popular name, key index terms, natural language, "terms and connectors," or by using field templates customized to a jurisdiction. A dynamic online index and table of contents also let users browse for topics.
An improved interface display looks more book-like, with more white space, indentation, bolds, italics, and underscoring. A new browsing feature lets users open, view, and print an entire chapter. Navigation is aided by pinpoint linking to subsections of text.
A Links tab gathers all documents that assist in interpreting statutes, including case law, codes, opinions, etc. The West Key Number System and West Digests have been integrated with the statutes. West had provided real-time updating between statutes and cases, but now the process of linking is streamlined and automatically shows users content they might not have found. And, new to StatutesPlus is cross referencing that finds relationships between statutes, both within and between jurisdictions. West is also implementing this with the Administrative Codes, so users will know where a regulation references a statute.
All of Westlaw will now have a streamlined look. The previous eight-tab system on the left pane of the screen is being replaced by just two tabs: Links and Results. The new system is designed to be friendlier, more efficient, and complete. West says it has worked closely with users, so the new features and enhancements should be well received.
West is implementing overall changes in its legal research tools that reflect the stated commitment of West and other affiliated Thomson businesses to provide integrated information solutions that match customers' work flow. Specifically, the enhancements include organization of content by task, expanding and integrating content, and linking of related information. A year ago, West launched Westlaw Litigator, which implemented these features and leverages the power of content linking. Tasks and content are organized by the workflow involved in case development. ResultsPlus, launched in June 2003, is a Westlaw technology that automatically suggests additional information related to a case-law search, thus anticipating a researcher's needs and saving time.
West has been adding legal briefs, which can be linked to from cases and are important for context and strategy development. By the end of December 2003, it had 320,000 briefs loaded. There are also 20 million dockets. West plans to add a number of enhancements in 2004, including advanced searching, alerts, and additional linking. The service will also add PDF images of scanned trial court documents.
Headquartered in Eagan, Minn., West is a business within The Thomson Corp. and was formed when West Publishing and Thomson Legal Publishing merged in June 1996. West recently nabbed a 5-year, $25 million contract to be the primary supplier of online legal, tax, business, news, and public records information and research technologies to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The deal includes content from other Thomson businesses, including RIA and Dialog. According to a West spokesperson, this is the first time West has won the contract with the IRS. LexisNexis, a unit of Reed Elsevier, has been the IRS's primary research service for nearly 30 years, and will reportedly continue to supply tax content to the agency.