This is the fourth part of a series of posts in which I will profile the apps and services I found essential to my first year as a law student. The first semester I restricted use to a laptop. After receiving an iPad 2 for Christmas, the second semester was limited to in-class use of the iPad and free reign while at home.
“Whether you find yourself at a court bench or park bench, WestlawNext can produce results unlike any other legal platform available.”
1: Westlaw Goes ‘Next’
Learning to research effectively. That is one of the many goals all law students will have during their time in school. Effective research techniques will continue to become refined through practice. When new technologies are developed to help the research process, they are certainly welcomed.
WestlawNext is known as the “Google”-like approach to legal research. This is because the service offers a simple, unified search bar which delivers powerful results, much like Google itself. The searches can be limited to specific jurisdictions, sources, dates, and more. A WestlawNext search is optimized for plain language as well as the classic Boolean operators. Therefore, Westlaw Classic users will feel right at home in the use of Boolean operators, while new students will become familiar with their plain language counterparts. Both are necessary and helpful in researching on WestlawNext.
To access WestlawNext, go to West’s Law School website, log in with your school credentials, and choose “WestlawNext” from the top navigation bar.
The home screen of WestlawNext on the iPad.
2: ‘Next’ Features
WestlawNext doesn’t stop at improving legal searches. ‘Next’ offers abilities such as highlighting, annotating, folder organization, sending to Kindle, saving as PDFs with mark-ups, or sharing among colleagues.
I have found the highlighting and note taking abilities to be the most useful. With WestlawNext, you simply drag and select a range of text (which can include one sentence or entire paragraphs) which then becomes highlighted. Once highlighted, the user can add a sticky note, which becomes useful when reading through long cases or secondary sources. The built-in highlight and note features provide a seamless, uninterrupted experience while researching.
Highlighting and adding notes to a case on WestlawNext for the iPad.
Once notes and highlights are made on a case or source, simply drag the document to the top-right corner of the screen and drop it into a folder! I created folders for each of my classes. My legal writing folder was sub-divided into specific assignments or cases (because some assignments will carry over and build upon themselves).
Every document on Westlaw can be saved as a PDF if you don’t have a tablet or smartphone and want to have access to the documents that are saved in folders. Offline access to documents is important, but I found myself using the PDF functions for reading in iBooks. A PDF reader can provide more functionality at times. ‘Next’ does include an offline reading feature. The printing systems at some schools require that documents are uploaded, rather than printed directly from the computer system’s print dialog screen. This is when the PDF-saving feature comes in handy. Users have the choice of including highlights and comments when saving to a PDF.
3: The App
West has created an intuitive and well-structured mobile app for the iPad. The ability to carry around what is essentially an entire law library in a device smaller than 10 inches is incredible! Whether you find yourself at a court bench or park bench, WestlawNext can produce results unlike any other legal platform available.
Everything you do when using WestlawNext’s desktop access is synced with your mobile devices. Therefore, if you save a case to a folder, it will appear in that folder on the mobile platform, and vice versa.
Documents being viewed on the iPad can’t directly be saved as a PDF, but rather must be e-mailed and then saved. This produces an unnecessary extra step in the process, but doesn’t completely produce a limit to the app’s PDF functionality. I hope they provide for direct-to-Dropbox or -iBooks options in future updates.
If you are interested in reading an in-depth review from a practicing attorney, I recommend checking out Jeff Richardson’s WestlawNext review over at iPhoneJD.com.
For more information on the WestlawNext mobile apps, visit the official website.
4: The Website
West Law School is one of my favorite mobile websites because it offers users a mobile platform experience, but still retains the full website access option. (At the bottom of most screens, there is a button for full site access.) This proves useful when needing to access certain features on the move. I used both my Android phone and iPhone to view the full site and found no hiccups in saving PDFs, viewing the original filed document, opening TWEN classes, and more.
PDF downloading and other feature are still functional through the Safari browser on a cell phone. I don’t always recommend this method of access when mobile, but in a crunch it can work.
The sharing feature within WestlawNext could be useful when working in groups. I have yet to encounter a group project; but, I think the system would be useful in sharing case notes, research, and other items in a digital environment.
The blue folder icon indicates that a folder is shared by you or has been shared with you.
I did share one of my folders with my legal writing professor. It wasn’t required, but I wanted to try the service out. For professors, this could be a useful tool in keeping track of whether students are actually researching, seeing their research methods, and gaining a better understanding of their analysis by reading their notes and commentary. We all know professors have a little more time on their hands to track their students, right!
I hope to gain more experience working in groups and sharing documents through WestlawNext over the next two years.
Leave a comment and tell me how you’ve used Westlaw or WestlawNext in practice!