Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Westlaw Training Session: Prepare to Practice

The firm I'll be working for this summer (as well as every other firm in the world, it seems, so nothing unusual) asked its summer associates to take an hour of Westlaw and Lexis training at school sometime before the end of the year. My Lexis training is scheduled for next week, but I just finished the Westlaw one, and thought I'd report.

People completely in the dark: Westlaw and Lexis are competing legal research databases. They are virtually identical except one uses quotation marks to denote a phrase and the other assumes the quotation marks even if you don't put them in. They're free to law students but expensive to law firms, so they want to get you "hooked" (as opposed to going to actual books and searching by hand) so they make lots of money from firms.

But: most firms actually pay a flat fee, so your searches don't cost them *added* money -- BUT the way they bill their clients is to tell them what it would have cost if not for the flat fee... so, since clients don't like seeing big "legal research" tabs on their bill, the encouragement is to keep the cost down... BUT, since it seems that the firms turn a profit on this stuff, I can't imagine they want you to keep the cost down too much. Clearly, I'm a little confused on the motivations and incentive structure here. Nevertheless, I take at face value that the point of the training session was to teach us how to save money on Westlaw, but not so much money that Westlaw still doesn't make a huge amount of money, and inspire your loyalty so the firm continues to pay the flat fee, which approaches three zillion dollars a year.

Things I learned from the Westlaw representative teaching the class:
*You can either select to have your research charged by the minute, or by the transaction.
*If you select, by the minute, you pay approximately (all of these numbers are approximate, she said) 80 cents a minute for doing nothing. You then pay an added fee on top of that whenever you're in a particular database -- so "all Federal cases" would be $8.75/minute, but a smaller database like "all Massachusetts" might just be $4.00/minute.
*Hearing about these insane per-minute charges may make you want to be billed by transaction. Ha. The federal database will cost about $75.00/search, but the Massachusetts "only" about $35.00 per search. "So choose the smallest database possible."
*If you deign to print a document off of Westlaw, you will be charged 3 cents per line, or $5.50 per document, your choice. So start counting lines. Or just cut and paste into Word and they'll never know.
*A few things are free. Their help line, 1-800-REF-ATTY (which, with the dash moved just one space over, is 1-800-RE-FATTY, which is funnier) is free. Also apparently if you are not logged into Westlaw and not searching, there is no "you are not using us now" surcharge.
*Anytime you click on anything blue (that's what she said, I don't know), it's $5.50. That means cases and stuff.
*Linking from a table of contents, also $5.50.
*Each KeyCite citation is $4.75, but in the per-minute pricing it's $4.50 a minute, so make your choice wisely.
*Accessing your research history is free.

In the session, we went through a "sample case" about someone being deported after conviction of a felony. I wonder if the felony was stealing legal research.