Lawyers and paralegals spend most of their careers gathering relevant legal information to solidify their arguments. As much as it’s challenging and time consuming, it’s a core part of the job. Fortunately, with the help of modern legal research tools — such as Westlaw — today, legal professionals have an advantage.
That being said — is Westlaw any good? What features does it have to offer? Who is it made for?
In this in-depth review, we’ll answer all of those questions and more.
Let’s get started.
What is Westlaw?
Westlaw is a renowned online legal research service by Thomas Reuters. Trusted by thousands of practicing legal professionals and law students alike, this legal research platform provides comprehensive coverage and other state-of-the-art case law research capabilities.
When it comes to legal research, the platform is meant to deliver the following 3 core benefits:
Packaged in flexible plans, Westlaw is suitable for law firms, clinics, and even law schools of all sizes. However, it has some major drawbacks.
Casetext — The Best Alternative to Westlaw
All things considered, Westlaw is a decent software with all the features you need to efficiently conduct your legal research.
However, it has its drawbacks.
For one, it’s not exactly a cost-effective solution. Furthermore, the learning curve might be an issue for some users.
If budget and ease-of-use are two major requirements — and you want more advanced features — you should consider opting for Casetext instead. It’s a much better legal research software.
It’s the most promising alternative to both Westlaw and LexisNexis (another popular legal research platform), which has better features, comprehensive coverage, and more — all packaged in affordable plans.
I highly recommend trying Casetext before going broke on Westlaw.
As of now, Westlaw offers some of the most advanced features in the legal research domain.
Let’s take a look at what’s under the hood:
1. Quick Check
Once you’re done creating your briefs, is there any way to be certain that it’s airtight?
Luckily, Westlaw has a tool for just that.
“Quick Check” is a cutting-edge tool — powered by artificial intelligence — that can analyze your briefs and suggest smart improvements to increase your odds of winning.
It does this by pointing out and delivering relevant and better authority that you might have missed during your research.
With this tool, you can:
- Analyze Your Drafts — the software will run a detailed analysis of your documents, highlight potential issues/weaknesses, and suggest improvements related to citations and text.
- Study Opponent’s Brief — go one step further and analyze where your opponent stands and find out the weak spots in their arguments (such as negative treatment).
- Quick Check Judicial — a new feature that lets you upload and analyze multiple documents side-by-side and get a bird’s-eye view of both parties.
2. Litigation Analytics
In addition to gathering relevant data for the actual case, smart lawyers also factor in the courts, judges, firms, and different cases in different practice areas into creating a well-rounded strategy.
This enables them to provide realistic answers to the questions of their clients regarding their chances of success, how long a case could be dragged out, etc.
With Westlaw’s Litigation Analytics tool, any lawyer can do that.
This tool can help you manage the expectations of your clients with the following features:
- Understanding and Comparing Judges — get exclusive data on your judge (recent rulings, average time-to-rule, experience in different areas, the citations they’ve used in the past, dockets, etc.) and strategize accordingly. Additionally, the tool lets you compare different judges and use filters to narrow down answers.
- Understanding the Opponent — going up against an opponent for the first time? There’s a feature that lets you analyze the opposing counsel’s experience, how successful they have been with filing motions to dismiss, and more.
- Knowing Coverage — get detailed coverage lists by courts and states.
- COVID-19 Material — the tool also lets you filter Public Health Emergency cases by different types of diseases, including COVID-19 and HIV, among others.
Furthermore, it helps find outside counsel best-suited to handle your case.
Last but not least, it allows you to toggle between state and federal.
3. WestSearch Plus
Manually skimming through reports, public records, and books to seek important answers and secondary sources pertaining to your case can take its toll.
Thanks to WestSearch Plus, you don’t need to pull all-nighters at a law library to get the answers you need.
WestSearch Plus is a powerful legal search engine and a core component of the Westlaw platform.
With this simple and easy-to-use, yet incredibly powerful tool (powered by AI), you can get the most relevant results to your queries in a matter of seconds.
What’s more is that you don’t have to craft complex queries to get accurate results. Simple language and even Boolean terms will do.
In addition to looking up authority, WestSearch Plus also allows you to search for certain documents using citations.
4. KeyCite Overruling Risk
When building up arguments, we use several citations to solidify our stance and make strong briefs.
However, there’s always the chance that you’ll end up citing something that’s not exactly considered good law.
KeyCite Overruling Risk is a powerful citator that ensures you’re not using bad law and instantly provides details on overruled cases — without requiring any manual work on your part.
What sets the KeyCite Overruling Risk feature apart from a traditional citator is that it also takes into account implicitly overruled case law.
Furthermore, KeyCite leverages West Publishing’s very own West Key Number System — a smart classification system that organizes cases according to topics. This can help narrow down your focus and easily find cases with similarities.
5. Statutes Compare and Regulations Compare
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about conducting legal research is ensuring that statutes and regulations haven’t changed.
Westlaw offers a feature that lets you do just that. It provides comprehensive coverage for statutes, federal regulations, and state-specific regulations for 39 states.
If you want to see how a statute or a regulation in the United States has changed over the years, you can easily compare their different versions without putting in any substantial manual work.
Here’s how it can help:
- Get an Overview of Changes — the tool provides round-figures of text deletions and/or additions to the newer version of a statute or a regulation.
- Easily Toggle Between Types of Changes — see what has been deleted (shown as strikethroughs in red) and what has been added (highlighted in blue).
6. Jurisdictional Surveys
When working on a case on a topic/area you’re unfamiliar with, it’s important to gather all the existing laws that apply to it.
Again, doing that manually can take precious hours that you could otherwise spend on your strategy.
However, with the Jurisdictional Surveys feature, you can easily do that with just a few clicks.
It does that by providing compiled lists of laws across different jurisdictions in the United States.
7. Legislative Insights
Last but not least, if you really want to leave no stone unturned when preparing your argument, it’s important to stay on top of proposed legislation that could potentially impact your case.
Legislative Insights provides the much-needed insights that can help you track proposed legislation with good chances of being passed.
As mentioned earlier, what makes Westlaw special is the fact that it’s targeted for small, medium, and large-sized enterprises, law firms, clinics, and even lawyers who ride solo.
Thomson Reuters’ Westlaw splits their plans into the following categories (according to firm-size):
For Solo and Small Law Firms
Here are the pricing plans for individual lawyers and small firms (having 1 to 6 attorneys):
- Essentials — $89 per month
- Plus — $196 per month
- Westlaw Edge — $344 per month
For Medium and Large Firms
Medium and large firms (having 7 or more attorneys) can opt for the following plans:
- Premier Plus
- Westlaw Edge
The company hasn’t shared any fixed prices for these.
Finally, Westlaw offers the following plans for public agencies and government lawyers:
- State Plan — $180 per month
- National Plan — $289 per month
- Premium Plan — doesn’t have a fixed price
Some More Alternatives
A few more alternatives to Westlaw include:
- Zola Suite
State-of-the-art features, extensive coverage, and tailored-plans for all needs — if you consider all that, it’s easy to see why Westlaw is trusted by so many legal professionals in the US.
However, as mentioned above, the platform certainly has its downsides.
If you’re an experienced attorney with ample hands-on experience with legal research tools (and a decent budget), give Casetext a shot. It’s a much better alternative.