Note from Professor Kubicki: This week I asked a group of students to look at one of the main tools and companies they are exposed to in law school - Thomson Reuterss. I did this for several reasons. The first was to illustrate how we all interact with businesses daily but rarely think about the actual experience we encounter during that interaction. Second, Westlaw and Lexis have fairly unique business models when it comes to attracting future customers - they give free passwords to law students. This to me appears to be a tactic that does not adequately address the strategy. In short there is more value to extend to law students than simply providing free passwords. As the essays below detail - a free password does not create "stickiness" and is "tables stakes" NOT the sustainable advantage. And finally, in full disclosure I recently keynoted a Thomson Legal strategic offsite. After my talk I was asked about my thoughts on how to better engage law students and what opportunities there may be to better address their needs. Given that I have eighteen law students in my class I figured it would be best to ask them directly. Here are three POVs on what may be some answers.
By: Brian Pike (@BrianCPike)
In our prompt this week, we were asked to make observations as to several ways Westlaw could utilize design principles in the delivery of its services to law school and law students. Specifically, Westlaw has indicated that it is always interested in improving the experience law students have with its services, providers, and products. Based on my experience with Westlaw as a law student, I believe the company could benefit from the following ideas:
“Investment” Meetings: When law students first arrive at law school, many have no idea what legal research is or how to go about starting. Fortunately, Westlaw already has a great program in place with its service reps to provide students access to the tools they are interested in. Without getting it critiques about the presentation, as it differs from location to location, I believe Westlaw could enhance this presentation by applying some design empathy.
Specifically, I believe that Westlaw should tell students about its goals as a service provider. Westlaw should tell students that it would like to get them very acquainted with their systems as law students, because they want to equip students with the tools they need to grow as legal researchers and in their entire legal career. But this growth is not limited to the law school process- Westlaw reps should briefly cover how their products and services can be utilized by students planning on pursuing large firm careers, government jobs, small firms, or even starting their own firm. The focus of the presentation should be on Westlaw’s partnership with students in this first week and during their entire career. Perhaps the presentation could highlight specific examples in each of the areas I previously mentioned, or showcase new exciting technology-based products.
The last category is an area that I believe Westlaw could really focus down on to deliver a quality, engaging, and meaningful product. Westlaw could develop a “getting started bundle” that could walk entrepreneurial new lawyers through starting their own firm. These tools could be free at first, or heavily discounted to help show Westlaw’s commitment to the firm. I believe that an early partnership with these types of entrepreneurial lawyers could secure Westlaw life-long customers.
TWEN2: As a student at Michigan State, almost all student groups and classes use TWEN as their primary virtual “meeting” location. I believe that this experience could be enhanced (perhaps early on with the free reward points that law students crave?) Specifically, I believe that allowing students to create a profile, one that pulls from a social media site such as Facebook or LinkedIn would make the experience more personable.
Beyond that, I believe that TWEN could be integrated with a platform such as LinkedIn to suggest possible interest groups law students might want to join while in school.
Student Investment: With a growing interest in law schools around legal technology and the application of tools and principles (such as design thinking) that have been successful in other industries, I believe Westlaw could capture this student interest. This could be done through free webinars, article distributions, or Westlaw sponsored legal “hackathons” around a specific legal issue.
If Westlaw were to equip and cultivate excitement in these types of interests, I believe it would allow the company to continue its theme of investing in the future of law students during their entire career.
Bluebook It: As many law students, practitioners, and even judges have indicated, mastering the Bluebook is a lifetime skills full of frustration. This is amplified in a law student’s first year, where many students are inundated with a new workload before being asked to unlearn other citation styles and master an entirely new system. This friction could be addressed by a new Westlaw product.
This product could take a quote from within WestlawNext, or even (at the more advanced level) an internet citation and provide the closest proper citation in Bluebook format. Minimally, this would at least allow a law student to identify a close way to cite their thought or quote. Perhaps it could identify the rules utilized to generate that citation?
I believe a product offering such as this would allow Westlaw to reduce a friction that many law students struggle with
The end to the inevitable question, is there a case out there that better resembles my facts?
By: Alejandra Briseno
Law students are mainly exposed to research tools such as Lexis and Westlaw during the first year of law school and during their summer work experiences. Training sessions with Lexis or Westlaw representatives are often offered for students to refine their researching skills. Although those training sessions are always helpful, I wonder if that feeling, the one where no matter how many hours you have researched, you wonder if there is a case out there in the database that you have not found. You contemplate whether there is a case that would put your research and case law to shame, or one that most closely resembles the set of facts you are dealing with. At the end of the day we are training to be lawyers, and we probably don’t have the expertise of a professional researcher or your school research librarian.
As a first year law student, you are constantly reminded that having the ability to do competent and efficient legal research is of great importance as a lawyer. I do not debate the fact that having the cases that apply to your particular case and situation is one of the keys to winning your case. However, is the current legal research system fundamentally flawed?
Recently I have been exposed to ATX, a professional grade tax preparations, accounting, and tax research software. ATX simplifies the ways in which people can complete their tax returns by offering simple forms-based interface and data input screens. When looking at the software I was surprised on how simplified it was. ATX reminded me how question and answer based search gets taxpayer preparers closer to the right result.
I think Lexis and Westlaw should switch to a more systematic approach, where they present a series of questions to users to elicit information about the case at hand. This way, law students can concentrate on analyzing the facts of the case rather than worrying about the perfect natural word research. With this more systematic approach the success depends on a lawyer’s ability to understand his or her case and the facts they are dealing with rather than meticulously choosing which words to insert in the search query. Currently, the ability to find the correct case law depends on the law student’s ability to classify those facts into legal terms, and being able to write them in the search bar. With my proposed system Lexis and WestLaw would get the researcher started with a series of questions that would narrow immensely the results. Aside from case law Lexis and WestLaw could provide extra information about how lawyers in the selected jurisdiction have dealt with similar issues in precedential cases.
I think technology has allowed for this researching mechanism to happen. If it is done for taxes, why can’t it be done for legal research? If software can analyze which tax credits and deductions are available to a taxpayer. I believe software can make the same analysis if lawyers’ and law students’ ability to analyze facts in cases is perfected. Instead of concentrating on learning how to research in the current system, legal research engines such as Lexis and WestLaw should allow lawyers concentrate on their cases and facts specific to them, and simplify the method of research for them.
Can America’s Largest Legal Information still Relate its Future Customers? An Analysis of Thomson-Reuters’ Relationship with Law School Students
By: Matthew Hays
“Specialization” is now a major trend in the practice of law. Lawyers and firms are now more likely to narrowly focus their time and resources in particular fields or subjects. However, legal information provider, Thomson-Reuters seems defiant and taking a more generalized approach in how it interacts with law students. While I am always an advocate of diverse marketing techniques, a lack of a consistent product can make all those efforts ultimately irrelevant. If a “brand” fails to properly capture a strong consumer base, then it will fail no matter how many products comprising it.
As I currently see it, Thomson has two primary methods in which it ultimately hopes to profit from law students:
1. Thomson is one of the largest publishers of legal textbooks and casebooks.
2. Thomson operates the widely successful legal research database WestlawNext.
While Thomson offers free WestlawNext use for law school students, the end goal is to have those same students pay to use the service as practicing attorneys. This method has more value to Thomson in the long run, and unlike the other, actually benefits from emerging technological trends.
What Thomson doesn’t realize is that these methods conflict to some degree. Thomson really needs to specifically define their own “brand”. As a THE legal information provider, Thomson’s primary focus should be providing legal professionals with that information quickly and easily. It needs to be on the information itself, not the unchanging products containing it. Sparing the lecture about “globalization”, “internet use trends”, and the like, I will simply state: It is undeniable that the online resources, collectively known in this post as “Westlaw," is Thomson’s future; not publishing.
While it seems like marketing print and electronic legal resources conjunctively makes a lot of business-sense, considering everything from a law student’s (the customer’s) perspective reveals this is not the case in establishing a relationship. Thomson’s collection of hard-copy textbooks is not a good way to convince law students they are the company of the future. When the world’s largest online legal research database cannot offer electronic copies of many of the textbooks and series they publish, how will they inspire confidence in those tech-savvy consumers?
The high prices associated with these textbooks can turn some law students away from Thomson-Reuters. Unless the prices are some attempt to ‘inoculate’ potential Westlaw consumers, Thomson needs to better empathize with law students by considering the transaction from their perspective:
What buying a typical textbook means to me, a law school student:
I am assigned the textbook for a specific class. I have no choice in the matter, and likely cannot choose another textbook or class. I cannot benefit from market competition in any way, making me feel diminished as a consumer.
I will likely only use this textbook for the class itself. I will not use this for bar review since casebooks and classes generally don’t focus on a specific jurisdiction. I will not use the casebook for reference as a lawyer, but prefer online databases for search features and time-saving purposes. I will rent or resell the book if possible.
Thusly, I am forced to buy a textbook I do not fully value. I am not going to be happy about the sales transaction, regardless of it’s form and cost. This annoyance is only exacerbated by the fact that some classes do not require a textbook purchase at all.
While I have noticed that more textbooks are being released as eBooks, the fact is that textbook rentals or resale still remains the most cost-effective for the consumer. Once the first copy is completed, the cost to produce each additional eBook is minimal, demand is the same but supply is literally infinite. It makes complete sense for any vendor to prefer this type of product for future sales. If Thomson expanded their catalogue of electronic textbooks, with prices somewhat reflecting the reduction in production costs, their services will be considerably more appealing to the average law student.
So how can Thomson better connect with law school students in order to get them hooked on Westlaw? Thomson doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel concerning how students use their products. Westlaw and TWEN, (the Westlaw Education Network) are already household names for law students, and Thomson doesn’t so much need to expand into new uses so much as refine their current ones. The best way for Thomson to improve their digital products would be to look at how law school students currently use them, and more broadly: how the products are incorporated into their lives. Along that line of thinking and from my own personal law school experience, I have developed three suggestions for Thomson, which if implemented could improve Thomson’s relationship with their customer-students.
Suggestion #1- A cloud-based storage system, integrated with TWEN and WestlawNext:
For individuals that use different devices to view the same documents, GoogleDrive is a lifesaver. Even for those individuals who are not technologically gifted, it is extremely easy keeping all files in a particular drive folder, which is synchronized across all devices on which the drive is installed. The content can even be accessed and modified from any web browser without ever installing the drive program. This allows users to instantly and seamlessly change devices and continue working on the same task, without any risk of unnecessary duplication.
So how does this service relate to Thomson? The answer is simple: If they integrate their current services into a cloud-based file system like GoogleDrive, they can provide law school students with an entirely unique experience. Once accepted, this experience could be something that law students find instrumental, making them unable to forego the service in the future as attorneys (and more importantly, as paying customers).
So what exactly should Thomson create in this service? For every law-student Westlaw subscriber, Thomson could theoretically create for them a cloud-based storage system similar to GoogleDrive or a competitor, Dropbox. The actual size of the storage is not particularly important, although it would likely need to be more than the meager 2GB that Dropbox offers it’s free users. Where Thomson can really thrive in this service is by integrating its TWEN and WestlawNext services.
In addition to “open” storage that would allow its users to save whatever files or folders they wanted, Thomson could offer within that storage dedicated TWEN and Westlaw folders. How convenient would it be if PDF’s of cases and other sources found on WestlawNext could be sent to any folder on the drive to review offline? Theoretically, even the TWEN folder could be linked with the individual user’s TWEN account: each TWEN page/course could be given its own folder, containing all content that is located on the website. Whenever content is added to the TWEN page by a professor, it could synchronize across the cloud-based drive folder. In accessing the folder on whatever device, students could see additional readings posted without even logging in to the TWEN page, and keep whatever assignments they are working on in the same place as all of their other course materials. Theoretically, this folder could be used to automatically or manually submit assignments.
Suggestion #2- Slightly revise the TWEN assignment submission process by getting rid of “1 submission only” option:
Submitting an assignment to TWEN can actually be stressful. A typical law school student might be relieved once he receives the confirmation email that his assignment is received, there can sometimes be a great deal of stress surrounding the timing of submissions. TWEN allows the professor to decide how many times an assignment can be submitted: allowing multiple submissions or only one. Even when professors allow multiple submissions, they will usually just read the most recent. Still, many professors only allow one submission, be it because they are unaware, or simply wish to avoid seeing multiple files. While I respect Thomson’s desire to give professors control of their classroom procedure, if Thomson considered assignment submission from the student perspective they might change their tune.
What submitting an assignment to TWEN with one chance does to me, a (working) law school student:
Because I basically work full time on top of attending law school, achieving a work-school-life balance is absolutely vital. Sometimes this means that I have to complete an assignment early, days before the due date. Other times I must complete the assignment hours before it is due. There is no benefit to early submission
If I submit an assignment under the latter, “procrastination” option, I constantly worry whether I spent enough time on the assignment.
When I am proactive about the assignment, and get it done early, I face another dilemma:
I can submit the assignment right away, precluding me from editing the assignment any further [Reasoning behind suggestion #2]: if I think of improvements or changes they will be irrelevant to my grade. OR
I can wait, submit the assignment closer to the deadline and risk forgetting to submit what I have already finished [Reasoning behind suggestions #2, & #3]
So what can Thomson do to help law school students who face this dilemma? The easiest thing to do would be just to force all assignment postings to accept multiple submissions. If Thomson believes this will upset professors losing autonomy, there is a way to still ‘technically’ allow only one official submission while letting students edit what they submit early.
What TWEN needs is a “provisional submit” feature. Under this, when a student has a first draft to submit for an assignment only allowing one, they should simply have an option next to the “Submit” button that would be something to the effect of “Automatically Submit Five Minutes Prior to Deadline”. It would then be up to the student to chose whether or not to submit an updated version of the assignment, as long as they did so more than five minutes before the deadline. If the student submitted an update, then the automatic submission wouldn’t go through or need to go through. If the student failed to update the original submission, then the automatic submission (already on the TWEN server), would be the one officially transmitted to the professor.
Suggestion #3- Text alerts for upcoming assignment deadlines: going a step beyond email:
Instead of belaboring this article, I leave you, the reader with some parting observations regarding this straightforward suggestion.
- Busy, working law students might have several email addresses, but most of them only have one cell phone number.
- Like anyone, a student is substantially more likely to see a text-message than an email.
- With almost all of the major cell phone providers, text messages can be sent to a phone number using email protocol, with no cost to the sender.
- Generally speaking, there are no spam filters for text-messages.
Ultimately, Thomson is in the best place to connect with their law-student customers by just improving their current user experience. Doing so will make tools such as WestlawNext completely indispensable for these users once they graduate and become licensed to practice. These minor suggestions might not actually change the self-employed attorney’s mind on whether or not he can actually afford to purchase Westlaw (and similar Thomson products). They do, however, have the possibility to make new associates in larger firms more dependent on Westlaw, earning Thomson more clicks, views, and revenue.