WestlawNext uses a new search algorithm that returns more focused results and offers researchers increased exposure to more sources and titles. Wheeler concludes, however, that it also offers a number of potentially negative impacts on the legal research process:
WestlawNext’s new search engine uses a "crowdsourcing" algorithm which will produce useful results for the researcher most of the time. However, some information will be more difficult to find. More esoteric information and less popular results will often get buried or they may not appear at all in the results. If researchers are unable to find unpopular or less used pieces of legal information, it could lead to changes in the law, as rarely-used laws, doctrines, or arguments might fade into nonexistence. It could also lead to changes in the practice of law if creative lawyers who cannot find cutting-edge legal documents or academic articles on which they rely for new and creative ideas are stifled.
A preferred strategy for doing legal research is to begin searching broadly and then focus once you find results that look useful. This allows the researcher to focus after getting a sense of how much material exists and helps the new researcher become familiar with a particular area of law. With WestlawNext, there is no mechanism for executing an initially broad search. Its algorithm is designed to narrow or focus even the broadest of searches, and control over the scope of searches is beyond the user’s control.
Unlike Classic Westlaw, WestlawNext allows users to search without having to first choose a database. While this may point the researcher toward previously unknown sources, it eliminates the mechanism by which researchers learn about and reinforce their knowledge of sources. Therefore, their knowledge of the structure of the law is eroded.
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