Volume 18, Number 8
GPSolo is proud to introduce a product review column to provide a platform for informing our readers about products that they may find helpful in their practice or otherwise. Look for our product review column in the December and June issues of the magazine, which are Technology & Practice Guide special issues.
Legal Research to Go!
Westlaw Wireless (WW) allows you to conduct legal research on the road, in court, in a restaurant, in your car (please be careful while driving), or just about any place else that a radio signal can reach. WW provides access to the same information available on your desktop, but it does it on a wireless communicator that you can carry in your pocket. I found it rather heady to summon a list of cases to my communicator, choose what I needed, and then read it while sipping a latte at Starbucks. My drinking partner that afternoon, another lawyer, responded appropriately to the "wow" factor as well.
West sees WW as another way of accessing its services. Your billing for WW access tracks your billing for other access. If you have a flat-rate program and stay within included databases, you pay the same flat rate. If you wander outside of the included databases, you pay the same charge for wireless as for any other form of access.
You do have some overhead associated with WW. WW requires an Internet-ready Palm device or an interactive wireless communicator with Internet access. Plan on spending at least $400 for a good one. West recommends the Palm VII (West has a marketing partnership with Palm). Other devices also work. I have used WW with RIM 857, 957, and 950 devices.
Your Palm VII will require a PalmNet connection. Your communicator will require activation through a wireless network such as Cingular or Motient. That connection provides paging, two-way communication, and other services; and will cost you a monthly charge of $35 or so. Most networks have unlimited-use plans around $50 to $60 per month. You will also need an ISP to provide Internet access (at an additional charge) and a browser to access and use WW.
I tried WW on a Palm VII and on three RIM communicators, one connected to Motient's network with Internet access provided by Go America and two connected to the Cingular network with Internet access through Wolfetech's Pocket Genie (www.wolfetech.com). They all worked just fine. Personally, I prefer the Pocket Genie's browser's presentation to the Go America presentation. I also found that, where I live and travel, Motient generally responded faster than Cingular, both for interactive communications and Internet access.
Browser limitations and transmission speed for the communicators resulted in a no-frills, no graphics presentation. WW lacks some of Westlaw's features, but includes the basics: You can enter and edit a query, select your database, enter your password, and tell the program where to send the response. You can run a citation through KeyCite. You can also access the West Legal Directory. If you have a wireless device with Internet access, you can log on right now and see what the screens look like. If you don't, crank up your computer, go to www.wl-w.com, and take a look.
WW gives you the ability to initiate legal research on the run or in a spare moment while you are waiting in the doctor's office, waiting for a judge, waiting for a plane, or waiting for your spouse or functional equivalent to finish shopping. It gives you the ability to call on Westlaw to provide information to you in court during a hearing or a trial or at an arbitration or in a mediation conference. Do those abilities create value for you? If so, then you will want WW.
Does WW justify getting a communicator, network service, and Internet access? For me, the wireless communicator justifies itself without even getting to the WW question. So does the Internet access. If you already have the communicator, Internet access, and Westlaw, it's a convenience that costs you nothing. Use it.
Verdict: Ease of use, excellent; utility, good; value, excellent.
-Reviewed by Jeffrey M. Allen
Note: West Group is a corporate sponsor of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division, and this article appears in connection with the Section's Sponsorship Agreement with West Group. Neither the ABA nor ABA Sections endorse non-ABA products or services, and this article should not be so construed.