The ability to share legal research and collaborate with others is a significant step forward in maximizing the efficiency of your legal research. Your research retains some aspects of knowledge dissemination as familiar to attorneys as a walk down the hall with a stack of papers covered in sticky notes. But the digital medium builds on that concept and presents new opportunities and challenges. As a research librarian who supports over 180 legal professionals, I have developed some best practices when using WestlawNext Folders to ensure you are realizing the full potential of collaborative tools.
Create your own folders: Folders in the secure, WestlawNext-hosted cloud belong to their owner. The simplest way to get started is to begin researching and create a folder on the fly. When you arrive at a result you would like to save, click the “save to folder” button and name a new folder. Snippets can be saved to an active folder by highlighting text and choosing the “save to folder” option. Folders keep your research organized and are fully searchable. Once you have viewed and saved a document to a folder, you can access it for free as many times as you wish in a year. KeyCite flags will update automatically, ensuring that you are always reviewing the current state of the law.
Share Folders with colleagues and co-counsel: When a folder has been shared with you, it’s good practice to create a new folder under your own password and copy the contents of the shared folder into your own folder. If the original owner makes changes or deletes content out of the shared folder, your access will reflect those changes. Retain that content and create your own annotations in your personal folder workspace. Also, if the document has been viewed and saved to a folder, others in your firm can view the same document at no charge.
Manage privileges: Remain aware of the privileges you grant to fellow collaborators. Reviewers have read-only access, while contributors can add content to shared folders.Contributors can delete anything they’ve added, but can’t delete others’ additions. A folder’s owner retains control over every aspect of that folder, including deleting content added by contributors.
Annotation Sharing: Your research annotations are valuable work-product. When collaborating with your colleagues and co-counsel, however, you may wish to share your annotations. This can easily be accomplished by downloading or emailing documents, choosing to include annotations, and sending the documents along to your team via email.
Rather than have a bunch of sticky notes attached to documents, the notes will appear on the document itself. This means you don’t have to worry about losing your notes, and your annotations will be available for others to read.
Capture a point in time: WestlawNext provides automatic updating within folders. This is a huge time-saver. You may, however, find yourself in need of the text of a statute or regulation that has been amended since you last reviewed and saved it. While prior statute versions are available through WestlawNext, downloading the contents of your research folder to your hard drive will ensure that you can quickly recreate the state of the law at the time you performed your research.
Retain your firm’s intellectual property: Law firm managers should be cognizant of the fact that when departing attorneys’ WestlawNext passwords are deactivated, any folders that they created and their research will be lost. Your firm should have a procedure in place to provide for legal research retention prior to password deactivation. Retaining that legal research ensures you are not reinventing the wheel on subsequent work, saving you a tremendous amount of time.
Digital collaboration of legal research can save your practice time and money. Take advantage of the tools available for sharing legal research with your colleagues. Be mindful of what you are sharing and with whom, and maintain the backups necessary for preserving the fruits of your research labor.
Jennifer Meger, MLS, is the Research Librarian at Goulston & Storrs. Her legal research expertise includes real estate, export control, corporate law, and tax. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-574-4022.