Ambrogi on Tech

Slow-evolving legal research platform Cheetah has pluses, minuses

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illustration by andrew roberts

Illustration by Andrew Roberts

The cheetah is the fastest mammal on Earth. But Wolters Kluwer's new Cheetah seemed to have one of the slowest rollouts ever for a legal research product.

After starting to build Cheetah early in 2012, WK announced its imminent launch at the July 2014 annual meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries, but it would be another year still before the launch would actually occur—and then only for limited practice areas.

Was the wait worth it? Compared to WK’s older research platform, IntelliConnect, Cheetah is faster and more flexible to search, cleaner and more responsive in design, and more intuitive to use and navigate. It should be a welcome improvement for subscribers who depend on WK products to research regulated and specialized areas of law such as corporate finance, securities, tax, banking and health.

At the same time, it does not live up to WK’s promotional hype as a platform “that is a re-envisioning of the legal research experience.” At best, Cheetah brings WK’s research platform in line with those of other legal research services. In fact, many of Cheetah’s main features are standard fare for a legal research platform these days. Its ubiquitous, Google-like search toolbar will seem familiar to anyone who has used WestlawNext or Lexis Advance. Easy access to research history, work lists and saved items is also standard on many research platforms.


There is much to like about Cheetah, especially when you consider the customer challenge WK faced in designing it. Its customers tend to fall into two groups: Some are inextricably wedded to specific sources—such as favored treatises—and want ready access to them by name and content. Others care less about the source and just want to find the answers they need. Perhaps the greatest success of Cheetah is that it balances these competing approaches to research.

Users start at a page tailored to their practice area. Cheetah covers only three so far: securities and corporate, antitrust and competition, and litigation (tax and intellectual property are due to be added next). WK’s full array of content will not be available on Cheetah until sometime in 2016.

Each practice page is organized into blocks for different types of content—treatises, statutes, reg-ulatory materials, news, forms, practice tools and the like—and each block provides one-click access to that content type’s three top sources. Users can customize these blocks to list their preferred sources. While these content boxes provide access to specific sources, the search bar provides access to the universe of available sources (which varies by subscription). Enter a natural-language or Boolean query to bring up all results across all types of content. Each listed result includes a color-coded label to identify the type of content.

Cheetah provides detailed filters that enable users to refine search results by topic, jurisdiction, court, document type, governing act and even entity, such as corporation or underwriter. A search for “private offering exemptions” produced 11,822 results; but when I filtered it for Massachusetts, I reduced the list to 14. Users can easily add or remove any combination of filters, and can also narrow results by searching within them.

Viewing a document in Cheetah is a pleasure. Documents open across the full screen, so they are easy to read. Unobtrusive icons on the left open slide-out panels that allow you to search the document, view information about it (including its proper —Bluebook citation), or see its context within the structure of its broader volume or library. Icons on the document enable easy saving, printing, sharing and downloading. Right-click a document to add a note or highlight. Cheetah’s design is fully responsive, so it adapts to whatever device you are using.

As if these options were not enough, Cheetah provides another: a topical navigator. This allows users to locate content by drilling down through issues and areas of law. The securities homepage, for example, lists three top-level topics: governance and compliance, litigation and enforcement, and transactions and activities. Clicking on any of these opens a submenu of more granular topics.

Cheetah may have been slow off the starting block, but for WK subscribers, its arrival is a great leap forward.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Worth the Wait? Slow-evolving Cheetah has pluses, minuses.”

Robert J. Ambrogi is a Rockport, Massachusetts, lawyer and writer. He covers technology at his blog LawSites and cohosts the legal affairs podcast Lawyer2Lawyer.

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