Westlaw support, & thread on Zotero at Legal History Blog

There's an animated discussion going on over at Legal History Blog on research methods, and several commenters have mentioned Zotero. The original poster, Serena Mayeri, has asked, "How do you cope with Zotero's incompatibility with Westlaw? Does Hein Online work as an adequate substitute? And are you comfortable with Zotero's back-up options?" If you have ideas, please comment there.

I know that Westlaw support is a frequently-requested feature; what's the current status of any plans to add it?
  • edited June 8, 2011
    I've written a new translator for WestLaw Japan. It works only with the multilingual branch of Zotero, because it relies on an extension (to save chunks of a single HTML page as separate attachments) that is only available there. I don't have any immediate plans to work on the English WestLaw site.

    Both Lexis and WestLaw are painful to deal with, because neither service provides structured metadata to the user. They have that data in storage (as I discovered last year when the author names suddently went missing from Lexis Law Journals, and students complained that my page-scraping code had shattered on them). They just don't supply that data in their pages in a structured form.

    The bottleneck with legal site support is the generally poor provision of metadata. Until the incentives shift for the providers, things will be spotty and uneven. Feel free to complain to them -- they will eventually listen.

    (cross-posting now ...)

    (Blogger swallowed the text after bouncing through the openID steps. Oh well, enough time spent on that one.)
  • No doubt the metadeta is poor because they don't want third parties scraping from their database. Still, it's clearly possible. I wrote an extension to reorganize their data years ago, and more recently, Fastcase has released the alpha of their "Cloud Printing" app, which extracts the case citation to display the case on their own service. (See http://legalgeekery.com/2011/08/19/a-review-of-fastcase-cloud-printing-suite-part-i/ for details.) I haven't seen it bug out once yet.

    Honestly, until this is resolved, Zotero is basically useless for legal professionals as a large majority of us are now using WestlawNext exclusively.
  • Thanks for your helpful and encouraging feedback. Fastcase were early followers of the citeproc-js project, but I haven't heard anything from them directly. If they would be willing to share code with me, that would be great.

    I've put up a site with information on the development process for legal and multilingual styles, which you may find of interest.
  • Thanks fb and keep up the good work. I'm looking forward to the day where I can organize my legal research with Zotero.
  • edited August 23, 2011

    In other news, I just received a reply to a query I put to the Harvard Law Review Ass'n concerning the Bluebook Online service (to which I do not subscribe). Their position is that the EULA prohibits reference to the online content for the purpose of coding the style in CSL, if that work is motivated by the desire to market a guidebook on the use of Zotero with the style.

    I live overseas, and there does not appear to be an electronic channel through which I can purchase a copy of the Bluebook, 19th ed. If anyone reading this would be willing to supply me with a copy of the style guide (as a gift, to avoid issues with privity of contract just in case) in paper form, it would help me get started. Feel free to send me a message via zotero.org ...
  • Just a followup to indicate that my note above, inviting offers to make me a gift of a paper copy of the Bluebook 19th edition, is not a joke. I have been explicitly warned off of the Bluebook Online by the editors.

    I agree that this is a silly and wasteful state of affairs, but I didn't write the law, I didn't draft the EULA, and I am not inclined to ignore either. Unless the editors of the Bluebook have a change of heart, I must use a paper copy of the style guide for this work, unless I fancy ending up in a lawsuit.

    So the invitation is real, and it is still open.
  • I am happy to report that an anonymous donor has offered to provide a copy of the style guide. So this rather odd bottleneck has been cleared.
  • Further to the discussion above, I checked pages on Fastcase, and found that they are in the same category as Westlaw and Lexis as far as structured metadata goes. Nothing. Not a single string. It's like a desert in there.

    Unless these services change their policies on exposing metadata, I doubt whether it's worth supporting translators for any of them.
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