Extras – Product Review: Westlaw Find & Print 3.2 for Windows

Susan Charkes is the Systems Librarian for the Dechert Price & Rhoads in Philadelphia, PA.

Click here for a PDF document on “Using WestFind&Print™ 3.2.”

Find & Print is so retro, it’s futuristic.

What can you say about a utility from a major software vendor that does exactly what its name says – no more, no less? You can say that it does its job quickly, quietly and well — then gets out of the way. You can say that it doesn’t try to impress with high-end graphics, multi-level menu systems or 57 ways to do the same thing. Mostly, you can say, as do many of your colleagues, what did I do before there was Find & Print?

Find & Print does just that. It finds any citation on Westlaw. Then it prints it. All you do is type in the citation or citations.

By checking various options, all or any of the following may be printed: the case, the table of authorities and the KeyCite history (complete, full or negative). In the previous 3.1 version, you could also Shepardize, but since July 1, 1999, that option is no longer available.

To start the process, you press the print button. You are prompted for your password and/or client identifier (both entries can be set up with default values to bypass this dialog box). Then Find & Print tells you it is retrieving and printing your document. The search time depends on the size and number of your documents, but is generally within a minute or two. Finally, F&P tells you it is printing your documents. When that is completed, it sits quietly waiting for the next request until you tell it to exit.

Any document to which you can apply a Find command in Westlaw can be the object of a Find & Print. This includes cases, statutes, regulations, articles, etc. You must know the citation, though. In order to do a name or keyword search, you don’t need a print utility, you need research software.

Find & Print’s interface is a model of simplicity. It is a basic box with a space to fill in the cites. A multiple citations box pops up if you click that button (up to 12 citations may be searched simultaneously). Several checkboxes effectively communicate your options, assuming you have at least a passing familiarity with KeyCite. There is nothing to get in the way of what you need to do.

The configuration has only three settings: the optional password and client identifier noted above, and a choice between attached printer and stand-alone printer. Unlike WestCheck, F&P has no option to fax, download or email a document. This is unfortunate, since it limits F&P to tree-killing media in an increasingly digital age.

As with the regular Find command on Westlaw, if you enter a case citation that is not the first page of a document, Find & Print will not stop and ask you if that is what you meant; but instead will print the case that the citation occurs in, if there is one, and will report that in the printout. This is a most useful feature if you only have the jump cite; but if you just make a mistake, of course, you can end up with an unnecessary charge.

Sometimes one might wish for F&P to be a bit more verbal. For example, entering an incorrect (but validly formatted) citation, like 18 cfr 44, results in what looks like a normal completion of your F&P request – until you get the printout, which reports that “Information is not available for this citation”.

If you check KeyCite for a statute which is not available on F&P, a message is displayed at printing time and on your document that “the following service(s) are not available for the publications(s) entered.”

Find & Print is technically installed as part of WestCheck, which is a more complicated West utility. You can, in fact, use WestCheck to accomplish the same tasks as Find & Print, but a quick comparison reveals the beauty of Find & Print’s simplicity. To simply print a case, for example, requires several more steps in WestCheck. These steps include selecting the Find service, and unselecting any pre-selected options you don’t want to use. To enter multiple citations, WestCheck requires individual clicks for each citation plus a click to run the find service; F&P lets you type a batch, click OK and send with one more click. Sure, in the grand scheme of things it’s only a few clicks, but F&P’s minimalist design comes close to transparency in the sense of directly translating your wish into results.

Find & Print is a huge success in many firms. This is a testament to the way it fulfills a basic need with a straightforward, no-nonsense interface. But what does the future hold for it? The plan is to release a Web version. Frankly, despite my own rabid passion for the Web, I am concerned that this may be the death of Find & Print as we know it. Unless West takes the minimalist route with a Web version (a la Google’s plain-as-milk interface), the primary reason to use Find & Print may disappear. Find & Print saves time. In whatever form a Web F&P is released, I can’t imagine it being anywhere near as fast as the Windows version. There’s simply too much overhead in the current version of the public Web, what with screens to be drawn, connections to be made and unmade and made again (or Java applications to download), and those cute graphics that keep insinuating themselves like rainbow sprinkles into the plainest of plain vanilla interfaces…

I prefer to think of the current version of Find & Print as the future of research utilities. You’ve no doubt seen it heralded elsewhere — the future will belong to embedded, ubiquitous software. Find & Print is a natural for this kind of application. It will be an icon in your document manager, a button on your Palm Pilot X, a keystroke on your alphanumeric two-way pager; a squiggle on your wearable research power tie.

Posted in: Extras, Product Reviews, Westlaw