Don’t Print on Me

By: Sam Laughlin



Effective June 30, 2013, the sound of a million law students will scream out in horror then suddenly silenced – screams due to Thomson Reuters, the parent company behind the Westlaw legal research service, when it cut-off its free printing service from law students across the country.

Westlaw’s official position on this seemingly abrupt change in fact culminates a policy shift that began over five years ago. “West retired the print program in law firms in 2007,” wrote Kristen Knepper, the Westlaw representative with the University of San Diego School of Law, in a response for Westlaw’s comments on the situation. “[W]ith the introduction and adoption of [WestlawNext] (and folders, Kindles, downloads and emails which allow hyper linking to citations, as well as copy with reference functionality), we have seen a dramatic decrease in printing (up to 80% reduction at some accounts).”

Other factors increased pressure on Westlaw to change, such as reducing the environmental, and more importantly, the economic impact. “The print program produces 268,000 lbs of CO2 a year minimally… which is like driving a fleet of 230 buses from [Maine to California] and back,” wrote Ms. Knepper. “This is a huge cost to them,” said USD School of Law Associate Dean of Library and Information Services Karl Gruben, “since, back of the envelope calculations tell me, our school alone prints around 150,000 sides per month [with the cost] at $0.02 per page, [totaling about] $3,000 per month.”

“The print program produces 268,000 lbs of CO2 a year minimally”

Students often print incredible volumes of text beyond what they require for individual projects. “We knew it wasn’t going to be fun,” said Legal Research Center’s Electronic Resources & Tax Reference Librarian Anna Russell, referring to the end of free printing. “But I’ve seen students try to print CalJur. I mean… CalJur. We have it here in the LRC. There’s no reason to print CalJur.” “I am sure Westlaw is anxious to get rid of this cost – they have talked about it for years,” said to Dean Gruben. “If there is no let or hindrance on a public good, here free printing, it will be abused. My supposition is that fully one-third, if not more, of the [free printing] is wasted due lack of consideration of printing.”

This stoppage, however, was rather a surprise to many students. “I had no idea this was happening,” said 2L Lori Chiu. “It is a bit of a shock.” The LRC staff, however, insist that the secrecy was not ill-intended. “We didn’t want to frustrate or scare anyone until March and then we would talk to the SBA and put [the official date] in sidebar,” said Librarian Anna Russell.

“I had no idea this was happening… it is a bit of a shock.”

“Although I understand that they may be making strides to use less paper and protect the environment,” said Ms. Chiu, “I will probably end up using Westlaw less often for my legal research needs once the printing service is discontinued.”

When Westlaw does pull the plug, however, what is going to happen?  Westlaw will likely donate the printers themselves to the school, as both the LRC and Westlaw have confirmed.  But an elephant sits in the corner of the room – an elephant called LexisNexis.

“Lexis has no immediate plans to discontinue printing,” said Christine Yusi, USD’s LexisNexis representative.  “We are waiting to see what the increase in volume truly is, but we hope that the continued free printing [we offer] will drive users to LexisNexis.  We are optimistic that this will be a good opportunity to engage students who otherwise may not have previously used our services.”

Others are not so confident. “My understanding is that [Lexis] might not be able to sustain it,” said Anna Russell. “If 100% of the Westlaw people went to Lexis, I’m not sure how their model could sustain it.” Indeed, a similar occurrence happened when Westlaw removed free printing from law firms. As Westlaw’s own representative stated, “In the law firm segment we saw Lexis eliminate their own print program shortly after Thomson Reuters.” “There is no question in my mind,” said 2L Andrew Hamilton. “When Westlaw shuts off the free printing, I’ll switch to Lexis.”

“Their cost to us is slightly less than that of [Westlaw],” said Dean Gruben, “but their usage figures are substantially below those of [Westlaw]. Lexis-Nexis is telling us they will continue to offer students free printing. I can only imagine that this will stop at some future point in time, particularly if their printing costs climb, as they most assuredly will.”

Although Westlaw certainly has debated the stoppage for some time now, USD officials have not discussed alternatives, such as limiting students to printing only a few pages a month or limiting printing to the first page of documents.

Westlaw insists its primary purpose in removing the printing is due to its alternative electronic delivery methods. Westlaw Next allows its users to download, email, save the documents to folders, and view documents in research history for a year after initial access. As Ms. Knepper states, any concerns that users would take flight may have troubled Westlaw corporate initially, but “The need for printing has been exponentially reduced. Through our research, we discovered most users printed documents for fear of not being able to locate them again, and [these new features] have alleviated that apprehension.”

But what is the reality? The continued demand from law journals and student briefs requires that students access and obtain physical copies of many cases and treatises. How long before this cost entirely falls to students? “Students generally have little to no extra money,” said 2L Joseph Yurgil. “Many law reviews and journals require extensive cite checking binder assignments that involve quite a bit of printing from a legal database,” he said. “While Westlaw may have a right to not provide this service, it certainly provides no goodwill in my mind. Rather than handing out worthless stressballs and cheapo pens to curry favor, I’d rather they continue to provide printing.”

This reliance on print and paper could, however, vanish before our very eyes. Starting with the graduating 2015 class of USD law students, both Westlaw and Lexis have refocused more of their 1L training on their advanced platforms, WestlawNext and Lexis Advance. “I never printed that much in my first semester,” said 1L Ryan Rigney. “It’s nice not having papers thrown everywhere. The electronic service is pretty easy to use.”

Whatever the outcome in the following year, USD students have a few new toys in the LRC. The library has acquired a new scanner located near the reserve room to help with students making digital copies of print material, and soon, chargers for all Apple devices from iPods to lapstops will be available for checkout from the circulation desk in the future. The LRC is open to adapt to new technological need the students require, especially in the wake of the end of free printing.



Correction – January 24, 2013:

The original publication of this article misspelled Ms. Christine Yung Yusi’s name, and has been corrected.

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