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To lure young customers, West Group and Lexis-Nexis operate like heroin dealers. First, they let law students use their databases for free. Then, upon graduation, they cut off the supply. From then on, it’s pay to play — and hope that the client won’t balk at the charges. Now West is taking the idea a step further. The Eagan, Minn.-based company is pilot-testing its Wireless Westlaw service with 50 Stanford Law School students. The students get six months of free Wireless Westlaw service and a complimentary Palm VIIx hand-held device from Palm Inc. The students just have to pony up $100 for small keyboards that attach to their units. Their only other obligation is to report back periodically to West, Palm and Stanford on the progress of their wireless adventures. The idea for the Stanford pilot came not from West, but from Mitch Davis, Stanford Law School’s associate dean for information systems. Davis is familiar with the wireless concept. For about a year, the school has run a robust wireless network. Students with wireless cards in their laptops (laptops are mandatory at Stanford Law) can access the Web from classrooms, the library and some professors’ homes. The network allows the administration to communicate with students almost exclusively through e-mail. About a year ago, Davis learned that close to 60 percent of Stanford Law students owned wireless hand-held devices. Davis noticed that students were coming to class armed only with PDAs and small, collapsible keyboards. Students would type class notes straight into their PDAs, and later “upload” them into their laptops with a simple click of a button. “It really struck me,” Davis says. “And I started to wonder just how much students could do with PDAs. So I decided to dig a little deeper.” Davis talked to students about their gadgets. “To a person, they said they loved them and that they basically were trouble-free,” he says. Convinced he had stumbled upon the next big thing, Davis pitched the idea of a student-based pilot program to Palm. Palm’s Brian Fitzgibbons says that his company was immediately interested. “We were curious to know if law students would use the built-in query applications,” he says. Query applications, like MapQuest and Westlaw (or Google or AltaVista), are programs that allow users to “reach out” and pull information back. Word of the project trickled to West’s headquarters. “To be honest, we thought it would be a great trial run,” says Terry Dick, West’s director of technology marketing. West unveiled its first version of Wireless Westlaw to lawyers last summer. Dick insists it has done well. But, he says, West’s initial expectations for Wireless Westlaw “weren’t very high.” The Stanford project began in January. Most participants spent the first three months in the classroom and the last three as summer associates. The strategy was deliberate. “We were interested to see if the usage patterns would change along with the venue,” Dick says. Students have given the program high marks. But, of course, there’s not much for the students to complain about. “I mean, we get a free Palm Pilot,” says Dawn Smalls, a Stanford first-year who’s spending the summer at New York’s Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. “It’s a great deal for us.” But the real key for West will be whether the students get hooked. Smalls, for one, says she hasn’t used Wireless Westlaw at all. “It’s hard to read cases off of a Palm Pilot,” she says. But she has used built-in applications like MapQuest, Travelocity and a Stanford-created map and information program called “NearSpace.” Smalls says she won’t pay for the wireless Palm applications or Westlaw once the program ends. “At school, we have wireless laptops,” she says. “I probably won’t need all this anymore.” Gene Levoff, another participant, graduated in May. But he says Wireless Westlaw has helped him prepare for the upcoming California bar exam. “The first iteration [of Wireless Westlaw] wasn’t very good, because it didn’t give reports of full cases,” he says. “But they’ve expanded it, and now it’s fantastic.” Levoff is slated to do corporate work in the Palo Alto, Calif., office of O’Melveny & Myers, not litigation. Even so, he thinks Wireless Westlaw will become a fixture in his professional life. “It’s very handy,” he says. The pilot is just that — a pilot. Neither Palm nor West has broken the bank to finance it. “We’re not entirely sure that Wireless Westlaw will catch on with law students,” says West’s Dick. “We’re just curious to see what the students would do with it.” And curious, too, about how to embrace the profession’s next generation.

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