What E-Research Alternatives Are YOU Using?

Laura K. Justiss at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) – Dedman School of Law wants to know. Actually, Ms. Justiss already asked the question of several, admittedly mostly larger, law firm librarians in 2010 in an effort to get a handle on whether lower-tier, more esoteric research options were digging into the market share enjoyed by Westlaw or Lexis. Her results are available for  download here.

Ms. Justiss’ survey identified six areas tapped for research, including: primary source (case law & statutory) alternatives; court docket and direct case information; secondary sources for topical legal research and legal periodicals; financial, business and news sources; public records; and, non-legal law-related sources such as intellectual property databases.

While Westlaw and Lexis continue to reign, the results certainly are interesting, in that they definitely point to a degree of erosion in market share of the big two within larger firms. The results also are interesting in that they identify new alternatives and indicate they are gaining ground, such as relative newcomer Bloomberg Law. This suggests to me that attorneys, a group not normally known for their innovative thinking in the tech area, are opening their minds up to the possibility of new tools that might get the job done more efficiently than the old standbys. Flat fee arrangements are keeping the Big Two viable, but it is not clear that this strategy will always save their bacon.

Hit the jump above if you want more detail on the results, alternatives and the actual survey used.

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Details on New Lexis (& WestlawNext)

The ABA Journal has more information (link here) on the Big Two’s new research interfaces, including a LOT more on the new Lexis, appropriately called New Lexis.  New Lexis is expected some time later this year (WestlawNext – the public name for Cobalt – is due February 1). The ABA appears to have gotten a hands-on with both. he article cites some of New Lexis’ features:

  • no more Boolean search; natural language only with an algorithm boosted by artificial intelligence to help get the most relevant information;
  • results broadened beyond Lexis’ own proprietary databases to include relevant open source legal information from across the Web;
  • results page is dramatically revamped, to include folders along the margins containing categories of relevant results, such as cases, statutes, and regulations;
  • pop-up preview panes containing summaries when you hover over a result and integrated Shepherd’s results for each case;
  • graphical presentation of Shepherd’s results and the history and timeline of cases;
  • collaboration tools and the ability to store results in folders for later use;
  • productivity tools to assist in evaluating the strength of a case, the costs, and potential value to lawyer and client.

WestlawNext will incorporate similar features. It employs a simple search box for a natural language query and does not require that you identify your desired database up front. West hasn’t decided yet whether it will kill Boolean (I sincerely hope that it doesn’t). You can filter results by jurisdiction, type of content and other factors. You will still see a results list, but there will also be windows collecting results by content type.  The service will allow bookmarking of favorite databases. KeyCite will also be incorporated directly into the results. There will be similar collaboration features, such as saving work in folders by client. Researchers can use these folders to review their own search history. West also will incorporate some editing features, such as highlighting and noting on cases, tasks that I already perform in Word on my downloaded Westlaw cases.

Then, of course, there is Bloomberg Law, mentioned here on the Studio several months back. It is in the process of being tested in a small number of law firms and schools. While there are noted limitations in the beta version with respect to the scope of accessible materials, testers are giving the product high marks for intuitiveness and ease of use. Plus, a docket search feature distinguishes Bloomberg from the Big Two in an enticing way.

The idea is that the legal research purveyors are seeking to marry their vast information resources with a slick, modern interface and productivity tools. Back in the day, inefficiency meant more money for these companies that billed by the amount of time spent on-line by the researcher. I am thinking they can’t really get away with that mindset anymore, in the face of cheap and free competition.  But there will still need to be a signficant value-add for these services to continue to show a profit – more than ever, professionals are looking to maximize tools while minimizing cost. And when free Google starts to look like a viable option, well, then …..

Will Big Two Soon Become Big Three? Bloomberg Law

Here is a legal research announcement of note: Bloomberg has announced a new search service called Bloomberg Law.

Billed as an all-in-one legal research and news content platform, Bloomberg promises a service that is fully customizeable and, “gasp” user-friendly. Even more interesting is the claim that Bloomberg Law is the “first and only real-time research system for the 21st century legal practice.” The single search engine taps legal, news and company information from one location. It also offers an aggregation of content under the heading “Points of Law” – combining lead cases with subsequent related cases and statutes, regulations and rules by topic. “Law Reports” appear to be another content aggregator, focused on current events connected to source documents, legal expert opinions, and related financial and curent news, legal and regulatory opinions. “Law Digest” offer legal taxonomies by topic, with relevant legal content and analysis, with links to primary sources and the ability to set alerts for updates. “Dockets” are what they sound like – unlimited searchable access to case dockets, with the added bonus of real time access, often before formal publication. Finally, what legal research service could effectively function without its citation checker? Of course, Bloomberg Law offers “Citator” to “conduct issue-based research and validate your cases.” The pluses to “Citator” are  inclusion of case extracts pertinent to the cited point of law and side-by-side comparison features.

Full text database search. Alert functionality. Analytical reports. Litigation research tools. Competitive intelligence profiles. Westlaw and Lexis, I would be scared. Although the features definitely speak to business researchers more than traditional legal researchers and lawyers, it certainly sounds like Bloomberg Law is gearing up to provide legal research for the 21st Century.

Check out this PDF with details via Above The Law.

I am going to contact them and see if I can’t get a preview so that I can report back here on what BL is all about. Wish me luck!