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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Will The Semantic Web Affect Legal Publishers?

Really, the question is not “will” but “how.” Reading today about the effect of the semantic Web movement on the legal publishing industry, as part of a subset of a larger series on the effect of the semantic Web on many industries. The article is written by Bernard Lunn over at The Semantic Web (link here). Really fascinating read, mostly due to predictions as to how disruptive forces will shake the legal publishing “oligarchy”.

I suggest you hit the jump above for the full article, tables and what not. But I will summarize my own thoughts here. Bear in mind the statistic that three publishers –  Thomson Reuters, Reed Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer – own 90 percent of this $5 billion per year, high-margin  market. It’s good to be the King, right?

Well, not exactly. Lunn applies to the legal industry the same 7 disruptive forces brought to bear on other industries under the radar. Consider these forces:

Factor # 1: Digital economics.

The publishers do not own the base data, which comes from court records. These can be replicated at close to zero cost. Semantic Web technology will make those mountains of data more accessible.

Factor # 2: Generational shift in habits.

The generation of lawyers that grew up with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter will look for answers outside of the normal channels; particularly if a cost squeeze forces them to be creative.

Factor # 3: Globalization of markets.

Try selling content at US/UK prices when you are selling to BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

Factor # 4: Globalization of competition.

Lawyers and publishers in BRIC countries will bring price competition one way or another.

Factor # 5: Deleveraging.

In this case the deleveraging is lawyers paying off student loans when they can no longer charge really high $ per hour rates. They simply won’t pay as much for information because they cannot pay.

Factor # 6: Great Recession.

Customers are pressing legal firms for lower prices. Big firms have gone smash and many have cut back. They will seek lower costs from publishers.

Factor # 7: Regulatory change.

People in the industry are pushing for more AntiTrust action. The more radical option is Law.gov, which we will explore in the next post.

That’s a lot of pressure from many diverse sources. It’s to be expected. When you own too much, charge too much, and fail to deliver significantly more than the other options, these forces are going to result in an ever-increasing vice grip of pressure. People mindful of where their money is going will be forced to look elsewhere.

Have they yet? Well, if the investors and earnings charts printed in the article are to be believed, you would have done better in an S&P 500 Index fund than in any one of our legal oligapolists (I LOVE that word)! Apparently, the ones holding the investment bag, those who must look down the road for the next big investiing tip, are NOT looking at the big three legal publishers.

And why should they? Take Westlaw for example. Thomson West had a fabulous opportunity to shift attention away from other search options with their new WestlawNext product. Instead of grabbing the limelight with a great product and offering more for less, Thomson earned press (in an increasingly-connected, hyper-critical, on-line social system) for being confused on pricing and actively hiding information vital to the calculus of whether WestlawNext was a value or a bust. You only get so many bites at the “apple” these days (yes, I intended that pun) so you really need to make your impacts hit big. Like Apple, for example.

As information becomes easier to identify, quantify and connect, Westlaw (and the other premium products) are going to be harder to justify. As I have said many times before, troubles at Westlaw and Lexis/Nexis might be difficult for the shareholders to digest, but ultimately, competition from the open Web and new semantic technologies is good news for the end user.

And, of course, we here in Gloucester know how to weather a “Perfect Storm,” so I’m not worried in the least.

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 …..

More on Cobalt (& Lexis' Mystery Project)

Logo of Westlaw.
Image via Wikipedia

The New York Times ran an article (link here) discussing “sweeping” changes to the Big Two, Westlaw and Lexis, in the pipeline. Project Cobalt, (previously discussed here), is slated for February 1. Lexis’ drop date has not yet been disclosed.

The Times article is an interesting read on the history of these giants and their motivations for change. You see, people are sick of paying huge amounts for a mediocre, 1980’s interface and functionality. Go figure.

West reps told the Times that it took 5 years to build the new service. Oh no. Does that mean the service is already 5 years out of date?  The article discusses relevancy by algorithm (second-guessing what the lawyer might actually be looking for) and a Google-like search interface. No mention of retaining Boolean search, though. Not 2010 enough, I suppose.

My jury remains out. It will reconvene on February 1.

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Sheparding Your Cases With Your iPhone

Shepards IconLike a good Shepard, your iPhone can now tend your flock of cases and ensure their safety! LexisNexis announced Thursday its new iPhone application devoted to this higher purpose. The app itself is free, but don’t be silly – you must have a valid Lexis account and password to use it. So it “ain’t” really free. You also need the iPhone 3.1 firmware.

Shepards Screen Shot

Per the release, the app, “Get Cases and Shepardize” allows users to:

  • Find and review a case instantly by reading the Case Brief – an overview of the issues, rules, and reasoning (written by LexisNexis experts) just by entering its citation.
  • Get an at-a-glance indication of how closely they need to evaluate the case with Shepard’s Signal™ Indicators.
  • Get an overview of a case’s legal treatment up front by viewing the Shepard’s Summary, right at the top of your Shepard’s reports.

Reading the comments on the release clarifies the “cost” issue, but Lexis suggests that they may consider linking to the free LexisONE, which would be a welcome update in my opinion. Nifty idea that needs a little shine.

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“We Want To Spread The Knowledge For Free Over The Internet”

Have you heard of PreCYdent? If you are a legal researcher and you haven’t, you should take notice. Heck, if you are one of the big Two, you know – Westlaw and Lexus, you probably should take notice too. This Web-based legal research site promises a more internet-like search interface and legal authority for FREE – my favorite word. The site is supported by advertising. It was formed in April, 2006 by Tom Smith in San Diego and Antonio Tomarchio in Milan, Italy. PreCYdent utilizes the same search technology as the major Web search engines. At this time, the database includes U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals cases from 12 states, with all 50 states to follow within the next few months. It even includes a citator service. PreCYdent also offers the Web 2.0 experience of an on-line community where people can share knowledge, experience and assistance. I find the ability to “rate” cases intriguing.

Check out an advertisement / tutorial prepared by Mr. Tomarchio on YouTube:

I learned from the clip that I can install a widget on my website that will point to a PreCYdent search. I think I will add one. Stay tuned to http://advantageadvocates.com for your chance to try PreCydent.

For more, visit http://advantageadvocates.com

"We Want To Spread The Knowledge For Free Over The Internet"

Have you heard of PreCYdent? If you are a legal researcher and you haven’t, you should take notice. Heck, if you are one of the big Two, you know – Westlaw and Lexus, you probably should take notice too. This Web-based legal research site promises a more internet-like search interface and legal authority for FREE – my favorite word. The site is supported by advertising. It was formed in April, 2006 by Tom Smith in San Diego and Antonio Tomarchio in Milan, Italy. PreCYdent utilizes the same search technology as the major Web search engines. At this time, the database includes U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals cases from 12 states, with all 50 states to follow within the next few months. It even includes a citator service. PreCYdent also offers the Web 2.0 experience of an on-line community where people can share knowledge, experience and assistance. I find the ability to “rate” cases intriguing.

Check out an advertisement / tutorial prepared by Mr. Tomarchio on YouTube:

I learned from the clip that I can install a widget on my website that will point to a PreCYdent search. I think I will add one. Stay tuned to http://advantageadvocates.com for your chance to try PreCydent.

For more, visit http://advantageadvocates.com