Too Little…Too Late?

Great post about the timing of the new versions of Westlaw and Lexis at Legal Practice Pro. This is what caught my eye:

  • But the giants got fat and sleepy, as they often do. Their pricing became their burden, their staffing and infrastructure made them sluggish. Rather than take the innovations of the technology and provide a better product at a better price, they kept using the door-to-door salesman and blast email approach to rope us into long-term contracts at sky-high fees.

I could not agree more. As many of you know, the pricing and sales structures at both companies have not changed one iota over the years. Additionally, as Jay points out, their own pricing and justifications for that pricing have created an unsustainable model, but one in which they continue to use. Let’s hope that the new versions of Westlaw and Lexis also come with revolutionary pricing and sales.

  • While the titans took a nap, something happened. Courts started coming online, and so did law reviews and other scholarly journals. We moved into a truer electronic age, one that provided an incentive to digitizing documents.

The Big Two have never worried about free or low cost competitors, their value lies in not just digitizing documents, but also adding commentary, annotations or a taxonomy. Is this enough to justify the high costs in today’s world? I’m not sure that the answer is the same for everyone, but it’s certainly even more relevant now.

  • Lexis decided to integrate search and other tools directly within Word and Outlook. Westlaw cleaned up their interface to make it more Google-like. There’s no new content, nothing remarkably new, and no recognition that these services are both providing more of a fungible commodity than ever before.

While I do agree that there is no new content (what more could there possibly be?), the change to Westlaw is in the search algorithm. Content isn’t the issue today, it’s retrieval, and not just any retrieval…relevant retrieval. If content and search functionality was all you needed, Westlaw and Lexis would most definitely be out of business, but the legal profession requires more. The question remains, however, does this justify the costs and if so, what cost?

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One response to “Too Little…Too Late?

  1. Thanks for mentioning my post, Colleen. There’s surely a value to curation of information (witness the problem of the real-time Twitter firehose – no curation leads to a reduction in the value of those results).

    With the rise in content generated outside of the established editorial infrastructure, however, the question is whether such “professional” curation is worth the price being paid. As more content comes online and is indexed by the search engines, West and Lexis inch closer to becoming nothing more than search engines in their own right.

    Is there value in paying for search? I don’t have an answer, but it’s an interesting question that will answer itself over the next few years.

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