Underestimating Low-Cost Rivals: Does it matter now?

In an article just submitted for publication, Laura Justiss discusses her recent survey of alternatives to premium legal research providers in private law firms:

With respect to primary law research, however, it is safe to say that Lexis’s and Westlaw’s exclusive grasp in law firms has been significantly weakened by improving content from free and low cost bar-funded sources, as well as by commercial competitors such LoisLaw and the boldly advancing Bloomberg Law.

There was a time when low cost legal research providers weren’t even on the radar,  and I guess to some,  they still aren’t. However, I believe that the landscape has changed dramatically in the last couple of years, and the question now is, how do premium legal research services fit into today’s “fast and cheap” model? Two words that have definitely not been used to describe traditional legal research resources.

I was struck by a recent McKinsey article, in which author Adrian Ryans asks a fundamental question:

Should the company or business unit adjust its strategy to meet the low-cost threat or should it continue business as usual, with no change in strategy or tactics?

It seems obvious that the premium providers in the legal research market have continued business as usual. I wonder if that is a smart strategy? Mr. Ryans also states that “complacency and arrogance produce blind spots that delay response and leave incumbents vulnerable.”

The economy certainly is an additional influence in this shift, but I think it is more than that. Young lawyers and researchers have grown up in the age of computers, and are used to instant information for low or no cost. We already know that researchers go to Google first, and with the introduction of legal materials on Google Scholar, they are going there in even greater numbers. I just did a test search for “dog bite,” and got almost 2,200 results in .14 seconds. I was then able to adjust the jurisdiction, time-frame and see how many times my cases have been cited. All for free and in less than a minute. It would be hard to argue that one shouldn’t spend a few minutes on Google Scholar.

Loislaw and Fastcase have also been enhancing their services. Loislaw has added a document manager and Fastcase has introduced Forecite, as well as free applications for the iPhone and iPad.

Will any of these services, including Google, make even more of a dent in the duopoly? I think that is still an open question. As I always say, this is a fascinating time to be part of the legal industry and I look forward to observing the changes that I’m certain will continut to come.

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