Google Squeezes LexisNexis and Westlaw Hard

November 18, 2009

Google’s Uncle Sam service is arguably a more effective way to find information from various US government entities. I heard a couple of years ago that Google was indexing the content on various state servers. During that time, LexisNexis (a unit of Reed Elsevier) and Westlaw (a unit of Thomson Reuters) have continued with their for-fee content services without much significant change. The legal world has been hit hard by the economic downturn. Many well-heeled corporate clients have holes in their shoes. The law firms to these giants have been asked – nicely, of course – to reign in their spending. Law firms are complying and some are even trimming their staff and looking closely at the expense account of some partners.

Google announced on November 17, 2009, that Google Scholar will contain the full text of

legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar.

Bang. Just like that the worlds of the for-fee legal information services hear the shockwave of the Google hypersonic bombers buzzing their citadels.

I can hear the rationalizations now: “Our legal content contains footnotes and cross references to make legal research quick, easy, and trouble free.” Or “Google does not understand how to present complex legal information as well as we do.” Or “Lawyers cannot trust Google.”

These and other truisms may have some accuracy embedded in them, but the one big reality is that Google is indexing legal content. Furthermore, Google has some nifty algorithms that can and will add metadata to content so that the Google service will be “good enough.” For law firms struggling to pay their country club fees, Google’s service will be given a close look. My hunch is that the small law firms who cannot afford the fees assessed by the LexisNexis and Westlaw systems will use the Google system. Over time, Google’s approach will choke off much of the oxygen to the commercial legal firms. These outfits have to respond.

So, what are the options?

First, the smart legal publishers will want to figure out how to surf on Google. In my own experience, most of these executives will dismiss this idea, but I think some thinking about this approach is warranted. My videos at http://www.arnoldit.com/video might offer some ideas to legal publishers nervous about the Google’s legal content push.

Second, the firms on the fringe of legal information now have a way to access some information that can be used to enhance their existing content offerings. Google’s service delivers a Ford F 350 stuffed with information that is now accessible. Raw material in my opinion.

Finally, government agencies may just pump content directly into Google. This creates an opportunity for a different type of information service. Lateral thinking is useful for the companies in Washington, DC that recycle information for their constituencies. I see opportunities in this sector.

What is the financial outlook for the LexisNexis-type and Westlaw-type firms? Short term there won’t be much change. Over time, life gets tougher. I do quite a bit of work in online information, and I am not sure these outfits can adapt to the Google’s legal push. Just my opinion.

Stephen Arnold, November 18, 2009

A quick report to the Department of Justice. I was not paid by anyone to write this opinion. You, gentle reader, have not paid me to read it. Seems fair.

Comments

15 Responses to “Google Squeezes LexisNexis and Westlaw Hard”

  1. Google Scholar Gets a Law Degree « Screenwerk on November 18th, 2009 8:00 am

    [...] now for the inflammatory headlines such as: Google Squeezes LexisNexis and Westlaw Hard. The aforementioned services are subscription-based and cost quite a bit for lawyers and law firms. [...]

  2. Stuart Adams on November 18th, 2009 9:49 am

    Steve,

    Love the DOJ disclaimer at the end of your post. Don’t want to risk a fine for violation of the endorsement provisions, as interpreted in the FTC “guidelines.”

    While researching a post for my new SociaLies blog, I noted another cost-cutting trend with corporate counsel.

    Two articles to check out:

    Kate Early’s article, “Social Networking Helps Cut Company Legal Fee Costs – How? Read on!” http://kearly.wordpress.com/2009/09/25/social-networking-helps-cut-company-legal-fee-costs-how-read-on/

    and

    Neetal Parekh’s article, Legal Cost-Cutting and Social Networking: Strange Bedfellows
    http://blogs.findlaw.com/in_house/2009/09/legal-cost-cutting-and-social-networking-strange-bedfellows.html

    One of the connectivity features I love about our transition from Web 1.0 to 2.0 to 3.0 is the proliferation of apps letting you link directly to source documents. While working on last night’s blog entry, I visited Craig’s List, and up front in the landing page of their blog was a link to the public version of Craig’s List’s trial brief,
    related to their now delayed trial before the Delaware Chancery Court vs. eBay. Got to love apps that make legal research available and in your face, for free.

  3. Phil Wolff on November 18th, 2009 11:00 am

    Do you think there’s a market in better contextualizing case law atop Google’s search results? (these other pleadings are related to this one) Or improving the quality and relevance of legal search? Or treating the stream of legal findings as news, resulting in alerts, feed readers, and shareable data? Or making the judicial system more social, with social bookmarking, commenting, retweeting, document sharing? I really want Google APIs to expose their judicial data, the better to mash things up and create new kinds of apps.

  4. Fred Zimmerman on November 18th, 2009 11:45 am

    As a former LexisNexis employee — this is not nearly as dangerous or revolutionary as it may sound at first blush. Both LN and Westlaw have invested huge amounts of resources over 30+ years in adding editorial value and crosslinking to fend off precisely this threat. The LN and Westlaw caselaw holdings are just a part of a complex vertically and horizontally legal research system. The bottom line is that for firms that are representing corporations in billion-dollar transactions it simply it is not cost-effective to spare the slighest expense in legal research in pursuit of the best result.

    The ideas in Phil Wolff’s post about the API & social networking are interesting, but rules about conflict of interest and confidentiality have always been a major obstacle to adding social networking to legal data. Also, the “n” of potential commenters/social networkers is relatively low compared to the “n” of users of major social sites. Comments/posts/links may be relatively sparse.

  5. Fred Zimmerman on November 18th, 2009 11:47 am

    “vertically and horizontally ^integrated^” above.

  6. Future Headline: Google Kills Lexis And Westlaw on November 18th, 2009 2:07 pm

    [...] Google Squeezes LexisNexis and Westlaw Hard Google Scholar Gets A Law Degree [...]

  7. SearchCap: The Day In Search, November 18, 2009 on November 18th, 2009 5:21 pm

    [...] Google Squeezes LexisNexis and Westlaw Hard, arnoldit.com [...]

  8. Melissa on November 19th, 2009 12:23 pm

    Yes its true – Westlaw and Lexis will need to figure out how to be kind to their customers. Thankfully the “take it or leave it days are over!”.

    But, something not mentioned is that if all this information is free to the public ( I see lawyers / paralegals / librarians jumping for joy) – one thing to consider is that we might see a small decrease in a need for law firm services…..Just something to consider when jumping for joy.

    Yes, we all bring something to the table ( some type of legal training) but how many people do you hear quoting medical information they’ve DISCOVERED on the internet. AND –“surprise”; they are not doctors and most have little or no medical training.

  9. re: "how many people do you hear quoting medical information they’ve DISCOVERED" on November 19th, 2009 7:06 pm

    I went to an orthopedic surgeon since I developed knee and shoulder pains and this doctor only knew about MRI’s, xray’s and surgery; hence, that’s what they billed my insurance company for!

    After I realized that, I did a “google search” and learned that my injury was a “sports injury” and something called “dancer’s knee”, etc…

    Thus, when I visited my physical therapist, I was empowered with information and she verified my observations; moreover, I didn’t have to visit her again!

    The most important thing: “I knew full well how to make my pain go away!”

    As far as “legal work goes,” I’m assuming that folks will start drafting their own legal settlements; as an example, my cousin paid $5000 for his divorce. if an online app can do this for $100, the choice is obvious.

    Moreover, I don’t think this vision is impossible since most cases are settled “out of court”; the missing piece, of course, is a software app that lets parties settle “out of court” for almost nothing.

  10. KristinFromIntellogist on November 20th, 2009 7:48 am

    I work in patent research, and we have seen the advent of Google patents and other free repositories of patent data (like esp@cenet) over the last few years. It hasn’t made commercial services go away, but it has spurred them to offer more value-added services to users, like better interfaces, machine translated databases, etc. There are a also few value-added files of patent information with human indexing and other fancy things applied on top of first level data (one example is the Derwent file owned by Thomson Reuters, producers of West). Those tools are still important to patent searchers, and I don’t see them going away anytime soon – but the playing field has been leveled in other respects. (My company provides reviews of these tools at http://www.intellogist.com.

    At the end of the day competition is great but there is still a place for the value-added services (at least until better semantic search comes along?)

  11. repair credit on November 24th, 2009 5:53 am

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  12. Ruling Imagination: Law and Creativity » Blog Archive » The music industry, book publishing, and now Lexis and Westlaw? on February 1st, 2010 5:54 am

    [...] regime that has only existed since a couple of years before I started law school in 1981 — Stephen E. Arnold writes: What is the financial outlook for the LexisNexis-type and Westlaw-type firms? Short term there [...]

  13. Sameena on February 20th, 2010 11:13 pm

    THank you God! I am unemployed and desperately needed this resource

  14. Sameena on February 20th, 2010 11:13 pm

    I am an unemployed attorney that is!

  15. Google Redefines Disruption: The “Less Than Free” Business Model - YEC - CLB Nhà kinh t? tr? | YEC - CLB Nhà kinh t? tr? on September 6th, 2011 6:56 am

    [...] like a rather identical intrusion to LexisNexus Westlaw here (http://arnoldit.com/wordpress/2009/11/18/google-squeezes-lexisnexis-and-westlaw-hard/). While a information is already “public,” a paid gardens of LN WL are being upended by [...]