Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is the Legal Research Duoploy Beginning to Crumble?

Every lawyer or law student knows that when it comes to legal research services, whether electronic or in print, Westlaw and Lexis are the only major firms in the business.  However, most people in the legal profession also know that over the past few years a number of new, purely net-based companies have entered the fray with aim of crashing the hugely-profitable "Wexis" party.  There's a great article on right now about the progress that some of those companies have made and the challenges that remain for them as they try to catch up to Westlaw and Lexis in coverage and functionality.  The bottom line: with the building of “open” electronic databases of newly released cases, the use of cheap foreign labor to slowly but steadily transcribe the text of old cases, and advances in computer science search algorithms, competitors like Casemaker (with its useful but buggy and incomplete service offered through state bar associations) are gaining some traction.

I’ve always wondered why one of the many search or content providers out there on the net hasn’t taken up the opportunity of creating a legal source search engine and database.  Start up costs would be quite low –compared to the usual start up tech service—, any tech company worth its salt could offer much more useful search technology than Westlaw or Lexis currently provide, and lawyers are an attractive demographic for advertisers.  Alas, my dream of being able to use Google Law Search (substitute your favorite search provider) to quickly find relevant sources of law at little or no cost doesn’t look like it’s going to come true anytime in the foreseeable future, but here’s hoping that one of the competitors that are making the attempt will soon develop into a strong third option in legal research.  


Walter Chen said...

Don't despair, Brian. The future is coming sooner than you think.

I've been writing about the state of the art in legal research at Sonya Labs blog. We've got lots of the stuff you're talking about brewing in development as well.

The deepest yearning I see in your post is the desire for simplicity. The substantive law might be difficult, but the legal research engine should be easy in getting you to where you want to go.

Brian said...


Thanks for reading and for commenting. I (belatedly) commented on the quite interesting post you linked to on your site. I'll certainly be keeping track of what you guys are up to.