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Challenging the big two in legal research

There have been several new entrants to the legal research marketplace, including the now-established Fastcase, along with free alternatives like AltLaw and FindLaw. Google recently entered the picture by adding legal cases (federal and state) to Google Scholar, and now Bloomberg (known for business-focused research tools) is experimenting with a new legal research product.

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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There have been several new entrants to the legal research marketplace, including the now-established Fastcase, along with free alternatives like AltLaw and FindLaw. Google recently entered the picture by adding legal cases (federal and state) to Google Scholar, and now Bloomberg (known for business-focused research tools) is experimenting with a new legal research product.

Meanwhile, the “big two” — LexisNexis and Westlaw — are not standing still. Both are intending to release new interfaces to their signature products in the next year, and both will focus on eliminating complex search query requirements in favor of Google-like natural language searching and “artificial intelligence” based sorting of results: “Both companies claim to be creating a legal research experience that will mimic the ease of use their customers have come to expect from the leading Internet search engine, Google,” wrote the Jill Schachner Chanen in the ABA Journal on Jan. 24th.

This shift in search strategies can’t come soon enough for me. Even when I was routinely using Lexis and Westlaw, I frequently found an initial Google search — even without the new Google Scholar features — would do a far better job and getting me oriented on a case topic than anything Lexis or Westlaw could provide. Once I had some specific search terms, the big two would let me drill down, pull up case histories and related cases, and seek legal background information in treatises. But that initial searching was much easier and productive — not to mention cheaper! — using Google.

Improving this aspect might help keep customers. Not doing it will certainly lose business, at least.

I don’t think I could, in good conscience, charge a client for legal research done entirely in Lexis or Westlaw at this point, without first starting out with free (or lower cost, at least) options like Google Scholar or Fastcase. The cost difference is staggering, and I would feel unethical to charge a client for the cost of exploratory research using the big two (but not for using them to Shephardize, for example, for which a paid service is simply required).

Personally, I am far more excited by Google Scholar than by these potential changes by the big two, but any innovation in this space would be welcome.

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