Lexis and West Relaunch, too Late?

Lexis and West Relaunch, too Late?

By Jay Fleischman

When I was in law school we were all given free Lexis and Westlaw accounts in the hope that we’d become hooked. This was just as the Internet was coming into being (Netscape launched in my third year of law school), and both of these particular services were on their own closed platforms. Very expensive, too.

Sure enough, we all got in line to dump our reliance on library books and hit the terminals hard. Boolen language was new to us, and finding a case on point was an admittedly heady moment. Sure enough, we were free to find anything we needed from the comfort of a computer terminal.

When the web got big enough that it could no longer be ignored, Westlaw and Lexis both created web interfaces for us. Every lawyer got in line, put down our money and kept on typing. Sometimes our bills were huge, sometimes seemingly incorrect, but it was worth it. No more trips to the library for us!

Small companies cropped up to provide case law, but their archives were miniscule. Why pay for an incomplete database? Sure, Lexis and Westlaw were pricey but they were worth the thousands of dollars we paid each year.

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.

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.

My Kindle could pull down PDF documents. I can read anything I want on my iPhone or Android device. Soon, my iPad will do the same.

It’s as if I went to sleep one night in the old world, and woke up in the morning to find that everything was digital.

The upstarts like Fastcase could provide me with pretty much every state and federal statute and relevant caselaw to boot. Services like Google Scholar has a decent stash of legal research materials, and it’s free. Heck, even a basic Google search will grab a whole bunch of information. If you just put a cite into the search area you’ll likely get the case or, at the very least, a blog post about it.

Where was an iPhone or Android app from the titans, showing us a more convenient way to access the materials we lawyers need to get answers? Sorry, not available. How about a lower price point, making it more attractive for solos and small firms? Nope, can’t help you. So, too, the entire notion of incorporating the cloud into all this? Ha ha, that would surrender some of their control over the content at hand.

Instead, 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.

To be sure, both Westlaw and Lexis do offer some things unavailable for free or for a modest cost. There are some secondary materials that are produced by these companies, but those sources haven’t changed remarkably over the years.

Stale offerings in a walled garden, that’s all they provide.

Put aside the shiny objects and pretty lights. Consider whether Westlaw and Lexis are providing value sufficient to justify a cost of thousands a year per lawyer?