New competition opens up online legal research

With the American Bar Association's annual legal technology expo around the corner in April, "Wired," the cover article in the February 2010 issue of ABA Journal examines and compares the choices for online legal research. In a field formerly dominated by two players - Westlaw and LexisNexis - competition is heating up as Bloomberg, Google and relative newcomer Fastcase expand their capabilities or enter the lucrative legal research industry.

"It's all about the democratization of information access," said Ed Adams, editor and publisher of ABA Journal. "The legal research market has changed substantially. There is an infinite amount of resources and information available. The question becomes: What do people really want, and what are they willing to pay for?"

Both Westlaw and Lexis Nexis are now unveiling new products to address market realities and new competition. Westlaw just released a new platform called WestlawNext yesterday. Meanwhile, LexisNexis is rolling out its own revamped platform later this year, and recently unveiled a partnership with Microsoft, as well. New competitors are keeping up with the market leaders. Bloomberg will introduce a legal research product of its own later this year. Fastcase, a 10-year player in legal research, took a new approach early on with a sorting capability from best to worst and citation analysis built into the results. And finally, Google has stepped up its legal research presence with Google Scholar, as others observe and wait for the impact it may have in the marketplace.

As Internet users become increasingly sophisticated, they also expect ease of use in their searches, and "Google sets the standard for ease and simplicity," notes article author Jill Schachner Chanen. Ultimately price and ease of use will be huge factors in the adoption of new services, or continuation with the more established vendors. "Wired" looks at price, innovation, navigation and what these new developments portend for legal research in the very near future.

Published: Thu, Feb 11, 2010