Battles in Legal Publishing

It is an interesting time in the legal publishing industry – Big Guys (Lexis, Westlaw) v. Little Guys (Loislaw, Versuslaw, etc.) & Print v. Online. This month’s issue of Washington Lawyer has an excellent article entitled, Web Wars: Online Legal Research at the Crossroads which offers some insights on the status of the legal publishing and information services market.
According to the article, more than 1/3 of the U.S. professional publishing and information market comes from the legal market. And books still remain the biggest moneymaker.

Print resources aren’t a crutch for the technologically challenged—those who can’t tell a computer monitor from a television screen. They are fixtures in law school and law firm libraries because they are often the easiest and quickest way to find a particular citation or statute.

But online sales are on the rise as 62% of publishers report that they are converting their libraries from print to online.

“The big thing is legal publishers have the opportunity for duality today, whereas you didn’t have the electronic option in the past. A lot of firms are ditching their reporters’ sets all together. The primary legal research materials are more and more accessed via the Internet,” says Reach. “As attorneys hit a comfort level with electronic sources and the availability is there, I think we’ll see even more conversion.”

And the battle to be the online product of choice is heating up, especially for the solo and small firm market.

It didn’t take long for the large publishing companies to find out what their smaller rivals had known all along about solo practitioners and small law firms: whatever online research service you sell them needs to be inexpensive and easy to use. Within a short time, they were looking at creating their own low-maintenance online research sites, or buying somebody else’s.

In the battle of the Big Guys, it’s seems that Westlaw may have the edge – at least according to the St Paul Pioneer Press. It appears that “Westlaw now has a larger share of the online legal publishing market than Lexis-Nexis, though Lexis-Nexis’ growth rates have rebounded since 2002.”
Thanks to Robert Pear of the NY Times for pointing out the Washington Lawyer article and to The House of Butter for the St Paul Pioneer Press item.