August 17, 2010
The Mindset Divide: Distinguishing Between Traditional and Non-Traditional Legal Information (Professional Services) Vendors
Yesterday, I invited legal information vendors to comment on what LAW.GOV means to them. Someone in a private email -- not a vendor -- took exception to my characterizing TR Legal, Lexis, WK and BNA as "traditional," pointing to WestlawNext as a reason why TR Legal ought not to be so characterized. Let's add IntelliConnect and the yet to be seen Lexis Advance to the mix and I still stand by my characterization.
Our major legal vendors view themselves more as professional services vendors than legal publishers now. Many law librarians fail to fully appreciate this if not employed in their core market, namely private law firms and corporate institutional buyers, and because they do not work with many of the products and services they offer. We tend to focus on providing access to their online legal information resources because these legal professional service vendors have yet to figure out a way to introduce some of their non-database search products to law school students so they can be prepared with hands-on experience in law practice technology skills.
Lexis for MS Office is an interesting way to introduce KN and workflow processes to court systems, state and local public agencies, and smaller firms who don't have the financial muscle BigLaw does to do this in-house. TR Legal's West Case Notebook is another interesting service. Both could be easily offered free of charge for integration into the legal skills curriculum from the first year onwards just as their database services are. Aspen's StudyDesk is an interesting application if its parent company would ever realize that the product's potential extends well beyond law students during their attendance in law school. This is where the future growth of professional legal services lies.
TR Legal, Lexis, WK and BNA are not, however so innovative in their current provision of professional services to the legal community to not be characterized as "traditional." OK it is a subjective call, but institutionally it is difficult for them to incorporate the entrepreneurial spirit required.
Why Characterize Our Major Vendors as "Traditional?" It's the mindset. Building government-as-a-platform is well underway and LAW.GOV is one facet of this much larger Gov. 2.0 movement which is encompassing federal, state and local governments. See for example the Code for America project which is connecting city governments with web 2.0 talent to develop open source systems. See also the following video clips from this year's Gov 2.0 Expo:
Gov. 2.0 is a mindset that our traditional legal vendors have yet to really integrate into their corporate cultures, business models and commercial ventures for conducting business in our 21st Century public information resources and services environment. If sponsorship is any indicator, not one is a sponsor of the Gov 2.0 Summit which will take place on September 7-8, 2010 in Washington, DC.
The Relevance Contest. As a mindset, LAW.GOV will challenge our traditional legal publishers to innovate in response to their own users' call for products and services non-traditional legal publishers are beginning to bring to the marketplace and will escalate into a market presence that cannot be ignored even by industry giants once federal, state and local governments become better electronic distributors of authenticated, well-formatted primary legal resources. Our major vendors are already facing the realities of this 21st Century legal information product and services environment in Canada in a contest that can be characterized as a battle for relevance. In that marketplace, Slaw's Gary Rodrigues writes "How each of them responds to this challenge will determine their ultimate role as providers of legal information." This also will be the case in the US market.
Transitioning to a 21st Century Mindset. No doubt some major vendors are marshaling their points to make the argument that e-production and e-distribution of primary legal materials should be left to the private sector. Even some law librarians wonder whether the editorial quality of court opinions, for example, will decline if it is not.
I, for one, am not persuaded by the private sector argument generally but LLB's open invitation welcomes a vendor to make the case here in sufficient specificity to convince me. Nor am I worried about the editorial quality of court opinions declining, for example, because I don't envision LAW.GOV resulting in e-production silos at every court house in this country. Just as some of our major vendors produce official or quasi-official print versions of primary legal sources now, many courts will contract out this work to them in the future but with the stipulation that the e-texts must be LAW.GOV specs compliant and must be available for bulk distribution from open access servers. [JH]