October 17, 2012
Risk Averse Mimicry in the Executive Suites of Our Very Expensive Legal Information Providers
The history of the consolidation in the US legal publishing industry is fairly well documented. We have the big two national players now, TR Legal and Lexis for p- and e-content delivery to the generalist market, and the little two, WK, clearly narrow-focused on speciality law in the private sector, and BLaw which didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of garnering its targeted 15% of the private sector until it acquired the editiorial quality rich p- and e-content and customer base of BNA at a substantial premium. Still got some work ahead to achieve its 5-year plan objective but you can bet that WEXIS execs view BLaw-BNA as a competitive, disruptive threat to the status quo in the only market segment that really matters.
Just look at the acquisition of, joint-ventures in, and standalone development of legal news reporting web-based properties by WEXIS modeled in no small part of BNA's p- and e-based topical reports such as Daily Tax Reports and Daily Labor Reports due in no small part to BLaw acquiring BNA. Current awareness service in the private sector when the staff reporters and editors have the expertise to know how to distinguish what is relevant from what is just "noise" are not only valuable in and of themselves but lead to preforming legal research.
My hunch is that someday our email in-boxes will be filled with WEXIS legal news and developments webinar announcements like our in-boxes are with webinar notices from BLaw and WK now. By someday, I mean WEXIS will have to compete with BLaw and WK to acquire expert practitioners to produce them. "Brand name" authors from their current sales catalogs just won't do.
This, however, is not the point of this post. What is not well documented is the transfer of corporate expertise and competitive intel between our major vendors by way of career moves. Executive A from vendor X moves to vendor Y. Executive B from vendors Y and Z, moves to vendor X. This happens frequently, sometimes even without much, if any, non-compete clause time lapse.
I'm not talking about account reps who get sales reorg-ed out of their jobs or decide to move to a new vendor after a sales re-org, oftentimes only after their non-compete clause's "time-out," and sometimes produced by a sale re-organizer hired after re-org-ing a competitior. I am referring to those corporate decider-ers whose careers advance by moving from vendor to vendor to vendor in what is the very small town of legal publishing. Can you blame them? I certainly don't. But there are market-based consequences. Our vendors end up using essentially the same "game play" that yields nothing more than incremental changes in marketing, sales, content generation, and research platforms.
Most changes are mimicry like the above-mentioned legal news and current awareness delivery systems. Other may someday actually benefit legal professional content end-users and their institutional buyers. For example, TR Legal is p-format "switcheroo-ing" some of its long ago acquired and larely neglected "loose-leaf" narrow-focused secondary source smaller multi-volume treatises to paperbacks to eventually sell them as enhanced eBooks. The Company, however, is going to have to ratchet up those titles' editorial quality to make then competitive with current offerings by BLaw-BNA and WK in the private sector marketplace. Clearly, the industry's focus is and has always been the private sector but the times they are a-changin.
Both TR Legal and Lexis also have been rolling out smaller topical multi-volume practice-oriented loose-leaf sets as alternatives to gargantuan multi-volume comprehensive "treatise" sets for eventual enhanced eBook-ing. And then there are the WEXIS next gen current gen research platforms. User experience is so similar now that transitioning a user population from one to another platform will not produce the sort of user anxiety attacks that occurred with transitioning users from one vendor's "Classic" service to the other vendor's "Classic" service. Oops.
What is interesting is the strategic mimicry taking place based in no small part because of the hiring of a competitor's executives. This "industry in-breeding" produces a very real risk averse attitude that negates serious consideration of innovation in the development of "professional legal services" including the delivery of legal resources acquired by institutional buyers, you know -- us.
Perhaps someday someone (not me) will map out the genealogy of TR L&P, Lexis L&P, WK L&R and BLaw (not yet "L&P" or "L&R" but with "-BNA") current corporate decider-ers based on their career paths by way of their corporate bios and Linkedin profiles (hint). It could be much more interesting then the timelines that have been produced to show the history of mergers and consolidations in the US legal publishing industry. [JH]