Friday, September 16, 2011

How much information are online legal research vendors gathering about users?

That's the question poised by rethinc.k, a blog about the legal publishing business.

[D]o you have any clue how much your preferred CALR vendor knows about you? (That includes Thomson Reuters Professional (yes, get used to saying it because Westlaw and WestlawNext will be going away soon), Lexis Advance (yes, not just Lexis any longer), Loislaw, Fastcase, or Casemaker.) Even better, do you have any clue how much they know about your clients? After all, you associate every transaction with a client-matter (C/M) don’t you? I sometimes wonder how much these CALR vendors could know about you (lawyer/law firm) and your clients at any given moment. Sure, they might not know names, but they would know if related C/M are facing pharma litigation and, say, Federal Corrupt Practices Act violations. For large law, how hard would it be to match C/M data, account data, and public data to determine who your clients are and the specific problems they are facing? And if they, the CALR vendors, were interested in selling services directly to your clients’ corporate counsel, imagine how much those businesses might already know about your clients’ exposure and vulnerabilities. If you think CALR vendors are on your side, you might want to stop and consider just how much they actually know about what you do, and how they plan to compete with your own data. In other words, do you just read the contracts to determine what databases you’re subscribing to and how much you pay each year for three years, or do you actually read them to determine what those companies are doing with your data? Clearly, Thomson Reuters is already using your data to inform search, so what else might they be doing, particularly in light of their Pangea3 acquisition? These are just questions, and ones that I haven’t seen on the Tubes oddly.

The funny thing is that I’m just waiting for some enterprising lawyer to test the limits of the work-product doctrine with CALR vendors by asking for search histories associated with opposing counsel’s clients. The only reason I can think it hasn’t happened yet is the fact that the enterprising young lawyer would have to reveal his or hers as well. Either way, it’s only a matter of time before it happens.


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