Friday, May 15, 2009

A popular press history of West Publishing - public information is big business

Citypages, which seems to be the Minneapolis equivalent of the Village Voice, published this very interesting article about West Publications - which it calls "the most powerful company in the history of legal publications."  Inside its 2.8 million square foot nerve-center set in a pastoral location, 7,500 employees - including many attorneys, scientists and MBA's - read every published (and many unpublished) judicial decision to determine whether it gets indexed under "Contracts 213.2" or "Remedies 71.10."

And while the legal job market is in worse shape right now than a Chrysler dealer seeking a bridge loan, the West financial Juggernaut rolls on.  Take a gander at these figures:

West makes its money by selling free, public information—specifically, court documents—to lawyers. On this simple model, the company raked in $3.5 billion in revenue last year, placing it on a par, sales-wise, with retail giant Abercrombie and Fitch. But its operating profit margin really impresses: At a whopping 32.1 percent, West outpaces that of tech giants like Google (19.4 percent), Amazon (3.4 percent), and eBay(20.8 percent). Westlaw excels at one simple task: saving lawyers time by making legal information more readily accessible. The company charges a firm of six to ten lawyers as much as $30,000 a year to access its state and federal databases. But since attorneys' time is worth a lot of money, the service pays for itself. After all, the more work they can do, the more money they can make.

Hat tip to librarian extraordinaire Deborah McGovern

I am the scholarship dude.


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