Sunday, November 15, 2009

Professor Bob Berring on whether open access will threaten Wexis legal research dominance

Our good friends over at the Law Librarian Blog have been posting for several weeks on the now famous video interview with Professor Bob Berring opining about whether open access legal research databases will supplant the commercial players, primarily Westlaw, Lexis and upstarts like Bloomberg.  In short, the answer is "no." 

Professor Berring says that neither private "volunteers" nor the government has the financial incentive nor resources to match the value added provided by the commercial companies.  It's not enough for private or public open access advocates to merely gather and make available for free thousands of cases and statutes.  What legal researchers need instead is not just the "law" but the editorial enhancements (i..e headnotes, the digest system and the like) the commercial companies provide.  And because that is such a labor-intensive and expensive addition to what is otherwise free public information (see this fascinating video that shows in real time how Westlaw creates headnotes), only private enterprise has the ability and financial wherewithal to make these enhancements.

The man makes a good point; I'm convinced.    I wonder what our own resident legal research expert and regular reader and contributor to this blog, Chris Wren, thinks.

I am the scholarship dude.


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I agree very much with Prof. Berring's insights. Sustainability of volunteer efforts is definitely an issue.

I recently started a blog to track changes on the federal estate tax reform of 2009:

I am also collecting notes on the various bills in front of congress here:

My experience so far has been that blogging and aggregating notes is labor intensive, but it is also fulfilling.

This said, although I can imagine volunteer efforts that could do a better job than commercial databases in aggregating and summarizing information, I am not certain that such efforts can be sustained for 10 years.

Posted by: Hani Sarji | Nov 16, 2009 12:26:49 AM

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