Two things jumped out at me in yesterday’s discussion on the PLL Listserv regarding paid online services:

  1. Firms are in the midst of a major debate on Cost Recovery
  2. Librarians are worried about the subscription services of the future

For #1, I have made clear my positions on cost recovery in both a blog post here and an article on the subject in Spectrum [pdf]. These lay out what I feel is a reasonable way to recover costs that is reasonable to both the client and firm. These costs are so onerous that Firms have to be able to recover them to stay in business. Whether it get’s built into rates, fees or remains a separate line item, doesn’t make a difference. The important thing is offsetting these huge expenses as much as possible to remain profitable.

As for #2, the future User Interface (UI for short), needs to be able to:

1) Search across all of my subscription resources

Our firms purchase content from multiple vendors and it is becoming more and more challenging for our attorneys to find the materials they need. They would be able to work better if they can access the online materials in the same way they do on the shelf. On the shelf, West materials sit in the same section as Lexis and so on. We have built a UI (Full Disclosure: our UI is hosted by LexisNexis) that allows attorneys to find materials based on how they work, not who publishes them. A tab is set aside for each practice and links to online materials are grouped in ways that mirror the way their workflow. For example, under the Litigation Tab you would have items grouped by Civil Pretrial/Discovery, Civil Trials & CiviL Appeals, not by West or Matthew Bender.

This is where I think WestlawNext tripped up. I have been involved in contracts for Lexis and Westlaw for over 20 years and every one of them was content-based. Over that period, we have seen some major evolution in both of these products, not the least of which was the shift from a software- to a web-based search platform. Not once during this time have I been charged extra for the changed UI. Now, if this allowed me to search across multiple platforms I might consider it worth the premium. But I can’t see justifying the extra expense to search just the same resources that I have been able to search for years without trouble.

2) Allow me to set the per search charge to meet my unique requirements (See the Spectrum Article referenced above)

3) Make research more efficient

There has been a lot of fuss this year made over WestlawNext, CCH IntelliConnect, FastCase and now Lexis Advance. At AALL in Denver, a distinguished panel of executives from West, FastCase & Lexis discussed how they developed their respective UIs. While the conversation was interesting (despite being sidetracked at one point into a debate over treatises vs. primary resources), what I found fascinating was the fact that none of the panelists addressed how they were designing their UI to make the attorney work more efficiently. They seem to have missed an important factor in crafting their products: What is important to Law Firms is not how the service finds the answer for the attorney/researcher but what allows him/her to do so in the least amount of time at the least cost. “Googlizing” legal research is not the answer. Having to go through reams of hits actually makes the user less efficient.

I think that vendors are not seeing the direction that Law Firm legal research UIs are headed. We want to organize our content our way, using a single point of access. And we want the systems to make the user a better researcher.