Blend Your Legal Research

Blend Your Legal Research by David Whelan David Whelan This article appeared in the July 2005 issue of Law Technology News, as part of a law library showcase. The article focused on products – like Fastcase, Loislaw, and Versuslaw – that were less expensive than Westlaw or LexisNexis and were an alternative to paying such stiff fees for legal research. But it also noted that, while paying less, you also receive less access.

However, it seems pretty clear that these ‘mid-tier’ products like Fastcase, Wolter Kluwer / Aspen’s Loislaw, and Versuslaw are so much cheaper per lawyer, especially due to bar association relationships, that law firms need to really assess what they are receiving in the way of database services.  There is no argument from me that, head to head, would indicate that these services have better content than Westlaw or LexisNexis.  But many law firms and law libraries, let alone goverment agencies, are paying premiums for databases that are bundled in and rarely used.  There is a vast difference between what the vendor sales force understands is needed, what the purchaser of the services understands the organization uses, and what is actually being used in the trenches.

So it’s not the vendors fault that a lot of organizations are paying more than they should.  And until a few years ago, there really were few good options for lawyers to turn to.  There remains the fear that without the citator services, which are probably the most important part of any primary law package, any other service is unsatisfactory.

In reality, a law firm can buy the citator and dump the primary law, getting it instead from alternative, less expensive sources.  By doing this, they can both save money and ensure good case law research.  If the mid-tier product fails to have the latest case, the citator will catch the revised opinion and provide additional research possibilities. 

It’s time for lawyers, law librarians, and research purchasers to do a better job of mixing and matching alternatives from the few remaining publishers to ensure the most cost-effective selection of legal research materials.

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David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.