Thursday, 26th June 2014
Clare Brown looks at key developments in the legal information sector and highlights key areas to watch including ebooks, federated search and alternative methods of database access.
Traditional legal publishing of heavy paper-based volumes is dead. Although there will continue to be a market for printed material, the legal information market has reached an advanced stage of evolution and offers more than just content.
From systems and legal commoditisation to new ways of accessing resources, what will legal information suppliers look like in the future?
The dramatic pace of change makes predictions challenging but areas to watch include:
Major information providers such as LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters have shifted their focus. Their stable of products provides complete software solutions for law firms.
From business development and practice management systems, Know Your Customer (KYC) and business/market research information to federated search systems, they are aiming for seamless integration throughout firms.
Product Development and Systems Improvements
Content and software consolidation impacts on future product development. When Thomson Reuters acquired Practical Law Company (PLC), it ensured that they are well placed in the "value added" legal information content market. LexisNexis has also been successfully building customer confidence in this area.
Time-pressed, fee-pressed lawyers are increasingly relying on professional support lawyer (PSL) type services where notes, updates and precedents are fully maintained by dedicated legally-qualified editors.
Following on from PSL content, suppliers are working with firms to learn about workflow and processes so knowledge can be incorporated into systems.
Many areas of law are process driven and commoditisable, which is why previously neglected areas such as family are receiving the value added treatment. Jordans Family Law recently launched PracticePlus which should become a meaningful competitor to both the new PLC Family service and the more established Lexis PSL Family.
Mobile Takes Off
24/7 access to law firm services is becoming the norm, so alternative methods of access via tablets and other portable devices is crucial.
Students expect to enter a workplace that can enable them to work with in this way.
Currently legal research apps are unsatisfactory. Furthermore, optimising legal research databases for mobile use has just started and smaller publishers like ICLR are taking the lead.
Read more about apps for the legal sector in James Mullan's article Satisfying the Appetite for Legal Apps.
Once consumer demand reaches a critical point, subscribers will expect publishers to offer access across different devices.
Ebooks are an interesting work in progress and they are proving problematic in terms of licensing, multiple user access and types of eReader.
For instance, Thomson Reuters ProView versus the ubiquitous Kindle. There has been no satisfactory resolution, and publishers and booksellers admit there are issues to overcome. Once resolved, it will revolutionise this last bastion of tradition.
New Look Databases
Market consolidation is changing the way databases look, for instance PLC recently launched its improved and TR-branded site.
However, federated searches via intranets ensure in-house corporate consistency, so changes to databases are less of a training issue than before. Users can do a single search and it doesn't matter where the results come from, as long as they provide the answer.
Improvements to filtering and searching technologies ensure results anticipate user needs for primary material, relevant standard forms/precedents, similar work done for another client, news or business information, and any other related knowhow.
Cost and Value
No overview of legal information would be complete without briefly mentioning cost.
Suppliers make excellent cases as to why subscriptions remain inflation busting; after all acquisitions and innovation are expensive.
However, all law firm business services budgets are stretched, and so far there has been scant benefit in taking multiple services from one of the two big suppliers. As their hold strengthens, will their costs become too prohibitive and potentially cause the demise of firms?
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