In the way consumers dislike the traditional way of buying cars, i.e., you walk on a car lot to browse and a salesman jumps on your leg like a cocker spaniel in heat, lawyers are not fond of the traditional way that old line legal research firms sell legal research.
Pricing information is near impossible to get over the phone or through the mail or even online. You first have to talk to a commissioned sales agent “in person.”
This continues to perplex since you can buy just about anything from smoked hams to prescriptions to underwear online. But getting pricing, let alone trying to actually buy ala carte legal research by jurisdiction without enduring a high-pressure sales pitch remains nigh near impossible.
Free online legal research.
But this old-style, overhead-heavy, and high-cost model remains under threat. How long it survives remains unclear.
Lawyer/consultant Jay Fleischman in his article, “LexisNexis And Westlaw Re-Launch – Too Little, Too Late?,” at Legal Practice Pro, thinks any late-adapting innovations being offered are akin to rearranging the Titanic’s deck chairs. Also see Law Librarian Blog: “LexisNexis had a challenging year.”
Continued economic pressure, emerging lower cost competitive models and increased client resistance to high legal bills have generally caught the providers flat-footed.
Moreover, with as many as 19 state bar associations having partnered for “free” legal research through providers like Fastcase, the old line model is becoming more and more passé, particularly for solos and small firms. Competing with Fastcase is Casemaker, whose legal research system is available through a partnership with 28 other state bar organizations.
Of course, access to these providers is not technically “free” since availability is limited to dues-paying bar members. And interestingly, these member benefits aren’t all created equal. Some jurisdictions, like Nevada’s, limit case research only to their state court decisions. Members have to upgrade and pay extra to access other jurisdictions.
Big Law, on the other hand, continues to hook itself to the ‘same old, same old’ intravenous drip line and what one law librarian calls “a bewildering variety of subscription plans.” See Mary Rumsey’s “Guide to Fee-Based U. S. Legal Research Databases.”
Free online legal research.
And then there are free online providers like the following: MegaLaw – Legal Research, Case Law, Supreme Court,
FDsys,(the Government Printing Office),
WashLaw Web and
Law schools, law libraries, and individual state jurisdictions like the New Jersey Courts Search Page, the California Courts Directory and Texas Courts Online | Case Searches also provide excellent access to free online research.
Other examples of comprehensive, free or very low-cost resource portals include Rominger Legal and the Gallagher Law Library, UW School of Law or the Hugh and Hazel Darling Law Library at UCLA Law School’s terrific gateway at “Federal Courts & Case Law – Online Legal Research beyond LexisNexis and Westlaw.”
The traditional providers, however, have not stood still. They have adapted in their own way and one, LexisNexis, even provides limited access to free case-law research through tools like lexisONE® Community. And both LexisNexis and Westlaw also offer piecemeal pay-by-credit card individual case research.
Of course, free legal research resources don’t provide the additional benefits you get with fee-based research models. You don’t, for example, have free citation checking or up-to-the-minute updating. Additionally, the search engine tools used by free legal research providers don’t have the laser-focused, discrete capacity to quickly narrow and efficiently find what you’re looking for. And of course, there’s still the moderating caveat, “you get what you pay for.”
And as with free CLE, there are no warranties as to content-quality or continued access. For example, one free legal research provider,AltLaw.org, shut down for good last year.