There’s a Bloomberg Rising
(apologies for the Credence Clearwater Revival pun)
It certainly appears that 2012 is going to be a very interesting year in the legal research industry. The two largest players in this market, Lexis and Westlaw, have both introduced new versions of their web-based products (namely Westlaw Next and Lexis Advance) with significant changes to both their search algorithms used for relevancy ranking and their user interfaces. Time will tell, however, what impact these new products will have on the market or legal research instruction. There is already some legal research scholarship suggesting that Westlaw Next may not be well suited for law school environments as it depends largely on crowdsourcing to determine relevancy (of particular note is USF Library Director Ron Wheeler’s excellent article available in Law Library Journal) which puts novel legal scholarship research at a disadvantage.
Along with these technology developments, we have also recently witnessed some major financial news among these companies. For example, Thomson Reuters, the parent company of Westlaw, is reportedly having a cash crunch meeting their near-term loan obligations. One notable financial blog even placed Thomson Reuters on its list of “12 Popular Companies that Could Go Bankrupt Very Soon”. Of course, financial and investing advice from a blog should always be taken with a grain of salt but it is still revealing that this market may be headed for some major developments over the next year. Additionally, West has recently announced their intention to sell off their casebook division, Foundation Press, although some speculate that this may be due to an expected decrease in the number of law students rather than low profit-margins.
The biggest development I see on the horizon is the emergence of Bloomberg. Those of us in the law library community are not unfamiliar with this company. Many of us witnessed their big marketing splash at AALL back in 2008. Given that 2008 was also the peak of the financial crisis, Bloomberg may have been a victim of poor timing. Regardless, it appears that Bloomberg is making inroads into the legal research industry. According to a recent Law Library Journal article by Laura K. Justiss, already 15% of law firms are using Bloomberg as an alternative to Westlaw and Lexis for locating primary legal sources. This number will undoubtedly rise as Bloomberg continues its reportedly quite aggressive marketing plan among law students (there is news that Bloomberg is giving accounts to law schools for free and even allowing students to use these accounts over the summer). Quite recently, DLA Piper announced that it has signed a contract with Bloomberg. Many of us have also read about Bloomberg’s recent acquisition of BNA, a company known for materials in tax, accounting, employment/labor law, bankruptcy and intellectual property. Given this acquisition, it appears that Bloomberg is trying to fill-in the “gaps” of materials it will need to truly compete with the Lexis/Westlaw duopoly. Some are even speculating that they may be preparing for a Lexis acquisition given Bloomberg’s investment in a case keynumbering system.
Ultimately, it is difficult to predict what these changes will bring to legal education and legal research. Bloomberg certainly has the financial ability to “purchase” market share by offering their services and products as a “loss-leader”. Regardless of how this all falls out, it appears that 2012 will indeed be an interesting year for electronic legal research.