This Law Librarian Blog post has inspired me to think deeply about the issue of commercial databases within the law firm.  I must admit that as an Independent Information Professional, I have looked beyond Westlaw and Lexis for cheaper alternatives that still answer my client questions authoritatively.

Case law and statutes are easy.  Law reviews and aggregated legal news isn’t. The consistent fact is that the alternatives often take much longer to explore and locate the needle.  Fastcase and Loislaw are great options that lessen the time needed to locate the appropriate case, statute or regulation.

As a past law firm librarian, I reviewed the alternatives to Westlaw and LexisNexis regularly.  Loislaw has progressed tremendously since I first tried it back in 1998 and Fastcase has grown their collection rapidly in recent years.

The thing that always disappointed was the depth of coverage, sophistication of search, and the speed.  Now, the full disclaimer here, is that I have not taken Loislaw and Fastcase for a full test-drive in a while.  My information about them is based upon conversations I have had with product representatives and the information available about them online.

I think that Loislaw’s association with Wolters Kluwer jumps the depth of coverage hurdle especially in the treatise arena.  Fastcase has concentrated on the search functionality and has provided options that satisfy this librarian.

So the alternatives that began 10 years or so ago have grown and flourished.  They are now at the point where certain firms could benefit by using an alternative to Westlaw or LexisNexis.  Will Fastcase or Loislaw replace Westlaw or LexisNexis?  Probably not.

The hurdles they have are the depth of archives that both Westlaw and Lexis have beyond case law. The investment of resources required to catch up to the archives and scope of the resources available on Westlaw and LexisNexis would be like me beginning a web search utility that expected to catch up to Google.

The good news is that law schools are teaching beyond Westlaw and LexisNexis so that incoming attorneys won’t necessarily be married to their favorite resource upon entering the workforce.  I think that the comfort level that today’s graduates have with technology allows for more flexibility in searching legal resources.

Westlaw and LexisNexis knew that capturing their audience in law school ensured life-long customers.  Having these alternative sources also taught in law school is a a postive step for their longevity.

Training is  an important part of work in the law firm library because the rate of change in the technology finds long-time users way behind the curve.   New attorneys are more comfortable with technology and I suspect these same new attorneys aren’t as loyal to a single provider.  Thus the exposure in law school will impact the use in law firms and the more affordable alternatives will remain an attractive choice.  (If you add in federated search functionality, the hurdles lessen even more.)

Using these alternatives to Westlaw and LexisNexis will happen.  Training will continue to be important just because as the sources grow and the technology develops users will need the opportunity to refresh and update their skills.

The Law Librarian Blog post ends with a survey about print cancellations due to duplication.  De-duplication was a huge issue during my tenure at my old firm.  Stay tuned for a post about my thoughts on this issue in a post later this week.

Constance Ard April 13, 2009