Law publishing at the crossroads

In this article from the November 2008 edition of Solicitors Journal* Nick Holmes of Binary Law and Free Legal Web fame looks at how law firms knowledge needs are being met by the law publishers and how the internet is changing the industry.

Nick writes frequently about Legal Publishers and the publishing industry on Binary Law, so it is no surprise that this is a very informative article. Some highlights from the article:

On the publishing revolution "Now the Web - Web 2.0 in particular has rewritten all the rules. All aspects of the publishing process are now more accessible to more people. With Web 2.0, we are all publishers now.

The reasons why this is important to both Legal Publishers and Law Firms soon becomes clear "That poses substantial challenges for the dominant publishers, who must now to a large extent reinvent themselves to maintain their leading position" and "...as law publishing has become easier and web use more pervasive, so have users become more demanding"

Are Law Firms more demanding? We are certainly under more pressure now especially in the current economic crisis. Budgets are already and will continue to be tightened and every subscription is considered carefully in terms of usage and the value it brings the firm.

So what are the Legal Publishers doing about it? Nick points to an article in Information World Review which discusses the impact of the credit crunch on Legal Publishers, unfortunately ther isn't much good news for anyone working in a law firm who is looking for "more for their money" and for smaller firms it may be that they simply cant afford to susbcribe to the likes of LexisNexis Butterworths or Westlaw.

But there is some good news and that is the development of Free Services, Nick highlights several in his article including "...the Statute Law Database...while this is a huge boon to many, it is not yet complete: a small number of Acts remain to be loaded...there is also some anecdotal evidence that is it not entirely accurate" so not entirely good news but there are some other examples of free services, which may have a siginificant impact on how Law Firms access information which has traditionally been provided by Legal Publishers.

The final area Nick discusses is the development of Web 2.0 by the Legal Publishers "Use of Web 2.0 is the norm for the new breed of small law publishers. The larger incumbents are finally responding" It certainly looks like this is gathering pace, with both PLC and Lawtel rolling out RSS Feeds for their products and the new Sweet & Maxwell website likely to have RSS Feeds sometime in 2009.

So what does the future hold, are Legal Publishers at a crossroads? Nick summaries this quite nicely "...commercial law publishing incumbents are not going to wither any time soon...but the freeing up of legal information...will begin to have significant impact as the potential for leveraging and adding value to that information is better developed"

*You will need a subscription to read this article