Google announced on November 17, 2009, that it will provide full text of legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar.

Since this announcement the world of ‘for-fee legal content‘ is no longer the same.  Legal content providers such as LexisNexis (a unit of Reed Elsevier) and Westlaw (a unit of Thomson Reuters) are already being squeezed by the cost cutting efforts of the legal profession.  Google’s new free service may be pulling the rug out from under them.   Google’s new service may not have all the bells and whistles and brand recognition which come with LexisNexis and Westlaw Services. 

What will be the financial outlook for legal publishers?  Perhaps short term not much, however over time, life may get tougher.   It will be interesting to note how the traditional legal publishers adapt to Google’s legal push.

David Curle, Director & Lead Analyst of Outsell stated in his recent Outsell Insight: “The availability of free primary law sources is not going to have its biggest impact on products and services that the legal profession itself uses.  That market needs a lot of value-add beyond just access to the law (including finding tools, secondary legal content, and workflow tools), and the existing players are well positioned to continue providing it.  However, open access to legal sources will spur the creation of new markets for legal information among consumers, but even more so among non-lawyer professionals who need to understand a narrow field of that they work with all the time. Expect to see new products and services built on top of the free legal information that will make the law more accessible to those new markets.

The people who should worry about this news are lawyers.  They are about to be “Web-MD’d.” Clients will begin coming to them with reams of print-outs, thinking they know the law, the same way doctors are always hearing from self-diagnosing patients who think they can spot their disease by reading stuff on the Web. New-found access to formerly hidden legal information will do for potential legal clients what WebMD and the Web has done for patients – arm them with information, and build a thirst for more information that’s targeted to them, rather than to the lawyers.  Lawyers, like doctors, will have to redefine their role and authority in a world where everyone thinks they’re an expert.”  Sources:  Press reports / Outsell Insight November 18, 2009

BIIA Comment:  Legal information is an important element of credit information.  Perhaps too close for comfort.

BIIA Newsletter January 2o1o Issue