Lexis Moves Beyond Legal Research

Yesterday’s Sunday Times ((From the Murdoch empire in London, not the NYC one)) was reporting on Lexis’s parent’s plans for the legal market – and they want to focus far beyond the mere $18 billion plus market for legal research and associated applications in 2004.

They report that the average lawyer is going to spend almost their morning using Lexis products:

“Two or three years ago, Lexis Nexis was a legal research company, full stop,” Sir Crispin Davis said. “By and large, a typical lawyer would spend half an hour a day using our products. Now it is more like two to three hours. What we have done is expand into much more of his workflow.”

This is even more ambitious than the plans revealed in his Telegraph interview on Lexis’ future strategy.

Davis sees Lexis’ future in “a $48 billion (£23.6 billion) field for legal “solutions””.

Reed estimates that 15%-20% of income today comes from workflow. In four years’ time, Davis expects workflow to account for 50%, within online revenues that will account for 75% of company earnings overall. Online income has doubled to $4 billion in five years. Those forecasts, plus the promise of a cash return, have buoyed Reed shares during tough times for media stocks. Its shares are up 14% this year, compared with a 5% improvement in the FTSE 100 and a 3% lift at Pearson, the company with which it was most closely paired until Reed sold out of education.

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Comments

  1. I wouldn’t buy shares in Lexis/Nexis on the basis of a belief that lawyers will spend more of their time in an on-line database. Most solicitors with a commercial, financing, insolvency or securities practice are too busy churning out standard (or semi-standard) documents, most of which they will have as their own or their firms’ precedents, and doing routine things like reviewing standard articles and by-laws, filings, etc. They may spend some time on-line but it will be on the OSC site or some other public site.

    Similarly, most litigators are not doing research; they, like their corporate colleagues, are churning out mostly standard forms, drafting affidavits for their clients, negotiating and trying to get their clients to see reason. They will have a copy of the Rules of Civil Procedure open on their desks and very little need to go beyond it.

    The pattern may, of course, differ slightly between large and small firms but I am certain that small firms are doing much the same as the large firms in terms of drafting contracts, etc., and other routine work as the large firms.

    Since the bulk of the research that firms do falls on students, they are now and will remain the principal users of on-line materials. Even with student research, the need to go much beyond the well-tilled fields of the firm’s memo bank and library texts does not arise nearly as often as some people imagine.

    My own research — and I admit that I am probably not typical — is less the exploration or examination of an on-line database than it is giving someone comfort on the basis of what I already know; for the vast bulk of memos that I prepare, I only use an on-line database to make sure that I am not being blind-sided by some recent case.

    I think that the future of on-line research faces two insurmountable hurdles. The first is that, as the sheer volume of what one can discover increases, on-line research becomes increasingly inefficient: clients can’t afford either the fees involved or the direct costs of lawyers spending half their days on-line. I have mentioned before the increasingly prevalent practice of a court of one province referring only to cases from that province. This is a consequence, I believe, of the lawyers involved seeking to limit the scope of their research to what is manageable for them and affordable for their clients.

    The second (and it is in part a corollary of the first) is that that until substantial editing time by qualified editors is invested in preparing cases for a database, it will be the old case of garbage in, garbage out. Since one cannot, for example, now and, I suspect, in at least the near future, search for concepts and attitudes — almost always one of the most important factors in determining the confidence a lawyer has in an opinion — word based searching will always be inadequate. How does one, for example, find the cases where a judge was moved to reach his or her decision on the basis of the smell test? Will anyone assert that the failure of a party’s actions to pass that test is irrelevant to the decision will come to?

    I’m quite confident that, at least until I have no more interest in the matter, lawyers will not be spending half their days on-line – and I doubt that they’re spending half an hour a day now – and, if they are, it will for the most part be because they have to interact with a governmental or similar entity, not a commercial database.

  2. The last sentence in the penultimate paragraph of my comment should, of course, have read:

    “Will anyone assert that the failure of a party’s actions to pass that test is irrelevant to the decision the judge will come to?”

  3. How does one, for example, find the cases where a judge was moved to reach his or her decision on the basis of the smell test? Will anyone assert that the failure of a party’s actions to pass that test is irrelevant to the decision will come to?

    Assuming one is satisfied the judge understood the law properly? You look for what isn’t there in addition to what has to be there for the decision as rendered. The “what isn’t there” is what would have had to have been there had the judge been inclined to decide the case the other way. Put more broadly, you look for patterns in the arrangement of the facts. And, where you have prior decisions from the judge, patterns of analysis.

    I realize tht means one has to understand the area one is researching very well. But, clients are always prepared to pay for that, expertise, right?

  4. For those who wonder what I mean by looking for what isn’t there, consider two recent – rather notorious in my part of the profession – SCC decisions: Childs v Desormeaus and Resurfice v Hanke.

    Missing from the SCC reasons in Childs (and the Ont CA reasons, too) is any mention of the trial judge’s explict finding that the Courrier was visibly drunk when he left and that the hosts knew or ought to have known that. It’s probably closer to knew. Could the SCC reasons have been written as they were with that fact front and centre?

    Missing from the SCC reasons in Resurfice is any mention of all of the cases – SCC cases too – that would have prevented the Court from saying what they did about the law without a whole lot more explanation, including explaining why they were departing from previous decisions.

  5. Similarly, most litigators are not doing research; they, like their corporate colleagues, are churning out mostly standard forms, drafting affidavits for their clients, negotiating and trying to get their clients to see reason. They will have a copy of the Rules of Civil Procedure open on their desks and very little need to go beyond it.

    Those who don’t research and churn standard forms are a lazy bunch and I pity those they represent.

    You must be speaking for the generation who never used online research and are too embarassed to be seen reading the digests.

  6. What legal research, i.e., finding out what you do not already know, is involved in drafting an affidavit of documents, a motion to move for default judgment, a motion to re-open a default judgment and a host of similar things, particularly when you have done those things for 5, 10 or 15 years? Or, to leave the litigation field, what legal research is required for a standard PPSA filing or even the drafting of a standard bank form of GSA, Credit Agreement or guarantee or drafting a standard commercial lease of premises in a large shopping centre, using the form that your client, the landlord, has used for the past two hundred leases? Similarly, only very rarely will legal research be required for the filing of a prospectus, drafting a standard shareholders’ agreement, a limited partnership agreement or business acquisition agreement.

    What a client is paying for is the lawyer’s judgment in deciding when legal research is needed. Of course an affidavit of documents may raise issues of privilege and that may well require considerable research, but that will be the exceptional case.

    The Lexis claim was that lawyers would in the future spend half their days on-line. My point was that a lot of legal work is routine — an occupational hazard for some lawyers is simply boredom, doing the same things over and over again — and it would be irresponsible for a lawyer to do, let alone require the client to pay for, legal research in those kinds of matters. It’s not being lazy; it’s being professional and properly advising or representing your client who simply wants you to make sure that things — things that you have done dozens if not hundreds of times before — are properly done. The skill comes in recognizing, as with the consequences of, say, the inadvertent repeal of section 46 of the Personal Property Security Act, a change in the OBCA, or the introduction of the new Limitatons Act, that the routine has to be re-considered. Then, of course, careful and even considerable legal research has to be done, though perhaps not at the expense of an individual client.

    Keeping oneself up-to-date on the law is, of course, the responsibility of every lawyer, regardless of his or her year of call, but that is far more efficiently done through some form of CLE. The person providing the information may well do considerable research on-line or off but that will usually be regarded as an office charge, not one to be charged, except in a very unusual case, to a particular client.

    Nothing that will develop in on-line databases will change the routine into the exceptional, though I suppose there’s a chance that the scope of the routine may be expanded. Most firms and many clients have their standard forms which may be more or less adjusted for particular transactions or cases but, apart from some unusual cases, their completion or filing will not involve what I understand to be legal research.

    The plain fact is that most lawyers who are not lazy and who serve their clients to the highest professional standards have no need to do research on a daily basis. They don’t need to do that because they already know it and have known it for years. To suggest that clients are being badly served is to misundertsand the reality of practice and what the aspiration to serve your clients to the best of your professional ability entails.