A recent piece from Forbes uses Fastcase as the poster boys for open source access to the law. But it also speculates what impact services like PreCydent, Public.Resource.org and Collexis Holdings’ Casemaker division will have on the major players. It makes a convincing case that for small to medium firms, the majors may have priced themselves out of consideration, opening a niche for new entrants ((Lest anyone is tempted to organize a flag day for the majors, Forbes reports that Fastcase’s revenue last year was less than $10 million a year, hardly a threat to the Wexis duopoly, which last year roughly split a combined $1.6 billion in pretax profit on sales of $6.5 billion.))
The Forbes article ends:
This is a fundamental break from the way legal research has been performed since the mid-1700s, when Sir William Blackstone revolutionized the practice of law by putting English common-law cases into categories. A century later Westlaw founder John West began collecting U.S. court decisions as they were issued and compiling them in volumes he called “reporters,” so lawyers could keep track of the law as it evolved. Many courts still require lawyers to use the West volume and page numbers in their citations.
The Ohio Bar Association built the first large-scale computer legal research system in the late 1960s, using technology developed for the U.S. Air Force. That system later became LexisNexis. Both Westlaw and LexisNexis still index cases according to preset legal topics, lumping them into categories in much the same way as Blackstone did. “I think of it as pre-computer technology,” says Fastcase’s Walters. “Pull a book off the shelf and see how your point of law fits into their outline.”
Tradition may be an obstacle now, but never underestimate what smart programmers and a lot of cheap processing power can do.
We might also think about different ways of visualizing authority: