Column

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Another year gone and in the world of legal content / publishing I’d like to suggest it’s been one of the most important we’ve had since the mid 90’s and the advent of the CD Rom.

Although most of 2011 has been fairly quiet with the usual round of product developments, upgrades and rejigs. The last quarter of the year has more than hinted that the upheavals of 2008 / 2009 have now filtered through to the core modus operandi of the companies whose job it is to distribute legal content through to the professions, business, government and the wider public.

Now that these legal content generators can no longer rely on the financial sector to improve revenues in any significant way and law firms are becoming increasingly Scrooge like in the way they control their information budgets ( and as for Government budgets in 2012 on both sides of the pond…. it doesn’t bear thinking about !).

I’d suggest that the hints that either Lexis or Kluwer be subsumed by another organisation in 2012 may not be as far fetched as one may have thought only 6 or 8 months ago.

Of course LLN isn’t privy, and never will be, to the financials of these companies but like everything else in the world today revenues are shrinking and one thing I’ve learnt in the years reporting on this industry is that boards and shareholders demand growth figures similar to the Chinese economy on steroids. 

One would either have to be using Colombia’s most famous export on a regular basis or be a Euro MP to believe that’s going to happen again sometime in the next decade. The solution will be the tried and tested one .. sell for short term gain.

At LLN although we don’t really believe that Apple and Google were put on the planet to do good and permanently make us feel warm and fuzzy, maybe it is time to hand over the reins to these two technology giants both of whom have already dipped their toes into the legal regulatory publishing market and are busy either putting their technology into law firms or working on providing the legal market with mobile devices and apps to change the way legal information is delivered, shared, disseminated and used by businesses, the professions, government and the public.

We’d hope that both of these companies would be the ones that could put serious investment into the industry, turn a buck in the process and improve the way legal content is published, managed and distributed. Especially so in the important new markets such as the Middle East, China and South America . Places where a Twitter-like sea change could benefit all who want to see rule of law codified and accessible to everyone.

In reality I don’t think this is going to happen in 2012. If there is consolidation in the market it is more than likely that TR and Bloomberg will be the players and we’ll see a new form of the duopoly with the same or similar people at the top of the tree running the industry as it has been for the past couple of decades.

So what’s in store for 2012 ?

If we see what will be termed as mergers between the big players (reality check: merger = sale) we will as I suggest above just be served another version of what we’ve had for the past while.

The free legal content world will have to potter along on with ever decreasing support from government and relevant institutions. In the scheme of things this won’t really affect content from jurisdictions such as the States, UK, Canada, Australia et al but the more “far flung” locations may well suffer unless a friendly benefactor or two steps in. Remember the troubles AustLII went through with financing a couple of years back when things weren’t as bad as they are now. It would be more than a shame if the LII group and others of a similar ilk couldn’t continue their work in a meaningful way.

There’ll be plenty of new technology to serve the content especially if these new content delivery services and tech products and services allow law firms and other big users of legal content to dispose of human capital

Finally legal analysis titles or what we all used to call law books will become increasingly sidelined as serious analysis becomes the domain of university publishers who in all reality only apply about 10% of their publishing programmes to legal titles ( That said OUP legal publishing must be congratulated for being the only academic publishers to still believe in the form and are actually working on developing new titles and products)

Oh yes we almost forgot . The world of legal media. More of the same i’d imagine. Lot’s of re-hashed press releases. The odd well researched piece that you are equally likely to find over the year on SLAW, WSJ.com or in the Economist , Guardian (UK) or even in the likes of the LRB and similar publications. It still all about conferences, awards ceremonies and over priced reports. We’re hoping that at some point partners will see through the fug and realize it’s a ride they’ve been taken on for far too long.

On that note we hope you had a great Christmas and New Year and are prepared for what the Mayans have in store for us over the next 12 months !

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Comments

  1. “…same or similar people at the top of the tree running the industry as it has been for the past couple of decades” should this scenario be the case it would defy all logic and good sense. For the sake of all of those hard working people who have been subjected to the business as usual attitude I surely hope that, to borrow a line from the boys from Athens, Georgia “it’s the end of the world as we know it.” But then again, I’m always hopeful.

  2. What I think is still in evidence is poor customer service in some instances and, despite some examples of great innovation, many areas of conservatism, that reflects fear of change, market ignorance and protection of historic profits. One doesn’t need to be too bright to see the flaws in this sort of thinking and behaviour, if it is indeed the case.

    With disturbing frequency I hear of the disposal of highly talented and committed employees at senior and junior levels. Issues of short-term cost-cutting to save the bacon of others, to cover up the outcomes of strategic and tactical errors, for reasons of apparent ageism and as an attempt desperately to hang on to profitability as revenue collapses seem to prevail. It is so predictable to see these events enacted at the end of each financial year, as subsequent year budgets are submitted, with new promises and myths.

    I’ve elsewhere argued in favour of a new duopoly

    http://www.slaw.ca/2011/03/04/professional-publishing-mergers-and-acquisitions-why-not/

    and think that there are many who would welcome a new dawn.