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Law Firms Should Have Become Legal Publishers Because Legal Publishers Are Now Becoming Law Firms

The really interesting piece of news that we’ve come across in the past fortnight is the announcement by Jordans publishing that they are now moving into the world of legal services.

Here at LLN / HOB we have always repeated ad nauseam that we hoped a law firm of some stripe would discover they could actually generate revenue from legal publishing activities; but instead the tables have been turned and Jordans have decided that there will be money in the world of practice while it appears to us, from the report, that they still intend to retain their legal content business.

A report on the British website Legal Futures reveals …..

(Jordans) which is 150 years old this year, launched Jordans Corporate Law Ltd on Tuesday in a bid to move up the legal food chain from selling commoditised services to providing legal advice to corporate clients and accountants, as well as legal process outsourcing to law firms. Debbie Farman, the head of legal practice, said the move was “a natural progression” for Jordans given the range of services it already provided, on top of which it can now offer legal advice.

Ok….. we know that essentially many other legal publishers are offering pretty similar services via their tech arms but we think the difference is: except for Jordans none of the others are yet saying in an upfront fashion that they are providing legal services to the market.

So, this news then puts the question: who and what’s next ?

Will we see Lexis & Westlaw operating as legal services providers in the next 5 to 10 years. To be honest we doubt the board(s) or management have the guts to take on the big firms yet or have even really thought about it as an option.

But let’s just play devil’s advocate and do a little Ray Bradbury future navel-gazing for 2 minutes.

We have 3 or 4 huge organisations holding nigh-on 90% of the world’s legal content (both past, present and future) on their databases and still staffed by a relatively experienced, educated and efficient workforce.

Just imagine if one of these companies teamed up with an SME law firm with a good history of acquisitions in the international legal market. Here we can think of a certain Australian law firm who’ve taken advantage of an ever more open and freer legal market. Now just imagine that this almost fictitious law firm and this huge legal content provider with offices in 30-40 countries worldwide decided to join forces and become an international law firm whilst still producing content. Imagine then in certain markets without strict rules on monopolistic practices that this new entity decided to withhold content in certain profitable practices areas.

Yes, somewhat unrealistic in 2013; but we don’t see why not by the end of the decade. It’s a solution worth thinking about for the old economy players; and that means both firms and publishers, because if Google don’t do it, some startup will come along and surprise everybody. In a way this might be a good solution for both Reed and Thomson so that they needn’t worry about having to sell their publishing businesses piecemeal, year in and year out, for the next decade. No more hiring outside counsel either!

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Comments

  1. Most interesting, Sean, even though it may (or may not) have scuppered the thought I already had of drafting a column for Slaw on the very topic dealt with here.

    You probably know that Editions Francisl Lefebvre have had in the past offshoot law and accountancy firms, which went on to be sold into existing professional firms.

    I’ve pondered for a long time on the value of CCH, Westlaw and Lexis Nexis-type branded firms, maybe full-blown, franchised or endorsed ways.

    Makes sense for Jordans to take the plunge, given their particular characteristics but maybe makes them even more appealing as the acquisition target that they must be.

    Maybe now that intended column feels more likely!

  2. We already have seen the content publishers moving into this space.

    Thomson Reuters’ acquisition of Pang3a in 2010 was done with the intent to transition the company away from costly publishing to more profitable legal service support.

  3. Law firms have been legal publishers for decades – they’re just not that focused at it. Big accountancy firms too. There is a vast amount of information that lawyers and accountants pour into their commercial clients that effectively wipes out whole markets that professional publishers could serve. Professional publishing for company directors is a minute market compared to what it could be, for example; they get it all ‘free’.

    The Jordans move in the UK is actually dealing with very specific issues not predominantly in their publishing division. Other publishers have made bigger moves into advisory services over the past decade and frankly not done very well with it. Pretty much all of the law firm on-line legal document efforts have been risible commercially – not because of the quality of effort, but the fact that the market is already well served elsewhere. The whole ABS issue is a side show here as the long term market shifts were well under way before Clementi even put pen to paper.

    Meantime, publishers and professionals alike are being disintermediated as clients increasingly do it for themselves. I would advise any law firms thinking legal publishing is an attractive bolt-hole to think twice; three times; and then go and have a large drink to try to think of anything better…

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