Best Legal Products — And Best Non-Existent Products

At her Dewey B. Strategic blog, Jean O’Grady took an unscientific but nonetheless fascinating poll of her readers to ask them about the best new products they became aware of in 2014. She also asked them about the products or services they would like to have but that do not currently exist.

Jean is director of research services and libraries at DLA Piper and it is probably fair to say that a good share of her readers work in law libraries or legal information services. The results are clearly skewed towards that sector, but they are interesting even so.

When she asked her readers to pick the best new product of 2014, two came out on top:

  • Lex Machina, a service that uses analytics to mine intelligence out of IP litigation data.
  • PacerPro, a service that makes it easier to find and manage PACER documents. (Note: I serve on PacerPro’s advisory board.)

What I find interesting about this is that these are both products that use information that is already out there and available to anyone — court records — but that make it easier to access and analyze that information.

Both of these products representative a broader trend in the legal field to use analytics to gain new types of insights into data. This is often described as a “Big Data” function, but I think we tend to overlook the fact that data we’ve long had access to, such as court records and court opinions, are forms of Big Data that can be mined to extract information we haven’t had access to before.

Jean also asked her readers about the best feature or function added to an information resource in 2014. Here, the most-cited was the collaboration between Fastcase and Heinonline. The second most-cited product feature was WestlawNext’s simplified pricing.

She also polled her readers on the products they stopped using in 2014. The responses produced no clear winner but, as Jean points out, it is interesting to note that two were lawyer directories — Martindale and Lawyers Diary and Manual. Check out Jean’s post for the full list of discontinued products.

Perhaps the most interesting question on Jean’s poll was to describe a product or service you would like to see developed. This is a question I wonder about often in writing this blog, as I see vendors bring new products to market and wonder whether they are anything lawyers really want.

Jean’s post lists 19 suggestions. There is no overarching theme, but it is interesting that at least three of the suggestions were aimed at breaking down search firewalls among different information vendors. Here were those suggestions:

  • “A search service that is publisher agnostic, allowing searches of materials from many publishers using a single search technique.”
  • “Vendor neutral all-inclusive news database.”
  • “A service that would give a comprehensive comparison of periodical/news content/coverage from Lexis, Westlaw and EBSCO.”

Unfortunately, a vendor-neutral or publisher-agnostic search service is pretty much a pipe dream. It would require a level of coordination and cooperation among competitors that is unlikely to occur — if it could even be accomplished technologically.

Even so, the results of Jean’s survey provide a glimpse into which products are ascending, which are descending and which may be coming down the road.

You should also read Jean’s earlier related post, in which she describes the results from another portion of her survey that asked her readers about the processes and initiatives they started or stopped in 2014.