Can Bloomberg Law Compete with Lexis and Westlaw? Pt 2- Content

September 26, 2011

When I first became interested in writing about Bloomberg Law over the summer, the company was involved in 3 large initiatives: 1) the new product release, 2) the hiring of the new CEO, Lou Andreozzi (formerly of Lexis, and a veteran of its wars with Westlaw),and 3) its purchase of Bureau of National Affairs ( BNA), the financially-troubled topical law service. The BNA purchase is arguably the most curious of the three moves.

While the array of subjects covered by  the BNA (Banking, Finance and Securities, Health Care, Intellectual Property, Labor and Employment, Pensions, etc.), is certainly impressive, it is only a first step in a series of steps or processes that will be necessary in order to gain parity with its competitors. By itself, it does not fully address Bloomberg’s weaknesses and gaps compared to Lexis and Westlaw in primary and secondary sources, treatises, and international law.  But here’s what it does do: 1) Bloomberg has sent a message loud and clear that it has the financial resources to buy content when a plum is available. 2) Bloomberg can now offer another attractive product in the short term, that firms can use to supplement their existing resources. Right now, Bloomberg’s strong melding of law, business, and news offers an alternative to LexisNexis for some firms at the attractive price of $450 for a single user subscription. The BNA acquisition makes that alternative even more attractive.

But I doubt if Bloomberg Law is gambling its name, its financial resources, its commitment to transitioning from being terminal-based to being web-based, and its acquisition of both talent and content to just be a supplemental choice or a poor man’s Lexis or Westlaw. Maybe this can work right now as Bloomberg Law gears up and introduces its new product, but it won’t work in the long term – not if Bloomberg truly wants to be competitive with its rivals.  Bloomberg must bridge the gap between its content and that of its rivals, who have a 30- year head start. Bloomberg must move forward swiftly and decisively to address their users’ needs by steadily and consistently building from within, while aggressively seeking opportunities to acquire good content and align with products from other sources that fit their strategic plans. Otherwise, they will not be a contender. Another option is for Bloomberg to wait for third–party agreements (e.g. Commerce Clearinghouse) to expire with its stronger competitors. They could then cherry pick what they want, outbid their competitors, and initially offer the content to users at bargain prices to increase market share.  The challenge of such third –party content is that it is essentially a lease for a specific time period, rather than a purchase and it can disappear from the provider at the end of the agreement, leaving the user in the lurch.

The next installment of my blog continues to discuss content, while also addressing Bloomberg Law and SCOTUSblog’s new and exclusive sponsorship.

Bob Riger is a former law library director and a researcher with more than 20 years of experience in public and private law libraries.

Advertisements

Can Bloomberg Law Compete with Lexis and Westlaw?

September 16, 2011

As a former law library director and a researcher with more than 20 years of experience in public and private law libraries, I know the needs of legal professionals, as well as how technology helps them stay innovative and be cost effective.

I’ve worked in law libraries where the card catalog was kept in shoeboxes, and I was an early adopter of technology – yet I know it’s not technology per se that makes the difference. Rather, it’s the wise use of technology. That’s why I was interested in finding out more about the new version of Bloomberg Law that launched in July. If you aren’t familiar with it, Bloomberg Law claims to turn traditional online research on its head with a transparent and predictable pricing structure, resident information and pull-down menus, and a combination of business and law. I questioned if there was a need for another big and expensive legal research service. And frankly, I was curious about how Bloomberg, even with its strong financial position, could bridge the 30-plus-year advantage in marketing and product development that Lexis and Westlaw enjoy. The bottom line: Can Bloomberg Law contend with Lexis and Westlaw?

When I contacted Bloomberg, I was initially offered a trial subscription to test out the product for a few days. That idea soon morphed into an invitation to participate in a special demo of the new release with new Bloomberg Law CEO, Lou Andreozzi. Andreozzi, ex-Lexis CEO, was brought in to deliver “strategic direction” in Bloomberg Law’s quest to bridge the market share gap between themselves and Lexis and Westlaw. I was excited. However, due to technical problems on my end, I couldn’t participate in the demo. When my technical issues were resolved, I was given a scripted, controlled tour of the new release that, in my opinion, obscured some of its strengths along with the obvious blemishes. I really didn’t get an opportunity to adequately test drive the product, nor did I get much information in my subsequent information requests from their team.

One of Bloomberg’s strengths is their predictable and transparent pricing, in contrast to the often secretive and confusing plans of Westlaw and Lexis. Yet Bloomberg only quoted me the price of a single user subscription – $450 per month, which includes all usage (legal, business, and news). That’s generally less than what firms would pay for Westlaw or Lexis. Strangely, Bloomberg was mum on other pricing options, including pricing in the crucial large firm market.

Content wise, Bloomberg melds legal, business, news, and current awareness seamlessly. Their docketing system is impressive, and they have their own citator to compete with Shepards and Keycite and a Law Digest to compete with Lexis and Westlaw. However, I had no opportunity to check the supposed gaps in secondary sources, treatises, international law, missing headings, and topic headings that led to nowhere that had plagued the product.

Bloomberg Law’s design wowed me with its search speed, intuitive feel, and logical and user-friendly tabs and pull down menus that keep you from losing your research trail. Although I had to follow their script, rather than conducting my own searches during the demo, it was easy to see that searching on Bloomberg Law is quick, whether using Boolean or plain-language searches.

Bloomberg Law’s early focus favors securities and corporate law practices. For the rest of us – the jury is still out. Even with its glossy and impressive design, in its current form, Bloomberg faces a tough uphill battle to catch up with Lexis’ and Westlaw’s 30-plus-year lead in marketing and product development.