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.