Roger V. Skalbeck is the Technology Services Librarian and Webmaster at George Mason University School of Law in Virginia, and he is a web committee member for the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C. Opinions expressed or implied in this column do not necessarily reflect those of his current employer or any other organization. This column is, of course, 100% free of any legal advice.
[Editor's Note: According to Debbie Monroe, the new General Manager of FindLaw, the West Legal Directory and lawoffice.com will be merged into FindLaw to create the largest legal directory on the Internet. In addition, there are no plans to "change" FindLaw. Rather, the focus will be on "enhancing the customers' experience."]
Over the past several years, West Group has certainly been no stranger to the world of mergers and acquisitions, and they have also had amazing success in developing their own unique services from the ground up. In considering the classic "build or buy" dichotomy to nurture and develop their information offerings, West Group has had few qualms about selecting either option. Over the past several years, numerous major legal publishers were purchased, merged and combined to create what we know today as West Group. Additionally they built the highly-successful KeyCite and West Legal Directory services from scratch. With the current purchase, West Group has indeed been able to buy something that they thankfully won't have to build.
West Group made a very shrewd decision in their acquisition of FindLaw. Of all of the legal index and information sites on the Internet, FindLaw is almost undeniably one of the most respected and frequently-visited legal web sites available. Much has been written about their content and scope, and the site has received numerous awards such as the Best Legal Web Site, awarded by TechnoLawyer, for four years in a row. If you've done much legal research on the Internet, you probably know a lot about the site's value. It has sizable content in the area of searchable primary law content, a well-maintained index, online and email-based news feeds, a customizable information portal, an ever-changing selection of online content, and an evolving selection of legal support services. FindLaw provides an amazing amount of information, it has one of the most highly-recognized brand names on the Internet, and it provides almost everything for free.
In buying FindLaw, West Group really gets a lot of "bang" for their buck, and there are a daunting number of possibilities of what they might develop with this acquisition. Beyond the more well known aspects of FindLaw, such as the searchable database of Supreme Court decisions that dates back to 1893, West Group is getting a host of other assets. In taking a first look at this buyout, let's see what it is that West Group is getting that they do not now have to build or develop themselves. See the chart below for notes on some areas where FindLaw and West Group content overlaps.
In many respects, services and features of FindLaw and various West Group properties do indeed overlap. With the current acquisition, it will be exciting to follow the evolution of the following common services offered by each company.
Element FindLaw version West Group version Legal Directory FindLaw's Lawyer and Law Firm Directory indicates that they have over 500,000 directory listings. LawOffice.com (aka West Legal Directory) cites 1,000,000 profile entries Law Practice Support
FindLaw Office Services include online document storage, free email (firstname.lastname@example.org), online fax delivery and a small business marketplace, launched in December 2000, to provide quotes on procuring business support.
WestWorks: Internet-based Application Service Provider platform to include: "case management, document management, time and billing, client management, calendaring, docketing, e-mail, task management, legal research and on-line filing." (from WestWorks FAQ)
Hosted web sites FindLaw Firms Online provides a service to establish a site for your law firm or other organization without charge. LawOffice.com offers the FirmSite™ service to help lawyers and firms establish web sites. Free online legal dictionary Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of the Law Oran's Dictionary of the Law. It's not the tried and true Black's Law Dictionary, but it's free and integrated with LawOffice.com.
Customizable legal portal: MyFindLaw service
This is a very impressive customizable personal portal, that users tailor to their own individual needs and interests. Content that can be incorporated includes: topical legal news feeds, jurisdiction-specific court case updates, job notice boards, weather information, search screens, personal links, bulletin boards and about five or six other customizable options.
Captive audience for insider information: Insider's Guide to Law Firms, Greedy Associates message boards, and related career services from Infirmation.
The FindLaw Infirmation site provides access to a host of career-related resources, including job listings, comparison charts for law firm compensation and benefits statistics, as well as career management articles. Well over a year ago, Infirmation also obtained the somewhat notorious Greedy Associates message boards, which were ported over from Yahoo! and were subsequently expanded. In addition to this, law students and alumnae get access to law firm profile information for the very popular Insider's Guide to Law Firms.
Broad media exposure: FindLaw's Supreme Court Center content on major media web sites.
FindLaw has become something of the defacto Internet source for current content from the Supreme Court. Their content appears on the sites for at least four major media sources, including the New York Times Supreme Court Guide, OnPolitics.com Supreme Court Report from the Washington Post, USA Today.com's Supreme Court section as well as CNN.com's Law and Law Library sections. Its interesting to note that no archive of the New York Times is available on Westlaw, but with FindLaw as a West Group property, they will now have an archive of content on the New York Times
Time will tell where things go with the company under this new acquisition plan. For the time being, the main information that has come to light about the immediate future can be found in a press release from January 26, 2001. In this release, it is indicated that FindLaw will continue to operate as an independent subsidiary of West Group. Regarding other plans for the new company relationship, West Group president Mike Wilens is quoted as making the following statement:
"Our plan is simple: we're going to build on the formula that made FindLaw what it is," said Wilens. "Everything that exists on FindLaw today - from caselaw to career services and Continuing Legal Education will remain. And we'll invest in the content and services to make the site even more powerful in the future," he noted. [...] "This is really about the convergence of community, content, technology tools, commerce and services," he said. "FindLaw is a unique and successful site. Together, we plan to make it even better."
As users of legal information, we anxiously await further details about this very intriguing acquisition and business development.
Copyright © 2001, Roger V. Skalbeck. All Rights Reserved.