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Extras - How to Save Money on Legal Research

By Scott Davis, Published on July 14, 1999

Scott Davis is a Marketing MBA who runs Academy Computer Services, Inc. Academy specializes in computer hardware for legal research. Appropriately enough, their Website is www.LegalHardware.com. Academy products have been resold through West and Lexis. LOIS and Academy are partners in the Law Office in a Box concept. Academy has over 3,000 customers performing legal research on Academy equipment nationwide.

It is possible that there is a half-billion in waste in the way legal researchers choose and use legal research. If you want to opt out of the profligate majority, read on.

Rule One: Choose Carefully

Take a page from the purchasing manager's operating manual. Get three quotes. Don't stop at Lexis and West. Dig around.  Visit the Web. See http://www.findlaw.com. See http://www.law.cornell.edu/index.html. See http://www.loislaw.com. See http://versys.com. See local products. For example, Massachusetts primary law is available for $1850, $730, or $199, depending on whether you choose a national, discount, or local provider. Just because you must have the Authority series on Immigration/Naturalization Law from Bender, don't automatically buy everything you need from Bender. Shop the rest. Primary Law verges on being a commodity. Save money on it to buy the value-added secondary law you need. Using more than one vendor is a minor inconvenience compared to the cost savings. 

It is not always easy. Habit runs deep. The grizzled partner who has been there since whenever only reads tan and red books. Never sacrifice accuracy, completeness or currency in your quest to save money. One malpractice suit will make any savings a paltry false economy. I wonder how some free Web databases can afford to stay current. There is no free lunch.  Different vendors' offerings have fewer differences than you may think. Did you know West licenses one of its search engines from Lexis? Did you know LOIS first sold its products through LCP (now part of West)? The look and feel of different electronic products are sliding toward a common central interface. At least, if you must buy from one vendor, don't let on. They are free to gouge if they know you're trapped.

Rule Two: Review Pricing within All Media

Remember there are choices WITHIN a given vendor too. Price all of them: books, CD, online and Web versions of the same product. One vendor charges the same for 1 or 100 people accessing the same CD, but charges per person on the internet. A large firm buying 25 passwords from this vendor is spending about 5 times as much as the same information would cost on CD. Web and online can be different, since Web is mostly transaction-based and online can be on a timer. If your online bills are high, there is likely a more-comprehensive flat-rate plan that would save you money. Review plans available with your online provider in light of your usage pattern. In other words, if you buy a lot, buy in bulk, just like you do at the supermarket. Content providers are unlikely to point out waste, you must.

Again, change is difficult. Some will never adopt electronic research. Others want something tangible, like a CD. Still others are so happy clicking their way through the web they have no idea how high the bills are piling up. We all have our prejudices. A disciplined, impartial, balanced approach is the course to cost savings.

Vendors would like to see the demise of local research in favor of online. It looks good at first, no CD equipment to buy or maintain, no time-consuming update process. But, the internet is slow, and vendors have absolute control.  The surcharges mount up. We need the diversity and the unlimited secure access of CD. We need new DVD technology to make this more convenient (DVD takes fewer discs; the ratio is one DVD to 7-14+ CDs). Without push-back from the user community, the industry will rapidly extinguish all but online, with an attendant lack of user control. Demand electronic media choice or it will go away.

Rule Three: Negotiate

In one instance prices dropped by half just because a vendor knew the customer was being courted by the competition. You can get a lockout from extra-cost databases, or at least a warning screen, just for the asking. If your time isn't up with one vendor, and the new one wants you now, ask for a 15 month subscription for the 12 month price, so you don't have to pay double during the overlap. Ask for the hardware to run the software.   Large CD deals should come with a CD Tower. If not, ask for a discount so you can buy one. Often, the sales rep. has a vendor to recommend with a pre-arranged discount. An online sale should come with a fast internet hookup.

Some of us are naturally better at this assertive approach. But all of us should stand by our customers, the public we serve, and stand against waste.  High fees by law firms are a source of client discontent we can ill afford.

Rule Four: Review Annually

Vendors often have incentives for people to switch. Your current vendor may match a promotion price by the competition to keep you. The information you need may now be on the web, for free. There may be an upstart needing to build market share offering deep discounts. There may be a new product that will really make your life easier. Review service and actual cost against your expectation or your forecast. Some vendors' bills are so complex as to be opaque, but at least the bottom line is plain.

Keep abreast of the industry via discussion groups like www.technolawyer.com.   Subscribe to the industry publication, Law Technology News, lawtech@amlaw.com.  The firms that pay the most are those who haven't changed vendors in several years. They are the cash cows of the industry. One vendor makes it a point to keep long standing customers in the dark about better deals they offer to others. Your clients deserve no less than the best deal out there, so revisit the situation annually.