There have been a lot of changes and upcoming changes in the legal information realm lately:
- Bloomberg purchased BNA.
- Thomson Reuters (West) has announced that they are selling their legal publishing division.
- Reed Elsevier may or may not be looking to sell LexisNexis.
- Legal ebooks are on the rise – or maybe not
In addition to changes in the ownership of legal information sources, new ways of conducting legal research have arisen in the past few years:
- Lexis Advance
- Fastcase’s (award-winning) free app
- GPO’s pilot project to supply free access to court opinions
Finally, changes in the law are modifying the availability of legal information. The Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA) is a uniform law that, when passed, requires a state government to make its
official electronic legal material[s] be: (1) authenticated, by providing a method to determine that it is unaltered; (2) preserved, either in electronic or print form; and (3) accessible, for use by the public on a permanent basis.
UELMA has been approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the American Bar Association House of Delegates, and it is under consideration in ten states. In the meantime, AALL volunteers conducted a 50-state inventory to determine what materials are currently available online under what circumstances; their report should be released this year.
All of these changes make me wonder what our legal information world will look like in 10 years.
It’s apparent that in the near future, the majority of primary legal sources are going to be freely available online. The legal information publishers are going to have to find a way to distinguish themselves. The research systems will need to provide more than a search engine for the legal information; that is why we have the “site:” search command for Google after all. Obviously, one way to do so will be to provide access to reputable secondary sources. Another way will be to focus on expanding the usefulness of citators. It will be interesting, however, to see how the smaller companies, such as Fastcase and Casemaker, will differentiate themselves.
More concerning to me is how research will be conducted. Are we moving to a Google-like research methodology? With WestlawNext and Lexis Advance, it seems like that may be the next step, but how long will that last? What will the next round of legal research systems look like?
Personally, I hope that the research systems will work to add context back into legal research. When searching in an open search engine, I always feel like my results are disconnected from the rest of the law. The ease of flipping through the sections before and after a particular statute or secondary source to find related material is a bit lacking, in my opinion. Right now, I am trying to locate information with a small flashlight beam, when what I really want to do is turn on the overhead light and see the entire set of possibilities in the room. Perhaps new technologies will allow researchers to get a better understanding of where their piece of the law fits within the big picture and will connect them to related pieces. Think about how legal research could be done if we lived in the world envisioned in the Minority Report movie. If technology designers have their way, that world is not far off, just take a look at Google’s Android-powered glasses concept.
Do you have any hopes, fears, or thoughts on the future of legal information and research?