by Dean Duane Strojny
Let’s face it. The cost of the current big three legal research databases is staggering. Over the years, both Lexis and Westlaw tend to have multi-year price increases followed by multi-year price holds. This lulls directors in thinking the prices are not going up, but they are. Since most of us are near the middle of a budget year, it’s a good time to reassess our services. Law firms have known for quite a few years that the cost of having access to both services is not feasible.
Along comes BloombergLaw and an even higher pricing structure. I am guessing that since they provide access to BNA titles, which are significantly higher than any other publishers print titles, they feel justified in a higher pricing structure? My son often reminds me when push comes to shove, you get what you pay for. I am not so sure that is the case yet with the legal databases, yet. At any rate, law schools are compelled to subscribe to all three services as well as a myriad of others. In flush budget times, that may have been acceptable. While we might subscribe to the law firm and government entity concept that in this “Googlized” research world only one service will suffice for most of your patrons, the reality is different. The argument is that an academic institution should offer the full complement of resources because it exposes students to every possible situation. Here are a number of options that may cause you to consider the cost of maintaining three very expensive subscriptions.
- Look at your use statistics. All companies can supply some type of statistics. How many students actually create accounts in all three services? What about faculty use?
- Review what you are teaching. If you are not covering all the big three in every legal bibliographic session the library provides, maybe you should. Awareness of materials creates demand and use.
- Teach your faculty. This is easier said than done, but direct outreach to faculty can serve as a stimulus for student use. As in #2 above, awareness of materials creates demand and use. Faculty often appreciate alerts that simplify their research and serves as a current awareness tool for them.
- Cancel one subscription and see if anyone notices. Select the least used service and see what happens. The likelihood that someone complains might just be that they do not know what else is available to them. Proprietary titles could be a different issue, but again refer back to statistics (see #1).
There is no doubt that this approach might rattle more that a few legal research database representatives. While elimination of some databases might seem to limit patron access to material, doesn’t it give librarians more leverage in teaching about alternative resources? I began this post mentioning cost and that is a good way to end it. Our job as librarians is multi-faceted. We need to keep in mind costs as part of our job with providing access to legal information. Our reference work may only be enhanced with more creative thinking about access while also acknowledging the need for financial stewardship. Certainly as participants in a larger business world, our vendors can understand this point of view.
For additional information on this topic see this White Paper on Commoditization of Legal Research Databases. At $2,750, it really may not be worth the cost. Two pages of the report are available for free. Additionally, a 2015 blog post discusses the continued improvement of free or low-fee options available to practicing attorneys and the general public. Also take a look at the Franklin County Law Library’s research guide on the topic that compares general costs.