LEXIS, You Could Have Had Us Solos at Hello

On the surface, this article about Lawyers.com‘s upcoming television ad campaign, which is intended to attract more consumers to its site, seems like nothing more than business as usual in a down economy.  But there’s far more to it than that.   The Lawyers.com television strategy is both a reminder of lost opportunity by Reed-Elsevier (parent company to Lawyers.com and Lexis-Nexis) to gain footing in the solo and small firm as well as a lesson of how many companies seeking to serve solo and small law firms miss the mark with their offerings.

Ten years ago when Lexis and Westlaw were essentially the only online legal research tools in town, either company could have tapped into, and indeed dominated the solo and small firm market with reasonably priced research offerings.  In fact, Lexis even took a stab at trying to lure solos with its free LexisOne service, which essentially slapped Lexis’ boolean search interface onto a Supreme Court, federal appeals and state appellate court data base, with caselaw dating back ten years.  The LexisOne service doesn’t offer any cases that aren’t already readily available online for free, but the search engine made it easier to locate those cases.  But LexisOne never took its service any farther than that.

 Nor did Lexis or Westlaw  attempt to develop research products with price points affordable to solos and small firms.  When I started my practice in 1993, I couldn’t find an online research provider less expensive than $600/month – and that was for a limited number of searches.   By 1996, when courts began releasing opinions online at no cost,  Lexis and Westlaw reduced their prices to some extent, but still not to a point where they could serve as affordable options for solos.  Moreover, though these companies paid thousands of dollars to support the ABA and state bars, never once did the companies or the bar associations ever think about using that cash to offer reduced rate services to solos and small firms.   All of this left the door wide open for companies like VersuslawLoisLawFastcase and CaseMaker to storm the solo and small firm market with affordable research products for solos.  Unfortunately, none of these companies offer cite check or Shepards, but aside from that, they’re good enough for many solo and small firm needs.

And so now, ten years late and with the economy in the toilet, companies like Lexis, that once turned up their nose at solo and small firm business, are eying this market once again.  And how does Reed Elsevier propose to capture it?  Not by offering new reasonably priced services or allowing solo and small firms to purchase unbundled Shepards or cite-checking.  That would be too easy.

Instead, as Forbes reports, Lawyers.com (also a Reed Elsiever holding) has concocted a television ad campaign designed to raise brand awareness and draw more consumers to the site to generate more business for lawyers.  Lawyers.com is betting that its $15 million television campaign will help revive the lagging directory, which has fallen victim to competition from search engines and social media tools that allow clients to search for lawyers without a middleman site like Lawyers.com.  But the company also has an ulterior motive:  it hopes that by generating more business for law firms, attorneys will "return the favor" by subscribing to LexisNexis.  

Simply put, Lawyers.com is going to charge solo and small firms between $160 and $60,000 per month (the rates cited in Forbes)  so that solos can get more clients through Lawyers.com’s television ad campaign in which case they’ll be able to afford to purchase Lexis’ exorbitantly priced service.  Sounds like a great deal, huh?  

What’s sad is the a company like Lexis or Westlaw could have had us solo and small firm lawyers ten years ago.  If they’d offered affordable services with basics like cite checking and Shepards at a reasonable price, solos and small firms would have come running.  Instead, they squandered the opportunity to reach out, and now may have lost it completely.  Ham-handed schemes aren’t going to draw solo and small firm lawyers to these companies that abandoned us for years.  Sound, affordable and sensible products will.  It’s really that simple.