Law firms find no easy answer in a comparison between Westlaw and LexisNexis. (We won’t even include Bloomberg, the third leading legal database provider, in the mix.) When it comes to making a choice between them, the ultimate decision depends on variables like a firm’s legal specialties and practice areas, client needs, user preferences and budget requirements. As such, there is no easy answer and certainly no one-size-fits all approach.
Why Not Have Both?
The overall majority of AmLaw 50 firms are likely to use both services and often Bloomberg as well. Most feel that their information needs cannot be met by one provider, and that the landscape for legal services demands every possible competitive advantage, including information access.
Len Levy, President of our Cost Management Operations, is finding that firms with fewer than 400 lawyers or so are trending in the direction of a single information provider. The major driver is profitability, because firms can no longer charge legal subscriptions to clients as freely as they once did. According to Len, “Our typical law firm client recovers less than half of its legal research costs. We predict that this will continue to go down, probably to zero.” However, because information is such a critical tool and can make a substantial difference in a firm’s ability to effectively service client needs, not to mention compete in the marketplace, the decision to limit information service providers requires ample due diligence.
Westlaw – LexisNexis Feature Comparison
A side-by-side comparison of Westlaw and LexisNexis can provide some guidance on features and overall capabilities. The Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Library has posted a high level overview of the services, recently updated in September 2013. We’re not going to do another comparison here, but we will mention two key areas that frequently come up and should be considered when choosing between Westlaw and LexisNexis.
One is how these companies categorize information within their legal databases. Westlaw developed a system called the Key Number System that has become something of a de facto standard in legal research. The Key Number and its headnotes are a popular feature, familiar to lawyers and law librarians alike, which offers another benefit in the form of user proficiency and productivity. The Key Number System breaks down hundreds of broad legal topics into increasingly detailed information on tens of thousands of specific legal concepts.
The other is the integration of news. It’s generally accepted in the market place that LexisNexis offers a superior news offering. Lexis formed an alliance with Dow Jones in 2007 that allows it to offer a news service that is considered the industry standard. For law firms that rely on the timeliest news on topics like mergers and acquisitions, Initial Public Offerings and national litigation, the balance of power shifts to LexisNexis.
Unfortunately, a comparison of these two areas is like comparing apples and oranges, making for no easy choice for firms that want both.
West Publishing was a savvy marketer, if nothing else. The company behind Westlaw (now part of Thomson Reuters) took an early lead on giving law students free access, creating loyal customers out of many young attorneys. Now both LexisNexis and Westlaw give students free access, and the ante has been raised with a new marketing carrot – reward points that can be redeemed for free products. (Based on law student feedback online, it appears that LexisNexis gets the advantage here.) As for librarians and research staff, they use the tools they are given, though some of our own best legal researchers claim a preference for Westlaw.
Using market share as an indicator, Westlaw currently beats LexisNexis. According to the latest Legal Technology survey done by the American Bar Association, Westlaw’s platforms (WestlawNext and Westlaw “classic”) claim 54% of the market for fee-based legal research service subscriptions.
In a nutshell, Westlaw is known to be more expensive than LexisNexis. The company’s market share dominance and the preference for its Key Number System and headnotes likely contribute to the pricing premium. Yet rather than making a decision on cost alone, we believe it’s better for firms to determine which subscription services best meet their legal information needs and then try to strike the best possible terms with the vendor.
Many firms have become bloated when it comes to print and electronic information resources. One of the first tasks we often do for our expense management clients is to assess their services and perform a “scrub” of vendors and subscriptions based on relevance, duplication and other factors. We have found that some in-house library staff are wary of this process and that some attorneys will push back if they see a beloved resource on the chopping block. Yet streamlining not only saves money but alleviates some of the information overload facing all organizations today, including law firms.
For more information on expense management strategies for law firms and managed services for law library staffing and research, click on the links below or contact us for a confidential discussion of your needs.