On September 15th I presented the results of my “2022 Dewey B Strategic Start Stop Survey” at an HBR-sponsored LINKS program. I co-presented the results with HBR Managing Director Kris Martin. The Dewey B Strategic “Start Stop Survey” was launched in 2013 but was suspended during the pandemic. The 2022 survey was intended to gather feedback on both products and projects that readers started or stopped since the start of the pandemic (March 2020) through August 2022. This post will focus on the vendor and product related results. Forty-three firms responded to the survey.
The survey questions asked respondents to identify products purchased or cancelled and the best products or features added. We also asked what product readers would like to see developed. A new topic that was addressed in this survey focused on identifying vendor “worst practices.”
What practice do you want vendors to stop doing?
Summary: Survey participants were asked what practices vendors need to stop. The number one issue identified by survey participants was bundling.
Bundling is a practice that requires firms to purchase one or more products that they do not need in order to purchase the product(s) that they do need. Many vendors describe their relationship with law firms as a partnership. A partnership would involve acknowledging the needs of both parties. Bundling completely ignores the needs of the law firm in order to artificially inflate the revenue of the vendor. As one responder put it – legal publishers need to start acting “less like cable providers.”
Law firms want vendors to focus on supporting the specific practice needs of the law firm – not throwing useless content into a “package” that will be used by no one at the law firm.
No force majeure escape for print contracts. One particularly enraging practice emerged during the pandemic. Vendors refused to allow law firms to cancel print even though the majority of lawyers transitioned to digital treatises during the Pandemic. There was no one at the office to unpack the boxes of updates, no one to file the supplements, no one to take the books off the shelves for research purposes. This was a missed opportunity where vendors could have created some good will and maybe swapped print for other digital products that might have offered real value.
Customer Support Chaos. Survey participants reported a variety of heartburn-inducing practices, including cold calling and pitching lawyers directly, high turn-over of reps, reps that don’t understand what the firms subscribe to, and various kinds of billing snafus.
Failing to Provide Usage Statistics. Although most legal information vendors have added analytics content, they fail to see how valuable product usage analytics would be to their customers. Vendors charge for upgrades but then claim they can’t report on how much and by whom these costly new features are being used. Although most firms have usage tracking software, those products can only track the volume of traffic opening the product. Monitoring products cannot report on which features or content is accessed inside the product - presumably vendors have that data but do not volunteer this type of data to subscribers. Vendors respond to requests with a variety of “can’t” and “won’t” explanations.
Pricing. Complex and opaque describe the tone of market frustration regarding pricing. Complex price plans are no doubt related to the convoluted explanations of bundling and “packaging” of digital content with no obvious benefit. Survey responders are exhausted by the complexity of pricing plans and lack of transparency in failing to identify individual itemized costs.
Greed: Escalation Clauses AND Cost of Living Adjustments. One shocking post pandemic – pre-recession tactic is the sudden inclusion of COLA increases. The major benefit of muti-year contracts for a law firm is to make future budget increases predictable. The vendor also benefits by having predicable long-term revenue and no risk of losing a customer. In my opinion the introduction of COLA increases is a “heads we win, tails you lose” strategy, which law librarians should reject. No price guarantee – no multi-year contract!
Repackaging Existing Content as a New Product. Some legal vendors are removing or repackaging existing content as new products or content sets at additional cost to the subscriber.
What Do Law Firm Librarians Want From Vendors?
- Proactive customer service including quarterly calls, true partnership with the firm, and better training on new products.
- Flexibility in content pricing and selection. Specific issues to address are global subscriptions and mid-contract adjustments based on the firm’s needs.
- À la cart pricing so firms can purchase what they need and control their budgets.
- Pricing transparency and consistency.
What Products Did You Roll Out During the Pandemic? Over 80 different legal products were mentioned as having been purchased and launched during the pandemic.
Too many to list here but the categories of products include:
- News resources
- Corporate resources
- Analytics products
- Data access and organization products.
What product(s) did your department/organization reduce licenses for or are planning to reduce licenses for?
No vendor is exempt from scrutiny especially with the financial turbulence on the horizon. Large and small legal information providers are being scrutinized. Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg, Wolters Kluwer , RIA Checkpoint, Lex Machina, Practical Law, Business Law Journals, Hoovers, Monitor Suite, and Reorg Research were specifically mentioned by survey respondents.
What was the best new feature/function added to an information resource?
Casetext Parallel Search/Allsearch was the new product/feature that was mentioned most often by survey responders. Allsearch, which is powered by neural networks, can answer questions on a wide range of legal and nor legal content.
Westlaw QuickCheck and Brief Analyser was the second most popular new feature.
Additional features highlighted by respondents:
• Courtroom Insight - integrations with WK and Docket Alarm
• Docket filtering on Bloomberg Law
• Search trees in Lexis+
• Lexis+ Fact & Issue Finder
• State motion metrics added to Lex Machina
• Matter Maps in Practical Law
Do you have plans to roll out any additional research/knowledge products in the near future? If so, which products? Summary: 15 people (33%) responded that they had no plans to add new products. This likely reflects the financial uncertainties created by the looming recession.
The classes of products that other responders mentioned most often include:
- Docket products that manage, track or analyze docket data. Those products include: Docket Alarm, PacerPro, EXFX, Trellis.
- Corporate products such as: Capital IQ, Pitchbook, Dealpoint Data, Capital IQ
BoardEx, Crunchbase Pro, Market Insights, Statistia.
- S&P Global: Trucost, Covenant Review, Dealscribe, Preqin Insight, WK's Corporate Counsel Profiler, Sayari.com.
- Patent Products: Minesoft's PatBase with PatDocs and Corsearch. IPlytics ipQuants SciFinder Cortellis Drug Discovery, Darts IP, Chemical Watch, IDI Core, World Trademark Review, sequencebase Royalty stat, patsnap, patbase.
- ESG Environmental, Social and Governance Products are on the rise. Specific products mentioned are eSG Scores on Capital IQ, ESG module on Intelligize, Global ESG on Practical Law.
- KM Products: Lexis Search Advantage and West KM
What product(s) did your department/organization stop using or plan to stop?
It is no surprise that the cancellation of print was the top target for budget cuts. This was clearly a pre-existing trend that was accelerated by the pandemic and remote work. Lawyers learned to live without books. But several survey respondents identified another issue that they agree is a contributing factor.
Practical Guidance Products have eroded the dominance of treatises as the main source of expert guidance. Treatises focus on the “why” of laws and regulations at great depth. Practical guidance tools focus on the ’how” in brief. Practical guidance tools have offered a growth opportunity for legal publishers. They are now available from all the major legal publishers: Thomson Reuters (Practical Law) Lexis (Practical Guidance) Bloomberg Law (Practical Guidance) and Wolters Kluwer (Practical Content Dashboards)
Top Categories of products to be cancelled:
- Print treatises, codes, statutes and deskbooks
The only category that surprises me is analytics. I do not interpret this as a decline in the importance of analytics products, but rather a “shake out” and churn of the market as firms eliminate specific analytics products based on redundancy of content or substituting a less expensive product for a high ticket product. Analytics products are here to stay in legal practice.
What product would you most like to see developed in the legal information technology area?
The number one product that was specifically identified by 25% of the responders is a nationwide standardized 50 state Docket, analytics and e-filing solution. This is the “Holy Grail” for every state analytics provider (Lex Machina, Trellis, Westlaw, Fastcase DocketAlarm). There is no nationwide data collection standard or technology. There are different FOIA polices governing the release of docket data and documents.
Additional product ideas include:
- Hourly rate database for all law firm rates
- All products should have SSO capabilities
- Private company research tools
- Regulatory analytics products
- Contextual “just in time” training videos embedded inside every product.
Bonus Content - Westlaw Precision
September 15th, the day of the Links Program, happened to be one day after the launch of Westlaw Precision by Thomson Reuters. We took advantage of that timing to conduct a live poll to gauge the market response to Westlaw Precision.
Here are the results of the live poll:
85.4% percent had heard about the new product
69.93% were aware of Precisions Features
When do you expect your firm to upgrade to Precision
2024 or beyond 46.15%
Will hold off until forced to change 41.5%
If you are not planning to purchase now, why not?
Currently in a long-term contract 23.73%
Waiting for product to be more fully
built out 35.59%
Don’t see the value 8.4%
The good news for Thomson Reuters is that that majority of respondents see a value in the product. The market is extremely price sensitive as firms plan for 2023. If Thomson Reuters does ask the significant segment of existing subscribers to “convert” to a new contract that includes Westlaw Precision, those subscribers may face not only the price increase for new content, but also COLA increases which may not have been part of their existing contract.