It was only a matter of time. We all know that Lexis and Westlaw watch the emerging legal content providers closely. The rumor of the week is that some sort of alliance is brewing between LexisNexis and legal newsletter publisher Law360. It has also been rumored that both Lexis and Westlaw lost out to Bloomberg in the bidding for the acquisition of the Bureau of National Affairs another legal newsletter publisher last year. Would this be part of the same strategy or is it about something else?

Law360 is a relative newcomer to the legal publishing market. A story on the Talking Business website Why Law360 Is Succeeding and Making Money From Covering the Business of Law reports that the company was founded in 2006  by Magnus Hoglund and Marius Meland in a Starbucks cafe. The first newsletter focused on securities law developments and was followed by a bankruptcy law newsletter. Six years later they have spawned over 30 new topical and regional newsletters that focus on litigation and business law issues as well as the legal industry itself. Hoglund was also quoted as saying that they were growing at about 40% a year as of 2011. While not a direct competitor to BNA, which has the largest roster of reporters on Capitol Hill and deeper regulatory and legislative expertise, both publishers cover litigation trends and other legal developments. Law360 is decidedly more focused on personalities in the law….  a sort of TMZ approach and regularly includes interviews with leading lawyers as well and competitive law firm rankings.

Acquisition or Alliance? It is unclear whether this rumored deal would take the form of an acquisition (like Matthew Bender) or an exclusive license (like the recent American Lawyer Media deal)

Characteristics of Bloomberg BNA Deal – What Bloomberg does is as important as what Blaw does not do!

Subscribers to Bloomberg Law are reporting that Blaw has been true to its word and all BNA content is being added to their Blaw licenses (including BNA content not previously subscribed to.) Much to their credit, Bloomberg allowing law firms to subscribe directly to BNA’s electronic newsletters and libraries without requiring them to subscribe to Blaw. This strengthens Bloomberg’s stated goal to provide law firms with a new approach to procurement of legal information and to be a disruptive force in the marketplace. Even a free trial password has access to all BNA content. BNA content remains available on competitor services Lexis and Westlaw but one has to assume that this will end when BNA’s agreements with these two companies come up for renewal.

Characteristics of the LexisNexis American Lawyer Media Alliance

In mid 2011 Lexis entered into agreement with American Lawyer Media to become the exclusive source for the complete American Lawyer Media archive. This archive includes the granddaddy of law firm and legal industry news sources, “The American Lawyer” which was founded by lawyer Stephen Brill in 1978, as well as a collection of regional legal newspapers. As a result of this deal, ALM content was pulled from Westlaw in 2011 but when added to Lexis, was treated as “excluded content.” Lexis subscribers had the choice of signing a separate contract to add unlimited access to ALM content or to pay a premium cost for accessing on a pay-as-you-go basis. Law firms can still subscribe directly to ALM publications for current news, but these subscriptions include only a 6 month “rolling archive.”

Will this be another “Poison Pill?”

Blogger Greg Lambert, posted a comment to the I’m So Confused post  on his 3 Geeks and a Law blog and described the Lexis – ALM deal as a “poison pill” because it was essentially designed to discourage law firms from dropping Lexis and going to a sole research provider option with Westlaw or Bloomberg. If Lexis purchases Law360 the big question is whether they will take a page from Blaw and allow law firms to subscribe to Law360 without a Lexis contract. Even if the  rumored deal involved an exclusive license rather than an outright purchase, we may see a approach similar to the ALM deal where Lexis allows firms to subscribe directly to Law360 newsletters but requires a Lexis contract to access the Law360 archive. Since Law360 is primarily a current awareness service which reports on developments that are also reported in multiple legal sources, the loss of access to an historical Law360 archive will have minimal impact on researchers who have no access to Lexis.
So would such an alliance in whatever form be about content or perception?

Everyone likes Law360 newsletters in their current form. In fact, I think the native Law360 format is more unique than its content. They have developed a nice format including navigable lists of all law firms and the companies mentioned in each issue. But would some of the Law360 appeal be lost if delivered in a standard Lexis clip? One also has to wonder if the content so unique that it will not be largely redundant of the ALM practice and jurisdictional content? Law360 is mostly a current awareness service, so is there a compelling reason to pay a premium to maintain access to its archive? Are the news stories so unique that access to a permanent archive is required? I think the answer is “no” on both counts.

So I am inclined to think the rumored alliance would be more about perception than content. Lexis is bulking up on “exclusive” content in an attempt to slow its loss of market share and perhaps even reverse that trend.

But What  Strategy Do Law Firms Need?

The law firms which legal publishers sell to, have faced a market reset and are examining, streamlining and repricing their core business models The fierce competition between Lexis and Westlaw has been further complicated by the entrance of Bloomberg into the legal market. All three are competing for a shrinking law firm budget pool. Exclusive content alone will be tough sell to justify the hefty cost of two let alone three premium service providers when those costs can no longer be passed on to clients. If Lexis and Westlaw want to stay in the game, they may need to hit the reset button on their pricing and content strategies as well.