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What does {choose one: Westlaw, Lexis, Loislaw, Fastcase, Casemaker} know about you?

By Jason Wilson

Several years ago, I was at a meeting with some high level marketing executives at a very, very large publishing company. We were discussing something or another that prompted the question: why do I get direct mail pieces that don’t really correspond to the databases I’m searching? (This was pre-federated searching.) After all, the company had everyone of my employees’ names, knew the databases we searched, the specific search queries we ran, and the frequency of those searches. So really, how hard could it be to coordinate email and direct-mail campaigns to each employee at my company? This question really could be posed for any law firm as well.

To my dismay, the executives said: “We don’t have that capability.” I’m pretty sure they winked at each other after they said it, slapped hands under the table, and giggled. Needless to say, about a month later I started getting very targeted direct-mail pieces. I’m not sure if the two went hand-in-hand or not, but it more or less confirmed what I thought, which is “Shit yes, we can do that.”

So here is my question to you: do you have any clue how much your preferred CALR vendor knows about you? (That includes Thomson Reuters Professional (yes, get used to saying it because Westlaw and WestlawNext will be going away soon), Lexis Advance (yes, not just Lexis any longer), Loislaw, Fastcase, or Casemaker.) Even better, do you have any clue how much they know about your clients? After all, you associate every transaction with a client-matter (C/M) don’t you? I sometimes wonder how much these CALR vendors could know about you (lawyer/law firm) and your clients at any given moment. Sure, they might not know names, but they would know if related C/M are facing pharma litigation and, say, Federal Corrupt Practices Act violations. For large law, how hard would it be to match C/M data, account data, and public data to determine who your clients are and the specific problems they are facing? And if they, the CALR vendors, were interested in selling services directly to your clients’ corporate counsel, imagine how much those businesses might already know about your clients’ exposure and vulnerabilities. If you think CALR vendors are on your side, you might want to stop and consider just how much they actually know about what you do, and how they plan to compete with your own data. In other words, do you just read the contracts to determine what databases you’re subscribing to and how much you pay each year for three years, or do you actually read them to determine what those companies are doing with your data? Clearly, Thomson Reuters is already using your data to inform search, so what else might they be doing, particularly in light of their Pangea3 acquisition? These are just questions, and ones that I haven’t seen on the Tubes oddly.

The funny thing is that I’m just waiting for some enterprising lawyer to test the limits of the work-product doctrine with CALR vendors by asking for search histories associated with opposing counsel’s clients. The only reason I can think it hasn’t happened yet is the fact that the enterprising young lawyer would have to reveal his or hers as well. Either way, it’s only a matter of time before it happens.

UPDATE: This morning I was rethinking this post, and I wanted to mention Thomson Reuter’s WestlawNext search algorithm WestSearch again. Remember, when WestlawNext was released the new search algorithm was built using customer data, among other things. These were referred to as “meaningful interactions.” Regardless of whether this data is anonymized (to the extent any data can be), it’s yours and your clients’ and I doubt you were asked or told if it would be used. Also, if you considered yourself to be a power researcher (something that gives you a competitive advantage), that same data is helping your competitors be better and more efficient researchers as well. Maybe it bothers you, maybe it doesn’t, but at a time when the discussion about privacy rights and data use/security is at an all time high, it seems like something worth considering.

[Image (CC) by Zh3uS]

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • indyanniejones September 13, 2011, 8:31 am

    I have been "watching" from the wings for awhile now without comment, and I cannot believe how cynical and negative the debate has become over vendor relationships. I get it. you are looking for a troll under every bridge. I do believe there are publishers who do create an adversarial climate and you know who they are….but lumping casemaker, fastcase and loislaw in the pile shows how little you really know about the business of publishing. As one who has been in a customer facing unit for several niche legal publishers, I can tell you that there simply isn't the manpower, the money or the interest in getting that granular with data. We are not the boogie man. You all throw around accusations of intrigue and subterfuge without any proof source whatsoever. I am sure one of the less than 20 employees at Fastcase is at this very minute plotting to track every click and search of their users. You demand enhancements and resources that are costly, yet at the same time you blast away at the corporation that delivers. Have you all been stuck in some sort of wonderland where you rub a bottle and make a wish and it all comes true? There is an existing paradigm because you all have allowed buying patterns to continue regardless of cost. You own this….you trained the big vendors to treat you as cash machines. It's time to start behaving like every other business and review alternatives and reward the publishers who deliver on their promises to reduce overhead and increase productivity. Instead of spending time blogging and spewing on listservs, get on the phone and make appointments and learn what else is out there and be a resource for your employer with ideas and inspiration and a better attitude about moving forward. There may be trolls under the bridges…but the only way to avoid them is to move on and get over it.

  • jasnwilsn September 13, 2011, 1:10 pm

    You do realize the post was a question, right? It wasn't an accusation that these vendors are actually collecting and using this data. Rather it's an exercise in thinking about data and privacy. I'm a firm supporter of Casemaker, Fastcase, and Loislaw, and use Loislaw daily. I understand that the staffing at those companies is not on par with West or Lexis, and they don't have the time, resources, or inclination to collect data about their users. But that wasn't my point. It is about potential. As for the rest of your comment, I'm not exactly sure why it's posted here.