Open Source Legal Research

I love Google and I’m delighted that Google Scholar has some legal cases, but I can’t wait until Google – or someone else – finds a way to bypass the Lexis-Nexis/Westlaw bottleneck. We get free access to both at law school and there’s no doubt they are trying to get us hooked.  It’s just like Pepsi/Coke pushing to get into school cafeterias to create lifetime customers.  My Legal Research professor, to emphasize the importance of learning old fashioned physical library research skills, often pointed out that research for a simple issue on Lexis or West could have cost hundreds of $.

That’s ridiculous.  Google works much better than the search tools on either West or Lexis and it’s free to use… so I conclude that there’s a huge opportunity in creating a low-cost, comprehensive legal research tool.  Google may have reasons not to pursue legal search.  But I’ll bet there’s a way to build an Open Venture along the lines sketched by John Robb in this talk.  One of Robb’s key insights is to pay the crowd rather than follow a pure volunteer model like Wikipedia.  Robb’s initial effort is the wiki for home and community resilience.

I’d like to gather lawyers, law students, and entrepreneurs to create a swarming open venture that dramatically lowers the cost of legal research.  When we find a way to pay those who contribute we will be able to rapidly tap the enormous power of the crowd.   We could develop a MMO (massive multi-player online) game where we band together to slay the two-headed Lexis/Westlaw dragon (by making them irrelevant rather than by a direct attack).

I bet early adopter lawyers and law firms could use lower research costs to differentiate themselves in a tough legal market.


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