Google and Legal Research: How can Legal Research Services Compete with Google Scholar

In the article “What IT can learn from the railroad business,” Tom L. Barnett compares the IT industry to the train industry and suggests that if Information Technology continues to focus on their role of “information technologists” instead of their ability to deliver value as “business enablers” the ¬†industry will be in a weak position to combat change in technology and the business world. Just as the train companies became practically obsolete due to their focus on their product and ignoring their intrinsic value, IT can become obsolete or unnecessary if they do not focus on their role as a business enabler. Therefore, IT companies must constantly ask and analyze their own intrinsic value through the service that they provide.

The article reminded me of the overwhelming fear mongering that occurred after Google Scholar announced that their search engine would now include Legal journals and opinions. Suddenly, observers questioned the future existence and relevance of paid for legal research services such as Westlaw and LexisNexus. However, Westlaw and LexusNexus’ superb strategy suggest that the value of a free search service will not overcome the intrinsic value of paid search engines such as Westlaw and Lexis Nexus. Westlaw and LexisNexus market their products as services which can save law firms, governmental institutions, and non-profit organizations a large amount of time and therefore money. Unlike Google, Westlaw and LexisNexus allow a customer to customize and tailor their searches to fit specific geographic regions, areas of law or resources with ease that enable the attorney to pinpoint the relative resource with little effort. Therefore, the attorney is able to use a smaller amount of billable hours on research and passes on a lower cost to their client. Finally, both search engines allow law firms to customize their research package to fit the needs of a small law firm, large firm, government department or non-profit organization. Using the lessons learned from the train companies, IT companies such as LexusNexus and Westlaw have continued to remain highly relevant in the legal field despite the free service that Google Scholar now offers.

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