There’s a lot of competition in the legal research market these days. Back in the day, it was just Westlaw. Then it was Westlaw and LexisNexis. Bloomberg Law came along relatively recently, trying to edge into the market of lawyers who are willing to pay a lot for their research needs. But for the rest of us, upstarts like Fastcase, CaseText, and Casemaker have provided lower-cost solutions.

Even Google Scholar—which is completely free—lets you keyword search a large body of federal and state reported cases and filter results by court.

The ABA lists alternatives like Fastcase for research, and even BigLaw feeder schools like Harvard provide a list of alternative legal research options. The most recent Clio users survey saw Fastcase, LexisNexis, and Westlaw in a dead heat.

Now, LexisNexis is apparently running scared and taking direct shots at Casemaker, Fastcase, and Google Scholar.

https://mobile.twitter.com/LexisNexis/status/859059888466669568

It’s a weird bit of framing. Basically, the attack is “only LexisNexis has what LexisNexis has”—summaries, headnotes, etc.1 But that overlooks the idea that many lawyers don’t actually need or want those things, and they certainly don’t want to pay for them. If your practice is concentrated in one area, if you don’t need cases from every jurisdiction imaginable, if you don’t use law reviews, then something like Lexis can be overkill.

Additionally, if you’re running your small firm to be sustainable and lean, the lower monthly cost of a Fastcase subscription might trump the wider resources of a Lexis.

Outside the realm of legal research, LexisNexis would also like those darn college kids to stop Googling and start … paying LexisNexis instead.

What LexisNexis seems to overlook in their eagerness to go after everyone else is that it merely highlights how much they see things like Fastcase and Google Scholar as competition. If you’re scared enough to mount an entire campaign about how great you are and how terrible other services are, you’ve pretty much already acknowledged that they represent a legitimate threat. Fastcase and Casemaker should be nothing but proud to be highlighted in this fashion.


  1. Of course, Westlaw has all those things too, but they didn’t make it into the chart. 

8 Comments

  1. Lisa Solomon says:

    Two minor quibbles:

    1. You said: “Additionally, if you’re running your small firm to be sustainable and lean, the predictable fixed monthly cost of a Fastcase subscription might trump the wider resources of a Lexis.” However, if predictability is the relevant criterion, Lexis and Westlaw meet that criterion.
    2. The pricing for Westlaw is only semi-opaque: the Westlaw store allows you to view the prices for various popular research plans. For small firms, start here: http://legalsolutions.thomsonreuters.com/law-products/westlaw-legal-research/small-law-firms. With that said, while researching for my e-book, Choosing the Right Legal Research Tool for Your Firm, I learned that you’ll always be able to get a better deal on a plan if you sign up through an account rep than if you simply order it online yourself. Also, I believe that, if you want to combine a basic plan (such as New York essentials) with an add-on like Related Documents, you can do so only by going through a rep.

    Some feedback on Casetext:

    1. Often, when I run a search on Casetext, it returns only “posts” results, not “legal texts.” I know my search terms appear in legal texts, and can’t figure out why Casetext won’t give me caselaw results. If it’s because there are too many caselaw results to display, then Casetext should allow users to choose a jurisdiction before searching. In any event, I would much prefer to choose a jurisdiction before searching than filter by jurisdiction after searching.
    2. I’m disappointed that Casetext doesn’t use /s and /p operators, which I find to be extremely useful; /n generally doesn’t cut it for me.
  2. Jim Schnare says:

    Not to quibble, but as a certifiable “fossil” who graduated 40 years ago, I’d like to point out that Lexis pioneered computerized legal research well before West Publishing decided to take the plunge with Westlaw. The original Lexis used a desk sized console with a black and white screen and printer built in, and because data storage was slow and the connections were slower, you could often smoke a cigarette between sending a search query and getting your results.
    While search technology has improved at an almost geometric rate since the 1980s, the basic problem with the original Lexis concept of text searching persists in all the major competing systems. While lawyers and judges have traditionally reasoned by analogy to find common principles in diverse fact patterns, most search engines find law by analyzing “hits” to key words or concentrations of word patterns, and can miss perfectly analogous cases that don’t use the same descriptive wording. I understand that some of the IBM experiments with its Watson system may correct that weakness, but in the meantime, real lawyers need to remember that cases with similar words don’t necessarily support your arguments, and that the absence of hits when you run a text search (even if you use synonyms and alternative spellings) doesn’t always mean that you are arguing a “case of first impression”.

  3. Carolyn Elefant says:

    The new LEXIS Advance is horrific. It is slow and clunky and not intuitive. I remain captive because I need to use the energy library but I now use Casetext, Fastcase, Google Scholar and look at LEXIS Advance only as a last resort.

  4. Jeffrey Wilens says:

    I understand the need to be operate “lean” but if a lawyer cannot afford $200-$300 /month for a very good Lexis or Westlaw plan, then why should any client hire him? Would you hire a surgeon, plumber or electrician too cheap (or too unsuccessful) to have industry standard tools of the trade?

    Recently I have noticed Westlaw is much more aggressive in discounting if the lawyer is a good negotiator (and if he is not, again why hire him?)

    Most attorney do rely on headnotes rather than read an entire case if they have many cases to review. Most attorneys do rely on treatises and law outlines such as the Rutter Guide or various Matthew Bender publications. Those are not available on Google Scholar or the other free/super cheap services.

    • Sam Glover says:

      I’m not going to argue with your first point. The cost of good legal research can’t be a deal breaker for a good lawyer. But I just don’t think it should be acceptable that you have to negotiate with a Westlaw to get a fair price. Why are we buying legal research the same way we buy used cars?

      But the reason Fastcase, et al., are now threatening Lexis and Westlaw isn’t just price. The reason is that they are perfectly good alternatives to Lexis and Westlaw. The fact that they also cost less means you’d be foolish to throw more money at the used-car salespeople at Westlaw and Lexis without a darn good reason.

  5. Brian Day says:

    My office has Lexis subscription, but I find that I use it as a secondary search tool. I usually Google the issue and then use Lexis to refine the results as necessary. The Google search tends to be more helpful than the Lexis search.

    One tool that is often overlooked is the actual paper books. The courthouse has a free law library with the digests. I went through law school just as the profession was between the paper and electronic sources. While the electronic sources are generally more convenient for those who don’t want to leave the office, I’ve found that the browsing nature of using the books often results in more comprehensive research.

  6. paul says:

    And darn it, old books just smell better than my computer.

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