Some Overhead is Necessary

In our attempt to keep overhead low, we have used mostly free resources so far. With the exception of our practice management software and fax service, we don’t pay for any online accounts. I’ve been a strong advocate of Google Scholar this entire time. But now I’ve seen the light, and we are spending some money.

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It isn’t difficult to use free legal research software. In fact, the Pennsylvania Bar Association gives us limited access to Lexis. But you can’t use it to Shepardize or get annotated statutes. Nor can you access secondary sources and treatises, which are a great place to start legal research. A week or so ago I spent almost an hour trying to find a case. Finally I shlepped down to the law library and used their Westlaw account. I had the case in about thirty seconds.

I knew it was time for a change in heart.

The Cost

I contacted a Westlaw sales representative via their website, and heard back within three hours. So far I was impressed. I laid out for the representative what my needs were, and he got back to me the next day with a few different packages and a price breakdown. We spent about twenty minutes on the phone going over the different packages to figure out exactly what my partner and I needed. I told him we would review it and get back to him.

About two minutes after we got off the phone, he called back and lowered the price and added some incentives. He didn’t know it at the time, but we had already decided to sign up. The phone call definitely sweetened the deal though.

So how much does it cost? We have access to PA and federal caselaw, as well as select secondary sources, treatises, and online forms. For two usernames with unlimited searching the monthly bill is under three hundred dollars. Frankly, I was surprised. I was expecting a figure between five hundred and a thousand dollars a month.

The Benefits

Although we have only been using the service for about a week, it has already proved extremely beneficial. The secondary sources are a great way to get research rolling. The treatises have been helpful in instructing us on things we don’t know much about yet.

Most importantly, we can do extremely fast and extremely efficient legal research. We can annotate statutes. We can see if cases have been overturned with one quick glance.

We had to add something to our monthly expenses, which we are very cautious to do. But when it helps provide quality legal representation, and makes our lives much easier, I would say it’s worth it.


  1. Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

    While I think it’s a good idea to spend what you need to spend in order to meet your needs and serve your clients, this goes to show how ridiculous Westlaw’s sales process and pricing are. Westlaw sells legal research the way used car salesmen sell cars, complete with fake discounts (that everybody gets who doesn’t sign up immediately) and a completely opaque sales process. I had nearly the same experience as Josh five or six years ago when I was put in charge of getting Westlaw for the small firm I was working for at the time.

    It’s 2012, and you still can’t just sign up for a Westlaw account online. Why the hell not?

    Westlaw may have the most comprehensive database, but I never had any trouble getting what I needed from Fastcase (for free, actually, through my state bar association), and I didn’t have to deal with Westlaw’s ridiculous sales process and multi-year contracts.

    • Avatar Josh Camson says:

      You were able to get annotated statutes through Fastcase? I need to get on my state bar association about that apparently.

      • Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

        No. But it’s not hard to find every mention of a statute in a decision, and narrow down your results with search operators.

        And over time, if you practice in a narrow area of law, you won’t need annotated statutes very often because you will be familiar with the case law. I stayed updated by following recent decisions, going to seminars, and subscribing to consumer law email lists. I didn’t feel like not having access to Westlaw for work held me back (for part of the time, I did have Westlaw access for teaching, so I did have some basis for direct comparison).

  2. When I started my practice, nearly seven years ago, I thought that I could go to the courthouse whenever I needed to research something. Needless to say, I ended up at the same conclusion as Josh. I contacted both Lexis and Westlaw, and got some quotes. I eventually went with Lexis, and I’ve been happy with them ever since. I found that I could get a deep discount if I advertised with Martindale-Hubbell. I have similar access to research as Josh (for FL, not PA), but it’s less than a third of what Josh is paying. Westlaw is nice, but they couldn’t match the price from Lexis. I also found that Fastcase is just not sufficient for determining whether a case is good law or not. The efficiency offered by Lexis’ Shephard’s for evaluating cases is worth the price in my opinion. It’s debatable whether Google Scholar and Fastcase will ever become a replacement for Lexis and Westlaw, but I doubt it.

    • Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

      As with everything legal, it depends. If your practice typically involves a lot of legal research, get the best tools. Mine generally involved the same issues over and over that revolved around a fairly short statute — the FDCPA. If you had a general practice or focused on appeals, I’d definitely spring for one of the premium research services.

  3. Avatar shg says:

    When I changed over from books to CDs to online research, Lexis had a “small firm” deal for about $150 a month, federal and state. We divided the cost among 37 of my dearest friends. It wasn’t a big issue, except none of us knew how to research online. That took some doing.

  4. Avatar Jamison says:

    Although, two and a half years into my solo practice, I am a little bit further into this than you guys, I still find your posts here interesting and informative. I particularly like how specific you are. Most people talk in generalities. Your willingness to put numbers to things is a big help for those of us who are dealing with the same issues.

    I too focus on keeping my overhead low and I too have sprung for one of the paid legal research services, in my case, Lexis. I pay $125 a month for unlimited access for D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and federal cases. As a criminal defense attorney, this is all I need. Only once have I needed to schlep on over to a law library. Particularly helpful to me has been the ability to call someone on the phone for help with legal research. Although I don’t use it much, it is a godsend when I do need it. It is also reassuring to know that the option is always available.

  5. Avatar John Foster says:

    How does Westlaw compare, price-wise and otherwise, with Lexis Advance? I am in NY and was thinking of Lexis Advance, supplemented with Jenkins Law Library (which has Fastcase).

  6. Avatar Ben says:

    My partner and I started up in November of 2011. We got by with free Fastcase from the bar association for as long as possible. When we started taking more complicated matters on we decided that we needed to get a research service. Lexis had a great deal for start up law firms where you end up paying a very small amount in your first year and it grows each year after that up to 5 years. That deal at its most expensive in year 5 was still cheaper than what the attorney we rent from was paying for Westlaw.

  7. Avatar Adam Lilly says:

    I use Fastcase for most of my research, and I use the law library’s Westlaw access for treatises. However, I’m going to have to sign up for the local legal reporter, which as of last week no longer lets you keep up with current caselaw for free. I’m sure there are ways to do that for free, but none that are as convenient and focused as the Daily Report.

    • I don’t know what kind of local legal reporter you use, but I found that I didn’t need to subscribe to Florida Law Weekly since all of the Florida District Courts of Appeal publish their opinions online. It takes some discipline to browse the opinions page every couple of days, but the price of FLW was really exorbitant for what it is. I also found that I am usually aware of the cases several days earlier than most of my colleagues because I’m not waiting for them to be published and mailed out. Unfortunately, only the FL Sup Ct has a twitter account that notifies when opinions are published, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they all do. Not sure if your state appeals courts publish online, but it seems pretty likely that they do. You may want to look into that instead of shelling out unnecessary cash.

      • Avatar Adam Lilly says:

        If only. The Georgia courts used to publish online, but that’s been suspended “until further notice” for quite a while. Meanwhile, the Daily Report has all the current cases, and can be sorted by month of publication and area of law, so I don’t have to sift through the irrelevant stuff (since most decisions don’t relate to my practice). I would be subscribing solely for the website.

  8. Avatar Perry Fisher says:

    Google scholar is a great resource for the budget minded. It has access to both primary and secondary sources.

  9. Avatar Penelope A. Boyd says:

    Don’t forget the Jenkins Law Library in Philadelphia. Membership is about $185/yr and you get acess to Fastcase, as well as legislative history and legal periodicals. Now Pennsylvania statutes are notoriously hard to find, but I found a website
    that has them tucked away. This has dramatically reduced my trips to the county law library for quick Westlaw checks or calls to colleagues for a quick Lexis search.

  10. Avatar Jessica says:

    I knew I would need a decent legal research tool when I started my firm so I asked for quotes from Westlaw & Lexis. At my old firm I had access to both and strongly preferred Westlaw. However, Lexis is much cheaper. I pay about $100 a month for Texas state case law, federal case law and secondary sources in family law and Social Security law. Westlaw’s quote, which was not for a plan that was as inclusive, cost well over $200 a month.

    • Avatar Josh Camson says:

      Sounds like you made a good choice Jessica. I had left a message for one Lexis rep and never heard back, so we went with Westlaw. It sounds like we are paying about the same, considering we have two licenses. But we may be paying a bit more.

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