Small legal publishers

Is the legal vertical as big as companies serving legal professionals believe? How about in the case of publishing and media? And if not in the case of publishing and media, maybe that’s an opportunity to build your own brand as a publisher.

In the late 90’s I founded Prairielaw.com, a virtual legal community later sold to LexisNexis and incorporated into its lawyers.com.

In my mind nothing could have been more valuable to lawyers and the people they served than a legal community founded on message boards, chats, listservs and articles — all broken down by area of the law and state. After all, online communities built by AOL, iVillage, About.com, and Yahoo established large user bases with communities/channels founded on various verticals such as travel, family, finance, home decorating and the like.

But when I met with these companies I often got the cold shoulder. It did not deter me from pounding on them, but they were not near as receptive as LexisNexis’ Martindale-Hubbell, West Publishing, American Lawyer Media, and Court TV.

It was not until later that I realized that these non-legal Internet media companies did not see the legal focused audience as all that big in size. Big to me and other legal startups, but not them.

Appears we have the same thing going on today. Mainstream publishers and social networks do not break out legal channels. If approached by a legal player, I am not sure they would consider such a play.

Look at yesterday’s news that Facebook is going to test News Feeds by category. A Facebook spokesperson told PCMag:

People have told us they’d like new options to see and have conversations about more stories on Facebook around specific topics they’re interested in. So we are testing feeds for people to view different stories from people and Pages based on topic areas.

But what are the topics you’ll get to choose from in customed news on most popular site in the world? Sports, pets and animals, health and fitness, politics, music, entertainment, travel, science and technology, and games. No law.

Sure, lawyers sharing insight and commentary can navigate their way into the discussion on news about tech, science and music. But it’s not the same.

It’ll not be a News Feed attracting lawyers looking to engage, collaborate and network. It’ll not be a News Feed where consumers of legal services – whether exec’s/in-house counsel or consumers/small business people would go for legal information — or just to follow discussion among thought leaders. Heck those consumers of legal services may want to have a place where they can further legitimize their choice of legal counsel.

The lack of legal channels in the mainstream media or on social networks is an opportunity for legal publishers and the legal media though. We have the opportunity to use technology and a little innovation and come up with something of value to lawyers and the consumers of legal services. Never before could we leverage the long tail to give niche topics the visibility and reach they can now have. Costs have never been less.

We can do it with out the fear other publishers and companies may have that a large player will come in and wipe us out. Afterall, we have not seen a lot of innovation along the the lines of user generated content from the major legal publishers – Thomson Reuters – West, LexisNexis, Wolters Kluwer and Bloomberg BNA.

Of course I like the model that democratizes publishing/blogging by getting lawyers on their own branded site supported by highly performing technology and service. We can then socialize and curate such offerings through technology and slick interfaces. There are of course other models being driven by some talented folks.

Bottom line, I see the large players not making an innovative play around legal publishing/media as an opportunity for the little and ambitious guys.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Ivana Vasilj