By Kevin O'Keefe

Are large legal publishers shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to new media?

Attorney and media consultant, Bob Ambrogi, has a post this morning reviewing Thomson Reuters new site covering the Supreme Court’s 2011-2012 term, called Case by Case: The U.S. Supreme Court. The site is part of Thomson Reuters’ (owner of Westlaw) push into enhanced legal coverage through the web.

Bottom line Ambrogi says if you want snappy visuals the Thomson Reuters site is for you, but if you are looking for substantive information, look elsewhere.

The site uses interactive graphical tools to help users find information about the court, the justices and the cases, with links to analytical and legal materials, including motions, briefs and opinions. While the graphical elements hold the promise of being useful, the site’s usefulness is quickly lost for anyone who does not have a Westlaw subscription…….

…Although the site provides links to briefs, decisions and various other documents, all links lead to Westlaw. If you want to see the petitioner’s brief in a case, you’ll need a Westlaw subscription. If you want to see the court’s decision in a case, you’ll need a Westlaw subscription…….

If any of this were content proprietary to Westlaw, I might understand this set up. But many if not most of these documents are publicly available online. The Supreme Court’s opinions are available directly from the court itself, as well as from any number of other sites. Briefs are available from the American Bar Association’s stellar site, Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases. All sorts of background and commentary are available from the preeminent Supreme Court source, SCOTUSblog.

Joe Hodnicki, an excellent blogger at Law Librarian Blog, described the site as “…[A]nother corporate avenue to promote subscribing to Westlaw to access cited content.”

Thomson Reuters may not be alone in this tease and up sell approach.

I’ve been watching Wolter Kluwers, another of the large legal publishers, approach to new media. They have a number of blogs such as the Kluwer Patent Blog and the Kluwer Arbitration Blog.

The contributors appear to be lawyers and scholars that have historically written for Wolter Kluwers publications. Though the content may be of substance, there is little engagement on the author’s part (something it takes to be a good blogger) and I don’t see their bloggers or blogs cited on other blogs by the legal community as a whole nor the content being shared via social media ala Twitter and LinkedIn.

On the top of each blog is a bold link to ‘Related Sites.’ The related sites appear to lead to resources which require a subscription to Wolter Kluwer resources.

From one of Wolter Kluwer’s sites I was drawn to a “Manual IP iPad app,” which complements, an online version of their Manual for the Handling of Applications for Patents, Designs and Trademarks.

The app is little more than bulleted news headlines, which when clicked on takes you to a page where you can begin a free trial subscription of Kluwer’s Manual IP.

I don’t begrudge Thomson Reuters/Westlaw or Wolter Kluwers for wanting to sell subscriptions to their services. But to get into the blogging, new media, and app game as a fox in sheep’s clothing is likely to backfire.

Current subscribers may find the new forms of access helpful, but such an approach can turn off the legal community as a whole and do more harm than good to your brand.

Hodnicki and Ambrogi are heavy hitters when it comes to influencing the legal community. Getting them to belittle your product and imply it’s a scam to get lawyers to pay is not something you want to do. Unlike info from your new site or resource, Hodnicki’s and Ambrogi’s views are being sited and shared across the Internet.

A better approach for large legal publishers may be to support, sponsor, or partner with new media publishers who have figured out, through trial and error, how blogging and social media work.

Look at SCOTUSblog. It was started in 2003 by Attorney Tom Goldstein, before he had even made a name for himself as an advocate before the Supreme Court of the United States. Goldstein poured his heart and soul into providing a free and valuable resource on the Supreme Court.

Not only did SCOTUSblog become the most widely-read publication covering the Supreme Court, but it launched Goldstein’s career.

Rather than launch a site competing with SCOTUSblog, Bloomberg Law entered into a an exclusive sponsorship of the blog this fall. From Bloomberg Law Chairman, Lou Andreozzi, former CEO of LexNexis:

SCOTUSblog’s comprehensive and impartial examination of the Supreme Court is an important public resource and Bloomberg Law is proud to support their ability to bring this content to the public, free of charge via the Web.

Large legal publishers would be well advised to take more of the Bloomberg approach.

First, though there’s likely to be a role for professionally reported and edited legal news and information, you can simply not cover all the niches and nuances that practicing lawyers can cover via the power of blogging. With the growth of the net, blogging, and social networking, your subscribers expect and receiving information you cannot deliver.

Second, you don’t understand blogging and social media. The time and money you’ll put into it is not going to offer you the same return as partnering with new media legal publishers and harnessing the power of user generated content to complement your existing publications and reports.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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