Bloomberg Law: The Other Other Legal Research Platform
The average incoming 1L has little idea how much time is devoted to gaining prowess in the tedious and mundane exercise of legal research. Conversely, after having spent three years getting familiar with legal research, it would be an awful thing for the soon-to-be lawyer to suddenly have to adapt to a new legal research platform. Mastering Lexis and Westlaw should be enough, right? Depending on your position in the law school or legal journey, the answer is maybe.
Lexis and Westlaw have put in so much effort to seduce law school students to their respective products that it would seem impossible for a third contender to appear in the legal research wars. All of the introductory training sessions; free printing, highlighters, and pizza; endless streams of email reminders and advertisements; the research points that lead weary students to do fake research in the hopes of being compensated with electronics; and the orgy of both hard and soft candies. These are all the hallmarks of a lasting relationship, and Lexis and Westlaw are looking for commitment.
The plot thickens with the increasing resources that Bloomberg L.P. is pumping into its legal research platform, Bloomberg Law. Originally, Bloomberg Law was an extension of the DOS based terminal system for which Bloomberg is famous. Given the tremendous market presence of its parent company, Bloomberg Law is going to be viable just because of its ability to amalgamate case law and news sources—not that Lexis and Westlaw cannot do that as well, with Westlaw getting a boost from Thomson Reuters.
I met with Bloomberg representative Pamela Haahr, and she showed me some of Bloomberg’s features and how this platform differs from the status quo.
To those accustomed to Lexis or Westlaw, Bloomberg Law is a barebones platform, relying on its search bar to get results. Without the voluminous headnotes of Lexis or Westlaw, cases are unaccompanied by proprietary content. However, Bloomberg recently purchased the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. which provides legal commentary and content. One gets the impression that Bloomberg will continue to bolt-on features by acquiring legal information sources, and will also try to integrate content into its existing platform.
For first time users, Bloomberg Law has distinct and esoteric features. On the right-hand side of the screen is the citator, as opposed to the left-side for Lexis and Westlaw. The hypertext of cited cases is also foreign to the eye in that it only highlights the citation to the reporter (xxx U.S. x).
The intuitive aspect of Bloomberg Law is the user’s ability to store and organize research information. The “workplace” features allow users to gather and aggregate almost every type of information, from case law to news stories to court dockets, as well as make your own annotations of the material.
So why should anyway take the effort to explore Bloomberg Law? Nothing mentioned about Bloomberg so far is going to revolutionize legal research. Especially, if you’re a third-year student—an old dog not looking to learn new tricks—it may not seem like the best use of your time, to spend the summer learning a new research platform. Plus, to most, it probably does not appear that Bloomberg Law is going to be a big market force anytime soon. Nor is Bloomberg going to have an on-campus presence, with a lab or printing stations, like the competitors. However, Pamela said she is looking to hire two student representatives.
No matter which legal research platform you end up falling in love with, it comes at a price. Lexis and Westlaw seldom, if ever, advertise their price to law school students. But at some point the law school student graduates into the practicing lawyer, and the honeymoon ends, while that phrase being repeated in the distant future begins to get louder and louder as the time draws near: “cost-effective research.”
If you go with Lexis or Westlaw, you are (or your firm is) looking to pay around $200 to search a single federal case or $24 per minute ($1440 an hour). This is where Bloomberg Law beats the competition by miles. Full access to Bloomberg Law is only $450 per month! Granted, large firms can afford to pay heavy research fees; but if you are working at a small firm or are thinking about going solo in the future, $450 is impossible to beat if you don’t mind losing some of the frills and content of Lexis or Westlaw.
To answer the question initially posed, is it worth it to learn Bloomberg Law? It would appear to be a good investment of your time; if not for legal research, then just to have it as a news source. It is one more skill that can be added to your resume (you never know, maybe your prospective employer has a Bloomberg subscription). Getting access to Bloomberg Law is free and can be gained by clicking on Request a Trial on the Bloomberg Law website.