The September issue of American Lawyer reports, in Robert J. Ambrogi’s article Making Money Online (Finally) about a new online service,

Ambrogi explains that a healthcare coalition wanted a 50-state guide to medical privacy law, prior to the April 14, 2003 deadline for compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The organization put the request out to bid, which was won by law firm ReedSmith. ReedSmith, working with Hubbard One, created a web site driven by a database and that presents results in tabular format. It covers 50 states, 32 types of health care entitites, and close to 50 topics; according to the web site FAQ page, the “Privacy Study consists of a database which includes summaries of state laws and regulations that relate to the privacy or confidentiality of health information.”

The article reports that ReedSmith was paid well and that the firm has been retained by several companies as a direct result of the web site. (The full-text of the Ambrogi article appears on the ReedSmith web site.) The statehipaastudy site lists subscriptions prices: $5,000-$10,000 for a single state; $20,000 for a single organization for access to the entire site; and $50,000 for a law firm to use the site in representing multiple clients. Estimated annual update fees are less than $3,000.

This site strike strikes me as well-designed and comprehensive. I am unaware of other arrangements where a coalition of companies paid a law firm to create a web site that is sold on a subscription basis. (Regular readers of my blog may recall that Prism Legal maintains a list of online legal services.)

The article also reports that ReedSmith’s managing partner would consider eventually developing a product without industry backing. It will be interesting to see whether ReedSmith does so. Presumably, if the firm earns sufficient direct profit (from subscription fees) or indirect profit (from new matters obtained via the web site), then it will have motivation to create other content rich sites. I do not know how ReedSmith compensates lawyers, but if it is like most firms, it would need a mechanism to treat the content-creation work of another site as billable. As a general rule, unless lawyers who work on developing content for such sites are able to bill their time as if the work were an ordinary matter, there is a big disincentive to do the work.

Whatever the long-term outcome, I think that this is a good sign that online services are still emerging and proving valuable. With my experience working for Jnana Technologies, a provider of a platform for creating interactive expert systems, I wonder if it would be possible to further extend the functionality of this web site from providing information to answering questions based on specific facts.