In the late 1990s, large law firms started creating web-based interactive legal advisory systems. What happened to that trend? 

Market data on the number subscribers, and revenue is not available; as far as I know, the best listing of these types of systems is my Online Legal Services list. Anecdotal evidence suggests that online advisory system development crested around 2002 or 2003 and that many firms did not earn the hoped-for return.

We may be seeing another round of investment now; see below for two relatively new services. Here is why I think we may see a resurgence:

  • The technology cost to create web-based systems has fallen. Hardware, software, and hosting is all much easier and cheaper today than a few years ago.
  • The lawyer time cost has also fallen. First, law firms invest more in marketing now, both out of pocket expenses and lawyer time. In 2000, the cost of creating an online system seemed enormous. Today, in comparison to other marketing hard and soft costs, the development effort just may not seem as big relative to other initiatives. Second, the growth of knowledge management in many firms coupled with lower cost technical means of accumulating information means that firms are more easily able to “mine” work that they already do for other purposes. That is, firms realize they have a lot of useful information and the marginal cost to re-package it for web-based delivery is not that great.
  • The explosion of web-resources generally – e.g., Google, newspapers online, Wikipedia, and government statistics – creates subtle market pressures for law firms to keep up.
  • Here then are two services I came across recently:

    MoFo IT Advises: ‘Listen to Your Users’ in Law Tech News (3 July 2008) reports on a new Morrison & Foerster affiliate that offers an online legal service: the “International Privacy Database is a comprehensive, current assessment of the obligations of various privacy and data security requirements and includes in-depth analysis of virtually every privacy law in the world… We created a subsidiary, Summit Privacy Resources, to offer this content via subscription. It was created so that this information could be shared with entities that presently are not clients. Started in April 2007, the system is now in pilot production.”

    Construction law made easy by large Australian firm Minter Ellison “is a dedicated online resource for all construction, property and infrastructure industry professionals.”

    The MoFo system is by subscription; the Minters one requires free registration. A future post will cover another system I recently came across.