American Law Reports to Be an Exclusive on Westlaw
Posted On August 20, 2007
American Law Reports (ALR) resources will be available exclusively on Westlaw beginning in January 2008. This date coincides with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the ALR series that began with Legal Research Annotated (LRA). The move by Thomson West's Westlaw legal information service to pull its ALR content from competitor LexisNexis will not be a popular one with Lexis users—especially this Lexis user and her patrons! LexisNexis plans to offer new and upgraded services in response (see below), so the one-upmanship battle between the last legal information empires left standing grinds on. In its wake lie the customers, reeling from the never-ending cycle of having valuable information pulled out from under them again and again and again.
Once it was Shepard's, then Factiva, then business newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, then Factiva again, and now ALR. This is a low blow, because "venerable" is the best word to describe ALR—the descendant of a long tradition of quality law reports (state and federal) with in-depth analysis in the form of an annotation explaining the importance of the case, the facts that raise the issues, the relevant precedent of all states that have addressed the issue, the splits among the jurisdictions, the majority and minority views, and the trends that courts are taking. The reports are consistently updated, cross-referenced to precedential cases, law reviews, digest topics, and key numbers, and they have the strong support of such practice-oriented titles as Trials and Proof of Facts, not to mention different pleading, legal, and procedural forms. In short, locating a relevant ALR annotation can make the most befuddled first year law student look like an authority on a subject.
ALR has over a century-long history and is the result of many mergers and acquisitions—long before Thomson West came into the picture. In 1919, when Lawyers-Cooperative Publishing acquired Bancroft-Whitney (which had been in existence since 1856), the title American Law Reports was established to continue American decisions, containing all the cases of general value and authority decided in the courts of the several states, from the earliest issue of the state reports  to the year 1869 (published by Bancroft and company, 1878-1888), American Reports (1869-1887), the American State Reports (1888-1911), American and English Annotated Cases (1906-1918) and American Annotated Cases from Bancroft-Whitney and Edward Thompson Publishing, and Lawyers' Reports Annotated (1888-1906) and the Lawyers' Reports Annotated: New Series (1906-1918 from Lawyers Cooperative). Thomson Publishing acquired Lawyers Cooperative in 1989, and it became the flagship of the Thomson Legal Publishing Group. West Publishing had battled its archrival for more than a century when it, too, was acquired by Thomson Legal Publishing in 1996. A bibliography on the History of Legal Publishing, for those interested, can be found at www.charlottelaw.org/lawlibrary/research/Legal%20Publishing.pdf.
The Thomson West press release on the Westlaw exclusive can be found at http://west.thomson.com/news/releases/ALR_WL.aspx and the "Westcast" podcast featuring Alan Cohen discussing the American Law Reports is at http://feeds.feedburner.com/Westcast. As Cohen notes in the Westcast podcast, ALR is more than an in-depth law review or bar journal article. For one thing, the authors are independent, with no position to advocate. Aside from the links to other cases and ALR annotations—which a law review would provide—there are links to the appropriate legal forms, pleading forms, procedural forms, Proof of Facts, Trials and other sets of useful information, including cites to law review articles and treatises. Most important, unlike law review articles, the ALR annotations are kept up-to-date with pocket parts and are completely replaced should the law change significantly. Generations of lawyers, law students, and legal researchers have appreciated the fact that by going to ALR first, they can find that some other skilled researcher has done the grunt work for them, has pointed them to the leading cases and right forms, and has given them clever ways to gather evidence to establish the factual elements of their case, trial techniques, etc., and has brought everything up-do-date. (Yes, I am a fan of this product. No, I don't own stock in the company.)
It is ironic, perhaps, that I remember in the mid-1980s that ALR was the first product to feature finding aids and citations to competitor's products. Then owned by Bancroft-Whitney/Lawyers Cooperative, the ALR began to feature archrival West's digest topic and key numbers to assist lawyers in locating cases on point in their own state's digests and reporters—even if they were published by their competitor, West Publishing, Co.
Putting users first and enabling them to more easily move from their product to their competitors' was, on reflection, a first and a last in the history of ALR. You see, this is not a new product for Westlaw. It has been available on Lexis and Westlaw for years. What this represents is a huge step backward in putting the users' needs on the corporate radar.
It isn't the first time that users have had products pulled out from under them. Lexis took away Shepard's Citators—and in fact, Westlaw's novel and award-winning KeyCite was a response to that. Factiva has been an exclusive at one time or another on each system. Various newspapers and journals have also been moved back and forth, lock, stock, and barrel.
For librarians, this flip-flopping is annoying. But we read NewsBreaks and news releases, have relationships with our representatives from both companies, and just file away in our minds the fact that a product has moved or disappeared—and either been replaced by a competitor's new creation or a substitute that we will have to determine whether it is an equal.
As a legal research educator and a librarian who has worked with law students and attorneys as well as judges, I can tell you that there are users who won't know a product like ALR is gone from an online service until they really need it. And, they may not have access to the competitor's system. If they are solo practitioners or even a partner in a branch of a large law firm, they definitely won't have the money or the space for the equivalent print product. In cases of "born-digital" products, there won't be any alternative at the moment when they need the information.
Competition now demands (and Lexis has already announced) new products to fill the gap left by ALR. These products may even be so terrific that they will win an AALL New Product of the Year award. I know some of the brilliant people that they have secreted away to create new products, and the projects they can't tell me about are probably going to be trendsetters—just based on what they have done in the past. But, whatever it is, LexisNexis will have the exclusive.
According to Michael Saint-Onge, my LexisNexis consultant, we "really have a two-pronged answer. Cases in Brief, which gives the in-depth analysis of specific cases (and the larger legal issues underlying the case)" is one. LexisNexis has apparently been implementing and adding to its Cases in Brief throughout 2007. Cases in Brief is designed in such a way that the user will gain more insight on significant and emerging case law. According to LexisNexis Research Solutions (http://lexisnexis.com/infopro/training/reference/Research/casesinbrief.pdf), "When your case preparation calls for detailed analysis of current, high-profile, emerging law and significant cases, LexisNexis Cases in Brief can help you quickly gain the insight you need … this timesaving research tool provides an extensive, downloadable report written by experienced attorney-editors … [and] includes legal analysis, an expanded summary of the case and links to research content and court documents."
According to Saint-Onge, the "second part of the answer hasn't been released yet: It's the remake of Search Advisor, which is being revamped and should release in late September or early October."
So, it's a good thing you have access to Information Today, Inc.'s NewsBreaks! You will be the first to know.
Librarians and other professional searchers love new products (exclusive or not) that are created by competition. It is a new arrow in our quiver. What irritates us is the loss of an old and trusted friend in a competitive ploy taken at the user's expense.