My last couple days at the conference were spent visiting with vendors. I visited with all of the vendors I’ve known as a law librarian and others that were new to the conference, or, in some cases, new to me. I will be writing about them in future posts, starting with this one which focuses on Bloomberg Law.
I’ve read a bit about Bloomberg Law and spent time on their web site, but had yet to learn more about them. The most I had learned from other librarians was that Bloomberg had created problems for them by selling directly to the partners. To my surprise, the product looked better than I expected. “Looked better” is probably the wrong description. After all, the interface for Bloomberg looks a bit like a terminal emulator of old. [Terminal emulator software allowed users to work on a UNIX based computer or other mainframe computers. The terminals used for those computers were often called “dumb” terminals.) To date, Bloomberg has no plans to move away from this interface to a web interface.
I guess what I meant to say was the content looked better than I expected. It includes 100+ years of case law with practice area/jurisdiction collections of case law, statutes, regulations, and other resources, company information, real time news, court dockets, SEC documents, alerts for dockets, etc. and more. Searching seemed both easy and powerful (I would need to test more to say that definitively), however, the results display was difficult to navigate and read. Most likely because of the interface. It was too much text for me and in a format I gladly gave up some time ago.
The law reports that come along with the subscription (the Bloomberg subscription is $1800/month/desktop), can be delivered electronically or in print. Interestingly, the electronic delivery of the reports web-based in a very readable format.
I’ve heard from many librarians that if you subscribe to Bloomberg, they will deliver and install terminals that provide access to their system. That isn’t exactly accurate. Bloomberg may have been delivered that way in the past but now is software based. You get software to install on any PC that you are licensed to use, to access Bloomberg Law. That means that you can switch between software installed on the desktop already (e.g., Microsoft Word) and the Bloomberg service.
I spoke with two Bloomberg representatives, one who swore that librarians were his best friends and another who was a bit more forthcoming, saying that Bloomberg is contacting partners in firms and will continue to do so. The reality is that this is a service that has some power behind it and the lawyers in your firms will want to look at it.
My advice to law firm librarians would be, to be proactive. Invite Bloomberg in for a visit. Invite associates and partners to be part of the meeting where you will ask Bloomberg to demonstrate their service. The associates need to be there to provide a reality check on whether they want to use the older interface while doing research. After the visit, do a thorough comparison between Bloomberg, Westlaw, and Lexis, or if you’re using just one of the big vendors, compare that vendor’s product with Bloomberg’s.
Meet with the decision makers at your firm to present your findings or, if you can’t get their time, write a memo that is brief enough that they will read it but provides the complete picture to them. In the meeting or memo (actually, you probably want to do both), make a recommendation of which service you think the firm should use. Be honest with yourself and with the partners. If Bloomberg provides the best content for your firm’s needs and the lawyers at the firm are willing to step back in time to do their research on an interface that has all but disappeared from use, subscribe to it.
My advice to Bloomberg would be, move to a web-based solution. The associates and librarians starting at law firms today who will be doing the largest part of the research and be partners some day (fingers crossed), have grown up with the Internet. The lawyers and librarians who have worked in law firms for some time, have made the switch to using the Internet for research.
Also, many firms today want to integrate the information they get from their research service into their intranets. Yes, they probably could do it with your data and their custom interface but my understanding from the demonstration is that Bloomberg does not offer an API or web service to do this (please correct me if I am wrong).
To summarize, I was more impressed with Bloomberg Law’s content then I expected and more willing to consider subscribing than before I saw the demo, because of the content. If I could just come to terms with the interface (I tend to shudder when thinking about terminal emulation because of the problems with it in the past), it looks to me that it could possibly be a contender.