Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Cutting Costs of Online Research Services


It has been 11 years since I cancelled my first set of reporters.  What followed was the cancellation of all print reporters in that firm.  Like many of you reading this post also experienced, it wasn’t easy.  That said, we can now say that most of the lawyers within  firms (who cancelled reporters) have made the transition from print to electronic/online case law.

What’s next?  Many firms are making decisions to go with a preferred provider – Westlaw or Lexis – to cut costs.  The CIOs, CMOs, and CKOs who now oversee the library or research department see this as a way to reduce paying for duplication.  Depending on what content your firm uses, this may or may not be the best way to proceed.  Even so, while this may be necessary there may be strategies you can use  to manage costs of online services.

Note: I realize that many firms have already taken some of these steps or have it planned for the future.  I also understand that all of these suggestions may be or not be right for your firm depending on needs and culture.

  • If you have a flat rate contract or a special offer that includes case law, cancel your print reporters.
  • If your flat rate contract or special offer includes access to the online digests, start training your users on the use of these tools.  Eventually, you will be able to cancel the digests.
  • If your firm is serious about recovering costs for online resources and you haven’t already implemented an ERM tool for client/matter validation, do so now.  It will pay for itself and then some.
  • If your flat rate contract(s)  exclude resources and/or you have access to other resources with the same content, use ERM tools to redirect your users to the right resource.   It is a lot easier than training users to select the right resource.
  • If you haven’t already done so, cancel the print versions of the newsletters or journals you now get in electronic format.
  • If you have WK Intelliconnect, BNA libraries and electronic newsletters, or RIA CheckPoint, or other similar services cancel the print newsletters and looseleafs that provide the same content as those services and use ERM tools to block access to the databases with the same content on Westlaw and Lexis.  Alternatively, you can use those same tools to redirect your users to the right resource.
  • If your firm attempts to recover costs for Westlaw and if you have Westlaw eLibraries that include caselaw where you don’t charge clients for the use, remove all case law from the eLibraries.  If you don’t, you will very likely see eLibraries cannibalize the cost recovery of your Westlaw contract.  I’ve done analysis of eLibrary use where the trend line in my spreadsheet showed the use of eLibraries went up at the same rate that the use of Westlaw went down, eventually meeting at a point that the lines crossed.
  • If you’ve worked with Lexis to set up custom user interfaces (CUI), it is very likely that the use of the interfaces are charged separately from your main contract.  The issue that I’ve seen arise is that the use of these CUIs is generally low.  This can be changed with the proper training and by redirecting the use of the resources using your ERM tool.  Just make sure they get used or cancel them.
  • If your firm charges clients for online services and you are considering adding expert witness or briefs and pleadings to your contract, don’t.  The use of these types of resources are so closely tied to litigation matters  that clients are generally willing to pay for their use.  They don’t represent the library resources that clients expect to be treated as overhead.
  • If your firm doesn’t require refresher training for online resources, recommend that they do so and that it become an ongoing program.  A lot of the client push back of cost recovery is based on the high costs.  Researchers that participate in cost-effective research training will research online more effectively, reducing those costs.
  • If you don’t have a research portal that provides personalized access to resources, implement one.  It will reduce the time researchers spend looking for the right resource and reduce costs for the firm’s clients.

These are just a few ideas based on experience.  I would love to hear other ideas for cost cutting, cancellations of duplicates, etc.  I would also like to hear from you if you don’t agree with me.

3 thoughts on “Cutting Costs of Online Research Services

  1. Fantastic post! Many large-firm librarians, CFOs, and CIOs have told me that they are concerned about the preferred provider approach because it gives that provider too much pricing leverage over the firm.

    My team at Fastcase has worked to increase the leverage of many AmLaw 200 law firms, to make sure they don’t get squeezed.

    Firms subscribe to Fastcase’s flat-rate Enterprise Edition for all primary law resources, as a way to reduce usage of traditional online research products. This is especially true for firms considering a preferred provider model, but we’ve also seen firms add Fastcase as a trusted third source.

    Fastcase may not be the perfect fit for every firm, but when discussing options for controlling research costs, it’s one more tool to consider.


  2. Thanks Ed, I agree that the decision to move to a single source is fraught with potential problems. My issue is that the decisions are generally made without much thought. As I described in the post on Single Source Analysis (, nothing like this should be undertaken without thorough analysis of what a firm’s users actually use.


  3. Pingback: Cost Recovery of Online Legal Research: When is Overhead NOT Overhead « Strategic Librarian