Oregon State Bar Bulletin — DECEMBER 2009
Legal Research:
Bloomberg Wants to be a Contender
By Robert J. Ambrogi

It could shape up to be a battle of legal research behemoths. The business-news network Bloomberg is stepping into the online-research ring long dominated by heavyweights Westlaw and LexisNexis. Is it ready to be a contender?

Also this month, we look at a new Web-based tool for capturing billable time and visit three U.S. government websites recently upgraded to make them easier to use and more compatible with Web 2.0.

Bloomberg Takes on Wexis
Bloomberg was slated to launch its new legal research service, Bloomberg Law, www.bloomberglaw.com, in October, to compete head-on with Westlaw and LexisNexis. As of this writing, I have not tested it, but I can provide some details taken from its website and other sources.

Bloomberg distinguishes its research service from those of its competitors by emphasizing its integration of legal content with real-time news and business intelligence. “The all-in-one legal research platform … integrates legal content with proprietary news and business intelligence from the world leader in data and information services,” its website says.

Without having seen the actual product, it certainly looks like Bloomberg has loaded it with all the right bells and whistles. These include:

Since I was not able to test Bloomberg Law, I checked in with the blogosphere to see whether anyone else had. I found a June review written by Paul Lomio, library director at Stanford Law School, posted to the blog Legal Research Plus, http://legalresearchplus.com. His verdict was that it had some strong features but overall was unimpressive. “The overall style is drab, and I just didn’t see many bells and whistles to compete with LexisNexis and Westlaw. I was really hoping for more.”

A much-different perspective was provided by Ryan McKeen at A Connecticut Law Blog, http://aconnecticutlawblog.com. Bloomberg offered him a test run after he wrote a post critical of Westlaw. “The difference between Westlaw and Bloomberg Law is the difference between a Motorola Razr and an iPhone,” he raved. “Bloomberg Law is more Web 2.0… The interface is slick and well designed. The menus are intuitive and the search results produce relevant case law.”

With more and more movement towards open-source legal research and plenty of real-time news and business intelligence easily available, I have to wonder whether there is need for another proprietary service on this scale. But without having tried it and knowing nothing about its pricing, I will reserve final judgment for another day.

A Smart Time Capture Tool
What did I do today? If you have ever asked yourself that question, you may be a candidate for Smart Time, a Web-based time capture and entry application. Smart Time works in your browser but culls data from all your key applications to provide a detailed report of your daily work.

Introduced in September, Smart Time was developed by a Los Gatos, Calif., company, Smart WebParts, www.smart-webparts.com. The company describes it as a data-mining engine. It searches network applications to track each timekeeper’s e-mails, appointments, documents and phone calls, all for the purpose of ensuring that no billable time is lost.

Once Smart Time extracts the data, each timekeeper can review the results, assign them client or matter codes, and then export the information to the firm’s accounting system. The system is “smart” in that it will learn to associate particular tasks with particular clients. Each user is able to customize it to exclude or block certain types of data (such as e-mails from a spouse).

This is an enterprise-level application targeted at law firms with at least 25 timekeepers. But because it is Web-based and works in a browser, nothing is installed on the timekeeper’s desktop.

The company will customize Smart Time so that it integrates with virtually any billing system. “We’re agnostic in pulling data and in writing data,” Smart WebParts CEO Todd Gerstein told me during a demonstration of the product.

“Smart Time improves the accuracy, completeness and velocity of time entry,” Gerstein said. Lawyers in beta tests reported finding an average of 1.5 hours a week they otherwise would have lost, he told me.

The cost of an annual subscription is $17,500 for the first 25 timekeepers and another $995 for each additional group of 25. For firms of 200 or more lawyers, the annual price is $75 to $85 per person.

Government 2.0
Both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently launched significantly redesigned websites, each with nods to Web 2.0 and social media. Around the same time, the Government Printing Office relaunched the Federal Register in an updated format.

The Justice Department site, found at www.justice.gov, was launched Oct. 1 and is described as an attempt to enhance the department’s openness and transparency. In addition to a cleaner and more modern design, the site now includes a blog, The Justice Blog.

The site also integrates with popular social media sites for sharing news and information. That means that the Justice Department now has a Twitter feed and pages on Facebook, YouTube and MySpace. Links to all of these can be found on the website’s front page. The site also has its own photo and video galleries.

The USPTO’s new site also has a cleaner and more modern design. It features improved navigation, enhanced search capabilities, and a self-service area for quick access to information and data products.

It does not appear that there is new content on the USPTO site. Rather, the content is more intuitively arranged and easier to find. Like the Justice Department’s site, the USPTO’s has a video library. But I believe the videos were available on the site before the redesign. They include three public service ads and a 27-minute history and tour of the USPTO.

The new version of the Federal Register is part of the federal government site Data.gov, www.data.gov. The change is that issues dating back to 2000 are now available in a format known as XML, or Extensible Markup Language. XML is a simple, text-based format that makes data easier to adapt to multiple uses.

With the Federal Register available in XML format, users will now be able to more easily download, store and use it in their own applications. For lawyers, that could mean the development of new e-mail alerts and other tools to help them track topics of particular interest to their practices.

Mary Alice Baish, director of government relations for the American Association of Law Libraries, told the Washington Post that her members are delighted with the update.

“We see law libraries being able to use the data for empirical research by law professors who want to track agency activities. For being able to track trends in the regulated industries. Even for studies of semantics and language.”

Robert Ambrogi, who practices law in Rockport, Mass., is the former editor of
National Law Journal and Lawyers Weekly USA. He is internationally known for his writing about the Internet and technology. He is the author of three blogs, which can be read at www.legaline.com.

© 2009 Robert Ambrogi

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