Francisco Goya: Saturn Devouring His Son

We recently heard a rumor that the preeminent law firm of Dorsey & Whitney dropped its long-held contract with Westlaw, the computerized legal research giant. If true, we think this is a positive development for the market for computerized legal research generally.

(Being a blogger and being a Dorsey alum (rather than a journalist), I felt odd contacting the firm for comment. Query whether this (running a “story” without confirmation) creates a “blogger ethics” problem? There are such things and we hope to adhere to them. We do not think such a call was required by them.)

We welcome the news. Westlaw has effectively held a near monopoly in computerized legal research in the United States for decades with Lexis-Nexis (and, really, no one else) in distant second place. As monopolies go, Westlaw has been fairly benign (compare Comcast). That is, in our view, Westlaw provides a great service; it is just the price that is exploitative. (Comcast (and other telcom providers with technological or geographically doled out monopolies) provide deeply flawed services and products at inflated prices.)

As almost every Minnesota lawyer knows Westlaw (West Publishing) has deep Minnesota roots although the business was sold to Thomson Reuters some years ago. Maybe some of us still feel a home-town allegiance (as, certainly, many of us know lawyers and others who work there).

On the other hand, Westlaw’s monopoly and its high price have been oppressive for law firms, large and small. We would think that lawyers, in particular, would recognize that signs of the shrinking power of a market giant are a positive development for the market’s consumers (that is, those that the monopoly has been devouring (or more, accurately parasitizing) for many years).

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