We need to open create a free and open database of legal knowledge (continued)
Sustainability: Though most people support open educational resources, altruism alone is an insufficient motive to make and share knowledge, particularly amid the competition of school. Though competitive campuses like Harvard Law will share some resources internally (see HL Central), few are willing to open their resources to the rest of the world.
For truly sustainable growth for the open law project, I posit that it must address the rest of the WestLaw and LexisNexis business model: legal search. In addition to books for students, WestLaw remains an invaluable resource for lawyers to search a compendium of US case law, sometime as costly as $100 per search and amounting to more than $3-billion in revenue per year. Imagine if Google charged for every time you clicked “search.” They would have a lucrative (yet impossible to maintain) business model of charging exorbitant fees for services with a marginal cost of nothing. If Google didn’t start free, then Yahoo or Bing would have forced it there soon enough. WestLaw and LexisNexis, however, have been charging ludicrous fees to search a free database for decades.
Though Google Law and others are seeking to subvert this market, the added value of WestLaw’s commentary can only be overcome by the cognitive surplus of a crowd of legal scholars everywhere. Imagine if a firm could search a database of legal cases with commentary and analysis contributed by legal scholars everywhere. If that firm found a rare case document with thorough and relevant commentary from a recent graduate, it is not hard to imagine that firm hiring that young lawyer for a brief but valuable (in terms of hourly fee and legal impact) consulting engagement. In short, this open law content could lead to another outcome we’ve been flirting with these last few posts: theMarketplace of Ideas.
Citation: Andrew Magliozzi
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