Westlaw Small Law: The Value of Legal Subscription Based Services

July 10, 2012

In full disclosure I am compelled to admit that subscriptions consume most of my disposable attention.  I am professionally occupied by delivering services that make software, information, and web platforms productive for legal professionals.

In preparing to write this post I also came to the uncomfortable realization that one fourth of my personal income is committed to products and services supported by subscriptions.  I decided to stop counting and to start considering why.

A subscription pricing model is a mechanism to support the infrastructure, technology, staffing, and risk behind many of the products and services consumers consider to be essential; however, necessity drives the true value behind subscription based products and services – both for the provider and consumer.  The subscriptions I maintain definitely hold true to this necessity. Consider a product and service combination I view to be essential to my personal and professional life – my mobile phone and its maintenance program.

My phone is really smart:

  • It makes calls
  • Manages my calendar
  • Surfs the web with ease
  • Best of all, plays movies that I watch while falling asleep

Behind my monthly subscription fee is an armada of transmission towers enabling my 4G web surfing speed and avoiding dropped calls.  It also takes a brigade of workers to field my many ridiculous pleas for technical assistance.  Simply put, the two year covenant I renew each time I get a new phone allows my provider the certainty and stability to invest in, and subsidize, the technology that keeps me on the cutting edge.

Providers of online legal research and law firm productivity software suites also exist in a symbiosis with their subscriber base.  Even a casual observer understands that the legal industry is challenged by the current economic climate.  Clients of law firms are not tolerating fee agreements and billing plans that were the norm just a few years ago.

As a result, law firms have needed to learn how to do more with less or risk insolvency.  The subscription model has enabled legal research and software providers to step in as partners to law firms in their pursuit of delivering better results to their clients and widening their own profit margins.

Nearly all of the major players, and some newcomers, in the online legal research and productivity software industry have recently expanded the utility of their products and services.  This was born of, and driven by, the necessity of a changing marketplace.  Law firm subscribers remain under pressure to perform for their clients and legal research providers have been enabled by those subscriptions to invest in the right way – some more than others.

Search technology has taken quantum leaps in the past three years.  Productivity tools have been added by the dozen.  Think folder sharing applications, mobile research technology, to free the attorney from the office, and truly efficient electronic document review tools.  Online legal research and productivity software applications are experiencing a renaissance driven by need and fueled by the symbiosis between subscribers and providers.  It is fun to watch happen.

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