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Column no. 2. April 1995
Copyright 1995 Robert J. Ambrogi
Online Services Battle For Lawyers' Loyalty
By Robert J. Ambrogi
Two of the nation's largest legal publishers are competing for your affections online. Which, if either, deserves your heart (and credit card)?
American Lawyer Media -- the folks who bring you American Lawyer magazine, Court TV and a spattering of state legal newspapers -- led the charge two years ago with Counsel Connect. (A joint venture later made the name Lexis Counsel Connect.)
In November, the publisher of the National Law Journal and New York Law Journal entered the fray with its online service, Law Journal Extra.
Each wants to be the online service for lawyers. So far, if for no reason other than age and experience, LCC holds the edge. Its strength is the depth and breadth of its users and the contributions they make to the service. But LJX, as the new kid in town, brings a livelier interface and greater ease of use. It also makes much better use of resources available on the Internet.
LJX also is cheaper, although not significantly and only if you keep your online time under eight hours.
The competition is sure to become even more intense this spring, when West Publishing unveils its online service, The West Network.
What Are These Services
Online services offer easy entry to the information superhighway. Several are available to the general public, with America Online and Compuserve the most popular. They provide electronic mail, news and weather, shopping, discussion groups, downloadable files, and other enhancements. Most offer limited Internet access.
LCC and LJX are attempts to tailor online services to lawyers. Like other services, they offer e-mail, news and Internet gateways. Unlike the others, they provide legal discussion forums, law libraries, and features such as brief banks and online seminars.
These services are much like the bar associations of the new electronic world. They offer conversation, networking, CLE, support and resources. Unlike bar associations, you can participate directly from your office (or home), whenever is convenient.
With Age Comes Advantage
The best reason to join one of these lawyers-only services is for the opportunity to network with lawyers nationwide. Just about everything else they offer -- e-mail, reference, news, etc. -- can be found elsewhere online, at less cost. LCC and LJX offer the only places in Cyberspace where lawyers can hang out with other lawyers.
In this regard, LCC stands out. Although both services offer a variety of discussion groups in which lawyers can "chat" about legal and professional topics, discussions on LJX are often lonely affairs, whereas discussions on LCC are lively and better attended.
Where else can you discuss ethics with noted New York University professor Stephen Gillers, moderator of LCC's ethics forum? Where else can you chat with Steven Brill, AmLaw president, about the "LawBiz," the forum he moderates on LCC. LCC has national, topical and state-specific forums, most of which generally offer something interesting.
Over at LJX, on the other hand, discussion moderators sometimes seem to be whispering in the wind. The moderator posts a topic, but there the discussion ends. No one, it seems, is listening.
The publisher of LJX, Joseph Lamport, asserts that it is only a matter of numbers and time before LJX discussions achieve the participation of those on LCC. To encourage activity, LJX is hosting a series of special forums. LJX is also courting professional organizations. Recently, the American Corporate Counsel Association made LJX its "official" online service.
Still, if you had to decide between a party at which all the guests had arrived and were having a fine time and another at which the host and a few friends sat waiting for the doorbell, which would you choose?
LJX, on the other hand, has the edge in substantive information. Both offer "libraries" of legal resources. In most cases, the resources are already available elsewhere on the Internet or on some other online service. But LJX and LCC pull together many of the most important and then embellish these libraries with their own offerings.
Both have the full text of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Only LJX has recent U.S. Circuit Court decisions. Both offer limited state appellate court decisions. LJX provides recent cases from California, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan. LCC offers either full text or summaries from California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas and Washington. It periodically posts other court decisions that are of national interest. LCC has a gateway to Lexis, but you must have a Lexis account. LCC also allows you to order opinions by e-mail from Lexis, at $4 each.
Beyond court decisions, LJX has the most useful library, if only for its fairly comprehensive collection of links to other Internet resources. LCC, on the other hand, offers a limited but interesting collection of legal memoranda, model documents, and various complaints, briefs and other pleadings.
Both services are a bit provincial. LJX includes a far more comprehensive library of New York materials than for any other jurisdiction. Indeed, for most jurisdictions it has nothing. By the same token, LCC offers the most to states in which AmLaw publishes newspapers: California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey and Texas.
A Look At Pricing
LJX offers simpler and cheaper pricing: $10 per month membership and $10 per hour of access. Thus, if you use LJX for three hours in a given month, you will be charged $40.
LCC is $15 a month, which includes a half hour of access (an hour if you subscribe to an AmLaw periodical). Beyond that, LCC charges $15 an hour, but after five hours, online time is free. This means that the most you ever pay is $82.50 a month ($15 an hour for 4.5 hours online plus $15 membership fee).
Thus, if you use the service only an hour or two a month, LJX is cheaper, although not significantly. But if you become an online regular, LCC may be the better bargain. (See chart.)
Lawyers already on the Internet can access LJX directly through the World Wide Web for a flat subscription of $15 a month, with no time charges.
Both provide "gateways" to the Internet, meaning that users can access areas of the Internet directly though these services. The most fascinating and fastest-growing portion of the Internet is the World Wide Web, where text, graphics and even sound combine to create exciting resources. Unfortunately, exploring the Web from either LCC or LJX is disappointing; both provide only a textual link, meaning browsers cannot view the Web's graphics.
As of this writing, both services were promising imminent release of graphical Web browsers. LCC is including Netscape -- the best Web browser currently available -- in its new Windows software, due out by mid-April. I reviewed a preliminary version of this software and was impressed by its speed and graphics. LJX has been promising for two months that it is all but ready to release its new graphical browser, but so far, it has yet to deliver. Subscribers with some other Web browser can access LJX via the World Wide Web and get a preview of its new graphical interface. (http://www.ljextra.com)
This may, nevertheless, be much ado about nothing. It makes little sense to rely on either service for Internet access, because both are more expensive than other access providers. If your goal is to surf the Net, don't do it here unless your pockets are deep.
Comparing The Software
When you subscribe to LCC or LJX, they send you a disk with the software you need to access them. In both cases, the software is easy to install, requiring little more than inserting the disk and typing the appropriate command.
Once logged on, both have an attractive, graphical main menu. But beyond the main menu, all similarity stops. LCC abandons the graphics in favor of an old-fashioned looking, text-based interface. Call up a document, and on your screen appears a small block of text, which you discover is the first in a series of "slides," each containing the next block of text.
Worse, the slide show often failed. On several occasions, text became garbled and illegible. Then came a message, "slide show init failed," and the program closed down. A technician at LCC's 800 number seemed unfamiliar with the problem, even though I have spoken to other users who have experienced it. He later sent me an e-mail suggesting that I change my modem configuration. It did not work.
The preliminary version of LCC's new Windows software that I tested promised vast improvements. Gone is the "slide show" that was the source of most of my problems. In its place are enhanced and informative graphical menus.
LJX's software, in contrast, is clean in appearance and easy to use. Menus are well organized, and when you make a selection, the software responds quickly. If I were to choose a service based only on software, there would be no contest.
News And More
Both services offer news headlines and databases. LJX carries news from Associated Press, LCC from Reuters and Lexis/Nexis. Both also have news and features from their own publications. LCC is the only one to offer help-wanteds.
A nice feature of LCC is its ability to allow you access to online stock quotes and keep track of your personalized portfolio.
Both services have online user guides and regular announcements of new services and featured forums. For the computer illiterate among us, LCC includes a "Technology 101" glossary.
The best reason to join one of these services is to network with other lawyers. For that, LCC is the better choice; its forums are active and almost always interesting. Although there are bugs in its software, its new software, due out any day now, appears to cure them. But check back with LJX periodically. The new kid claims already to be well ahead of where LCC was when it was only a few months old.
Robert J. Ambrogi is a lawyer and arbitrator and the former editor of Lawyers Weekly USA and Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (978) 546-7898.