The Death of Westlaw Contracts and Pricing

By
Charlie von Simson
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May 21, 2019
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Small Law

Prior to joining ROSS I spent six years as a partner in a two-lawyer firm specializing in intellectual property litigation. Our office was on William Street in lower Manhattan in a second floor office above a bagel store. We were lucky to have a talented assistant who could do anything (and is now a successful TV writer with several big HBO credits, I’m proud to report). We even got free bagels after we helped the bagel store owner in a beef with one of his vendors.

Our firm had all the ups and downs of many small practices.

On the upside, we worked for our clients first, ourselves second and nobody else. And my kids would come around the office after school to do their homework on the ratty couch in my office. I wouldn’t trade my years in that practice for anything.

On the downside, we were constantly faced with the tough economics of a small practice. Receivables varied widely from month to month. Getting dragged by a single big client could throw our budget way off target. Even in our best revenue quarters we were mindful that leaner times might follow.

Our biggest monthly expense after salaries and rent was our Westlaw subscription. Malpractice insurance was a minor expense in comparison. But we had a busy litigation practice and were aggressive about taking on out of state cases with the help of local counsel. Westlaw and Lexis were our only options. Making matters worse, Westlaw was only at all affordable if you signed a three year contract. I know from experience that West will threaten to sue you if you even raise the issue of early termination.

At ROSS, we know that many of our customers live the same upsides and downsides in their own practices. So when they told us that they wanted the best legal research tool at an affordable price without a long term contract, we listened. Our customers now have access to case law from all U.S. jurisdictions for $125 per month with only a monthly commitment.

Unlike ROSS, Westlaw hasn’t listened to anyone. Westlaw’s pricing for small firms is still based on access to limited state collections priced primarily for three year contracts. One and two year contracts are available only at higher monthly rates with higher built in yearly increases. For example, Westlaw’s “Essentials” plan for a two-lawyer firm includes only New York law for $100 per month for a three year term. Prices per month and annual increases grow if you try to select a shorter term agreement. Not a great deal.

Westlaw is an even worse deal when you try to buy a subscription that contains the same 50 state coverage offered by ROSS. To get complete case law on Westlaw you need to select their “Custom” plan. The selection process guides you through some basic questions. If you choose only 50 state coverage without specialized treatises and report to Westlaw that your two-lawyer firm specializes in civil litigation, Westlaw will charge you $730 per month. The prices goes up to $859 per month for a one-year subscription with a 7% annual increase baked in. That subscription actually appears to exclude some features that are included in the “Essentials” plan.

I loved my two-lawyer practice, but I’ve also been a partner on the technology committee of a 275 lawyer firm. Westlaw’s pricing in that environment is more flexible. There is no reason Westlaw can’t offer a better deal to small firms. We think Westlaw will ultimately be forced to listen to its customers and make its pricing competitive.

The death of Westlaw contracts and pricing is inevitable as pressure from companies like ROSS grows. But it isn’t going to happen soon. So you can wait for Westlaw to change its business model or think about switching to ROSS today.

Charlie von Simson

Charlie von Simson is a legal subject matter expert at ROSS. He practiced law for twenty years before running away to join a startup.