By LawReader Senior Editor Stan Billingsley Jan. 1, 2009
Today LawReader observes its first decade of existence. How far we have come during those exciting years. An expert advised us recently, that if all the materials contained on LawReader where placed in hard bound books and placed in library stacks, that our library would cover the surface of 6.5 basketball courts. By placing all of this content online, we have saved a good sized forest. We at LawReader share a standing joke. If we had known how much work it takes to be competitive in the legal research business, we probably would never have undertaken this task. But in looking back, we are glad we accepted this challenge, and we are very proud of our ten years of growth. We are most proud however of the comments of our users who tell us that LawReader has made them more successful in their practice of law.We set out to compete with two, billion dollar (foreign owned) corporations, for a piece of the legal research pie. That was cheeky indeed. The early years we struggled along with the effort to accumulate data, forms, articles, and resources. Having served as a District Judge I regularly saved cases, orders, briefs, and tips on how to practice law. We raided my library and everyone else’s to build up a data base that we believe now exceeds the Law Digest offered by our competitor.
Our initial goal was to build a data base that provided assistance to Kentucky lawyers and judges on how to practice law in Kentucky. We have not attempted to be all things to all lawyers in the U.S. and on a national scale. We have carved out a niche and that is the State of Kentucky.
Our first major improvement came when we were able to enter into a licensing agreement with VersusLaw to provide a 50 state case law data base. Now we were able to offer an alternative to Westlaw and Lexis. Our next step three years later was to enter into a licensing agreement with FastCase, a case law data base used by the Florida Bar Association (and many others). We felt that FastCase was better than VersusLaw and our users agreed.
One of the big problems in hosting a web site is learning how to use the software. As a novice with little computer training I had great difficulty in learning how to make bookmarks, hyperlinks, tables, and how to post data. We flew in my niece Eva Wakefield from Maryland on several occasions and she finally was able to provide me that Eureka moment when it all began to make sense. Eva was very important to us at a critical moment. We still call on Eva from time to time to work out technical issues.
Mike McMain, President of LawReader, Inc, is a partner in Busald, Funk & Zevely in Florence. He has provided invaluable business advice and guidance along the way. He also has provided numerous legal forms which are very widely used.
We have had the benefit of a number of technical consultants. Among the people who have helped us set up and improve our technical infrastructure no one has done more for LawReader than Brad Scott.
Brad is now an advertising executive in New York City. He is one of the top consultants in the world regarding the use of the internet for advertising. He designed for us a web site system that vastly improved our ability to store and deliver our massive data base of legal materials, and he constantly provided ideas for updates and improvements. We have seven search engines that he set up for us, that allows the most specific search capability in the industry. Brad is married to Tasha Scott who practices law in Florence, Kentucky.
Our first meeting with Brad went badly, as I forgot about a dinner meeting we had set up, and I failed to appear. Fortunately he forgave me for this egregious mistake, and agreed to a second meeting. As we drank coffee from Starbucks in a Cincinnati restaurant, he outlined for us some ideas that were far above our skill levels, but we were impressed by him, and (with a grant from the Rural Innovations program of the State of Kentucky for $25,000 ) we were able to employ him to completely redesign our web site and to write the new software that we are still using.
I remember we set up one meeting with Brad at the Metropolitan Club in Covington, and he came to the meeting wearing blue jeans. The Club manager wrote me a letter about the dress code violation of our guest. Never mind they were $100 designer jeans, and he was just back from a world tour where he spoke on his craft to audiences in London, England, Los Angeles, New York City, and Sydney, Australia. Brad can wear jeans to any meeting with me anytime …anywhere.
I am a lawyer and can’t read a line of code, but it is not important to be able to write software code when you have a genius like Brad to show you how to use the code.
Brad had contacted us and said he was willing to work with us because he was impressed with our large data base. I remember he commented that a lot of sites have fancy web interfaces, but no content. We were just the opposite and he felt that we had potential.
Brad had just come from Silicon Valley in California and the internet bubble had just burst. He was very aware that many web ventures had raised a lot of money but had never developed any useful content and as a result had failed. He understand our dream and was extremely important in helping us take big steps forward.
We also appreciate the assistance of the University of Louisville. Their internet people gave us needed guidance and advice as we worked out our original business plan.
We must note that we had searched for over a year for a consultant and designer, and had wasted time and money on several designers who just couldn’t comprehend what we were trying to do. One designer we consulted with tried to pass off a web site interface to us that was offered for free on the internet. Another balked at the amount of work involved. Several consultants wanted to change us to meet their needs, and we needed someone to design a system that conformed to our concept on how lawyers search for the law.
Brad listened to us and guided us and we put our trust in him, and in a few months we had a new interface and software that made vast improvements in our ability to deliver highly focused legal research materials.
In 2003, my wife Gwen retired from the food service industry where she was a Sales Manager for Stouffer’s Frozen Foods and Nestle Corporation. Some retirement, she was immediately brought on as our Chief Executive Officer (making her my boss).
Gwen handles the business end of LawReader and oversees our staff. Over the years she has taken on more and more duties, and I must admit she works harder than I do.
It wasn’t until l999 that the internet became fast enough to make searching for data a viable endeavor. Before that it was really faster to walk into a library pull down a law book and look up a case. But when an alternative to dial up access to the internet became available in l999 we were ready to launch LawReader. Continued improvements in the internet have made online legal research a functional alternative to printed books.
LawReader maintains an extensive law library in our office, but frankly we very seldom have a need to use it, since our national case law data base is so extensive, and so fast to search. One big advantage to online research is that when you find a case or a citation of the law, you can copy it and paste it into your working document or brief. We often hear from our users, that they have cancelled all subscriptions to printed law books, and they now rely entirely on LawReader. This means a savings to each law office of thousands of dollars a year.
In 2003 we began a feature that provides a weekly synopsis of all Kentucky Appellate decisions. This feature allows lawyers to quickly scan over the important issues raised in appellate decisions for the week, and when the user finds a case that relates to their practice they can immediately call up the full text of the case.
In 2006 we implemented an annotated version of the Kentucky Revised Statutes. We continue to update that resource, and are very proud of its acceptance by the legal profession. What a time saver. What a lot of work…but we are committed to expanding and improving this important resource.
In 2005 Judge Stephen Horner of Louisville began writing a weekly column for LawReader which examines Kentucky politics and state government. His widely read column is non-partisan and seeks to inform our users on what is happening in Frankfort. His ability to find out what is happening behind the scene is amazing.
In 2007 former Chase Law School professor Marty Huelsmann monitored every decision by the Ky. Supreme Court, and in 2008 published a detailed study of the Ky. Supreme Court for LawReader. This valuable study shows the value of a resource such as LawReader and points out the possibility of future projects that will help influence the development of the law.
Our office staff have been invaluable We particularly recognize the efforts of Shelly Chappell and Becky Kinman in carrying the heavy weight of the business end of LawReader. Paralegals Monique and Amy have kept us moving forward in our ongoing annotation project. There are many contribution lawyers and judges who have submitted forms, content, and suggestions to LawReader. We particularly want to recognize Jan Shaw who was of great assistance in annotating the Rules of Evidence and Rules of Procedure as well as contributing her well read article on Adoption procedures.
The introduction of online legal research represents the most significant change in the practice of law since the invention of the typewriter. We are proud to have been a part of the revolution. We predict a growing need for internet publishing, and we predict that the legal profession will lead the growth in this new industry.
We continue to note that Kentucky is the only state with a resource like LawReader. Considering the cost and the hard work required, we understand this. We predict that someday every state will have a similar resource, and don’t be surprised if LawReader leads the way.
One of our most valuable resources is our users. They have provided ideas and suggestions for content, and projects, and we take every suggestion seriously. We are a business, and our subscribers are essential in helping us make this thing work.
We are looking forward to many new additions to LawReader in the future.
But today we will pause for a moment, lift a glass of cheer as we celebrate our Tenth Anniversary, and we look forward to our Twentieth Anniversary. We thank everyone who has helped us to be pioneers in this new industry.