What Price, Captain?

Yesterday I saw, and thoroughly enjoyed, the new Star Trek movie.  It’s fun, and funny with some terrific lines.   But one of my favorite all-time movie lines comes from the 1987 film Spaceballs:

          Prepare ship for ludicrous speed!

It was spoken by Colonel Sandurz, following this dialog:

Colonel Sandurz: Prepare ship for light speed.
Dark Helmet: No, no, no, light speed is too slow.
Colonel Sandurz: Light speed, too slow?
Dark Helmet: Yes, we’re gonna have to go right to ludicrous speed.

An earlier post here,“Lawsuit alleges Chadbourne overcharged for computerized legal research,”cited Westlaw’s per-minute charge of $ 13.86 for its ALLSATES database.  I was citing from a 2006 Westlaw price list.  I have since found a more recent (April 2009) price list and, not surprisingly, the cost of this access is now higher.  Today the per-minute charge for using this database is $17.48.

Listed below are some of the prices for Westlaw database access as listed in the Pricing Guide for Private Price Plans (April 2009) brochure:

Per Minute Charges
All Federal and State Cases     $20.98
All Federal Cases       $17.48
All U.S. Supreme Court Cases    $8.95
U.S. Courts of Appeals Cases    $17.48
U.S. District Courts Cases      $17.48
All State Cases         $17.48
Individual State Cases  $8.95
United States Code Annotated    $10.50
Individual State Statutes Annotated     $10.50
Code of Federal Regulations     $8.95
Texts and Periodicals   $23.87
American Law Reports    $20.98
American Jurisprudence 2d       $17.48
Federal Practice and Procedure  $13.75
Journals and Law Reviews        $17.48
All News        $17.48

Remember that that’s per minute.  Multiple some of those numbers by 60 to see what an hour fishing online would cost.

The other billing method listed in the brochure by “Transactional Charges.”  A “transaction,” as I understand it, is a “search” – i.e., once in a database, entering a query and then pressing the “Search” button — ka-ching.  Here are some of these costs:

Transactional Charges
(no connect time or communications charges)

All Federal and State Cases     $194.00
All Federal Cases       $120.00
U.S. Supreme Court Cases        $61.00
U.S. Courts of Appeals Cases    $73.00
U.S. District Courts Cases      $73.00
All State Cases         $120.00
Individual State Cases  $61.00
State and Federal Cases         $120.00
United States Code Annotated   $73.00
Individual State Statutes Annotated    $73.00
Code of Federal Regulations     $66.00
Texts and Periodicals   $244.00
American Law Reports     $120.00
American Jurisprudence 2d       $90.00
Federal Practice and Procedure         $104.00
Journals and Law Reviews        $120.00
All News        $120

The price list also identifies “Per Minute Billing Classifications” which includes Specialty databases ($ 12.45/minute), Premium databases ($ 13.75 per minute), Allfile databases ($ 17.48 per minute), Super Allfile databases ($ 20.98 per minutes), Select databases ($ 23.87 per minute), Super Premium databases ($ 26.17 per minute), Super Select databases ($ 30.97 per minutes), Super-Duper Select databases (if you have to ask you can’t afford it), and Super-Duper Blow-my-Mind databases (priceless).  Okay, I made those last two up.

Westlaw has a terrific feature called ResultsPlus, which suggests additional resources based upon the research queries — often to valuable resources not considered by the researcher.  It’s impressive, and it has its own set of costs:  ResultsPlus Standard ($ 11.42 per minute), ResultsPlus Premium ($ 17.68 per minute), ResultsPlus Allfiles ($ 22.57 per minute), ResultsPlus Super Allfiles ($ 27.75 per minute), ResultsPlus Select ($ 30.98 per minute) and ResultsPlus Super Premium ($ 34.02 per minute).

All of the above charges are to find and view documents.  Printing and/or downloading has its own sets of associated fees.  Under “Line Pricing,” identified in the brochure as the default, “[c]harges to print and download documents range from $0.045 to $0.65 per line.”  Under “Per-Document Pricing (Flat Rate Per Document),” [c]harges to print and download documents range from $5.00 to $50.00 per document.

The brochure also lists separate fees for viewing some images, fees for clipping services, fees for KeyCite Alert, Docket Alert, Transactional Citation Research Charges, Per Minute Citation Research Charges, and Charges for Previewing Documents in the Link Viewer.

I do not mean to focus only on Westlaw.  LexisNexis pricing is similar — I just don’t have a pricing list handy for LexisNexis.  And these are great resources — one reason why I’ll never retire is that I could not give up my personal LexisNexis and Westlaw accounts.  And we law schools do not pay the above prices — we pay a flat rate, for unlimited academic use.  My only beef with West (and other legal publishers) is their annual price increases that far outpace our budget increases (For United States Code and Congressional News, for example, published by West, we’re being billed $ 568.44, a 24% increase over the $ 459 that we paid last year).

Time is money, and both LexisNexis and Westlaw are attorney time time-savers.  Saving an hour of an associate’s time could save the client somewhere around $ 300.00 or more.  But still:  When we share this pricing information with our students, their eyes do grow very wide.

But most law firms, I’m told, have negotiated flat-rate contracts for much of their LexisNexis and/or Westlaw access.

And in my opinion, one cannot perform fully adequate legal research today without access to LexisNexis or Westlaw (or possibly Bloomberg Law).  That’s today anyway.  Tomorrow remains to be seen.

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One thought on “What Price, Captain?

  1. Do you have any figures on what it costs to keep an up-to-date book library, including Shepard’s services? I’m wondering whether it would cost a lot less to have associates research in books at a dedicated in-house library. The library would require space and staff, while computers require just a portion of the IT staff’s help. And the library requires more of an associate’s time, of course, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I always liked thinking about the case while I was surrounded by books, sitting in the quiet of the library.

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