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It has been a source of easy humor: 30 law firms banding together as an online buying co-op. When it was announced, LawCommerce.com appeared to be Staples for lawyers, only perhaps not as inexpensive. The game took a serious turn early this month, when Lexis-Nexis, the legal research giant, invested “millions” in LawCommerce, put its president on the board and, most important, pledged to feature the brand on all its sites. Not only does this give the fledgling legal marketplace a public home, but it also represents the most recent turn in the continuing Lexis vs. West competition. The Lexis link gives LawCommerce credibility and visibility. Lexis is part of the huge Reed-Elsevier publishing empire, which includes Martindale-Hubbell and Shepard’s. According to LawCommerce Chief Executive Officer and founder Richard Harroch, his site will appear on all of their home pages. “We will be able to piggyback on existing activities of Lexis in terms of marketing,” says Harroch, who is also a partner at San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. He adds that the Lexis sales team will be pushing the site, too. But what exactly will be sold? That’s still not clear. The site is still in the “planning and design” stage. When it entered the dot-com arena with a flurry of ads and publicity in midsummer, LawCommerce.com announced that it would provide a business-to-business platform offering everything from technology services to legal pads, and even temporary staffing services. The offerings at LawCommerce.com have yet to become available, although Harroch claims that the site should be operative in a month and a half. Meanwhile, LawCommerce.com continues to share office digs with Orrick. Harroch says that he is in the process of looking for a new space, as well as hiring new employees. Lexis-Nexis will be the first legal vendor to join the ranks of LawCommerce.com investors, a group that includes a number of law firms, Ernst & Young and Andersen Consulting. The charter members of LawCommerce.com’s advisory board are a group of 33 prominent law firms. According to Mark Feighery, a spokesman for Lexis-Nexis, the company will be the exclusive sponsor for LawCommerce.com’s research channel. “Principally, what we have in mind is our relationships with our customers,” says Feighery. “It really gives us some new opportunities with the largest law firms in the country. We think customers will benefit from the purchasing power available on the LawCommerce.com site.” Feighery says that Lexis-Nexis was not reacting to West Group’s WestWorks product when they made the deal with LawCommerce.com. WestWorks is a much-anticipated, Web-based suite of tools that will include time-and-billing, case management and document assembly applications, not to mention legal research. The new arrangement sets the stage for a new form of West vs. Lexis competition: Who has the most allies to promote on competing desktops? A spokesperson for West refused to comment on the Lexis investment. LawCommerce may drive down prices for some services, but not for legal research. According to Feighery, a Lexis-Nexis product, lexisONE, already exists that caters to sole practitioners and small firms. Lexis just released the second phase of that product last week; the upgrade will offer more than 6,000 free legal documents and forms. Harroch says that apart from marketing and sales, LawCommerce will work with Lexis-Nexis on developing a research center for a suite of research software. There will also be online continuing legal education courses available, as well as books and CD-ROMs. Some continue to ask whether lawyers, who tend to be adversarial by nature, will be willing to participate in an online community of buying and selling. Jack Ward — an Internet consultant at Loki Technologies, a company that offers consulting and Web development services to law firms — thinks that the idea may catch on. “Law firms are becoming more and more tech-savvy,” says Ward. “People buy computers on the Internet as matter of course. … I don’t think lawyers are that much different in that regard.” He sees LawCommerce’s relationship with Lexis-Nexis as a positive move. “Another major hurdle to [LawCommerce's] success is raising awareness in the community,” Ward explains. He hopes that they succeed: “I would like to see more business being done on the Web.” Until LawCommerce actually launches, nobody is seeing much of anything. Certainly the partnership is good news for LawCommerce. But is it good news for the lawyers who are its targeted market? That remains to be seen. Please e-mail comments and suggested topics for the “Lawyers and Technology” column to [email protected].

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