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West Group tried to license the eAccess docketing service from archrival LexisNexis. When the companies couldn’t agree on terms, West decided to build WestDockets. West Group and LexisNexis are the McDonald’s and Burger King of the legal technology world. When one of them rolls out something new, the other usually isn’t far behind. That has led to some big battles. Within the last 16 months, both companies have added low-cost legal research Web sites and jumped aggressively into the case management software market. Now the companies are competing on another front: electronic docket access. Lawyers often check dockets from cases they’re not involved in. They can check on an opposing counsel’s other cases or get a sense of how lawyers are handling cases similar to their own. Both West Group and LexisNexis know that lawyers will pay for the ability to search and retrieve court docket sheets online. They’ve been doing it for years. Over the last couple of years, Washington, D.C.-based CourtExpress and Bellevue, Wash.-based Courtlink Corp. have made good progress in peddling the service. West Group and LexisNexis noticed this and wanted a piece of the action. LexisNexis drew the first sword last fall, when it bought Courtlink. At the time Courtlink offered the ability to search dockets in all of the federal courts and more than 3,000 state courts. In March, West unveiled its own service, called WestDockets. WestDockets isn’t as comprehensive as LexisNexis’ product (now called eAccess). WestDockets covers about 80 percent of the nearly 200 federal courts and just one state system: New York’s. But West got WestDockets up and running quickly. Last November the product was still on the drawing board. At that point, Westlaw customers could actually access Courtlink through a link. But the link didn’t work flawlessly. Lawyers had to travel through both Courtlink’s gateway and West’s. The extra hurdle led to disconnections and error messages. Still, West liked Courtlink. So when LexisNexis announced the acquisition, West moved to renew the licensing agreement. “The negotiations went very smoothly and were totally in good faith,” says Linnea Grooms, the senior director of public records at West. “Unfortunately, we just couldn’t settle on terms we both liked.” When you can’t buy, you must make. So West plunged ahead with WestDockets. It’s too early to tell how the market is responding to WestDockets. At press time, WestDockets had 80 percent of the federal courts up and running and a handful of the larger state court systems. “Courts are becoming increasingly familiar with the concept of online docketing,” she says, “and we’ve developed a technology that lets us connect them very quickly.” Until then, LexisNexis will keep the upper hand. In one form or another, eAccess has been up and running for years. It also has functions that WestDockets lacks, such as an e-mail alert. West is also pricier, charging $30 per search, compared with the $5.50 that eAccess charges. “We bought the crown jewel of this industry,” says Ann Fullenkamp, the chief operating officer of LexisNexis/Courtlink. “West is playing a big game of catch-up.” Or did she say ketchup?

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