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Legal research and writing services are quietly shaking up the law business, wooing corporate counsel with cost-cutting tools and offering products that extend well beyond traditional research memos and court briefs. The market is vast. Virtually every lawyer is a possible client, and legal research companies cater to storefront solos as well as mammoth corporations. Even the big-firm market may crack open as in-house lawyers urge outside counsel to trim hours and fees by shipping out heavy-duty (and time-consuming) research projects. Some legal research and writing houses have been around for decades, but new ones are popping up. “It’s absolutely a growth industry,” says Robert M. Unterberger, founder and president of Legal Writing Success LLC, who says hits on his Web site soared from 2,000 per month in 1999, when his company first went online, to today’s tally of roughly 50,000 per month. Dov Seidman, chairman and chief executive officer of LRN, a Los Angeles consultancy, said last quarter was his best ever, citing one factor as cost-effective outsourcing. The research and writing end of the business generally follows one of two formats: assigning projects to an on-site crew of attorneys or tapping into a network of lawyer-researchers. Since 1969, the National Legal Research Group has supplied lawyers with research memos, briefs and the like from Charlottesville, Va., where roughly 45 attorney-researchers now work onsite. Most business comes from firms of one to 15 attorneys, which pay from $85 to $130 per hour, said Al Mirmelstein, marketing vice president. For a fee, the company will also produce four issues of “Report from Counsel,” a newsletter tailored to clients of a particular lawyer or firm. Unterberger is happy to let other research companies vie for huge corporate clients. The Web site he created to confer with students in his legal research and writing classes inspired his electronic-commerce model that offers attorneys service at any time. A national network of 125 attorneys provides legal research, writing and consulting services for a market comprised mainly of firms with one to 10 attorneys, and general counsel to smaller companies. But about one-third of Unterberger’s business comes from offering writing guidance to expert witnesses and from providing legal writing guidance to law students or those in college with an eye on law school. Everybody pays $100 per hour, except in exceptional cases. SEEKING IN-HOUSE BUSINESS Other companies are ramping up services aimed at in-house counsel at major corporations. A two-man operation back in 1978, Minneapolis’ Legal Research Center Inc. today has about 80 core staff attorneys. The company provides work product databases and online legal compliance training programs for corporate clients. In two years, Legal Research Center has expanded its Internet-delivered corporate legal compliance training from seven to 130 courses, said CEO Christopher Ljungkull. Supplying content to legal publishers is another important source of business, he said. A network of 1,700 legal experts is one calling card of LRN. Seidman said his company’s business goal is to help in-house lawyers and private firms “create, manage and disseminate legal knowledge.” LRN goes after big corporate fish: Seidman said that corporate counsel for Johnson & Johnson, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. and Motorola Inc. each issue guidelines for outside counsel listing LRN as the “preferred provider” of legal research. Under increasing pressure to keep legal bills down, in-house counsel turn to research houses to save the hours that are consumed by large research projects, or to save them in a pinch. Outsourcing saved New York attorney Michele Bonsignore. She said her son found the Legal Writing Success Web site one weekend when Bonsignore was rushing off to Europe on a business emergency — with a Monday deadline for a court filing stateside. For Bonsignore, the general counsel to two trucking firms and four construction companies, giving research and writing projects to Legal Writing Success frees up time to serve her clients. “Anything that gives you an edge is a good thing,” she said.

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