Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bloomberg BNA Releases Open Access "Big Law Business" Platform Targeting Law Firm Partners and In-House Counsel

Just when it appeared that Lexis was about to corner the legal news market (ALM, Law360, WSJ Law Blog), Bloomberg BNA is announcing today the release of a new open access community platform called “Big Law Business.”   Big Law Business   delivers  articles, podcasts, videos, twitter feeds,  polls and white papers focused on the unique concerns of partners, GCs and  Law firm executives at AmLaw 200 firms. One unique feature is moderated online discussion.  Law firm leaders and GCs can join moderated online communities and exchange ideas on best practices, innovations as well as legal issues.

Scott Mozarsky, President, Cross Platform Businesses, Bloomberg BNA is quoted in the press release: “Big Law Business will provide visitors ample opportunities to engage with those in similar roles at law firms and corporations and benefit from shared insights and wisdom.”   When Greg McCaffery was appointed CEO of Bloomberg BNA in 2012 he signaled Bloomberg’s intention to supplement the traditional practice of law platform with new content which focuses on "the business of law." Today they are taking one more step in implementing that strategic focus. 
Bloomberg's Big Law Business Platform


I predicted in 2011 that Bloomberg would ultimately leverage their multimedia talent pool  for their legal product. Bloomberg has recruited editorial talent from their news and  tv production  divisions. Big Law Business has a clean professionally produced  look and feel. About 50% of the content will be contributed by independent “thought leaders” recruited from the Amlaw 200 community,  academia and the commercial ventures and support the practice of “Big Law.”

Above the Fold

I was given a prelaunch tour of the product. The Big Law Business Platform currently offers 4 major ”communities of interest” which are aligned with potential members roles: Managing Partners, In House Counsel, Marketing/Business Developers and Technologists. I am surprised that they have not yet added  a section for professionals involved in Knowledge Management/Process Improvement which are key initiatives driving  both the competitive position and the profitability of Amlaw 200 firms.

Bloomberg is not known for embracing open platforms. The login procedure for early versions of BLaw actually required lawyers to provide a biometric thumb scan. Until recently they would not allow BLaw content to be accessed using IP authentication-- which is  routinely allowed my most legal information providers. Bloomberg does have a history of making contrarian moves, so as Lexis locks down the news, Bloomberg  is throwing open the gates.

      Casey Sullivan, Senior Director of the Big Law Business Community  will oversee the moderation of comments.   The site is built on the assumption that there is an appetite for more community engagement. Any comments placed on the Site need to be relevant to the Big Law Community. This community includes current and former members of AmLaw 200 Law Firms, in-house counsel, vendors who support big law practice, academics and industry observers. According to Sullivan “We won’t allow community members to throw up an advertisement in a comment to promote their own business. The comments should be thoughtful. The best comments will offer original ideas, opinions, best practices and analyses of industry wide issues."

Touching the Hot Buttons

The Bloomberg Law product has always marketed itself as being both a business and legal research platform which offered a unique value proposition to partners. Breaking with the traditional legal research cost recovery model, Bloomberg had no meter running because a firm paid an annual subscription for unlimited access. Like the Bloomberg terminal in the financial sector – the product was positioned as a desktop utility that a lawyer should simply keep open on their desktop for use as needed through the day. The use case  is that BLaw allows a  partner to launch their BLaw account in the morning and easily locate information on clients using the “go bar command ” to retrieve company profiles, executive profiles, financials all delivered in a click. The Big Law Business platform appears to be a tool for building both brand awareness and goodwill at the partner level. I have to presume that this is a gambit to increase the adoption of Bloomberg Law in Amlaw 200 law firms.

It is a given that law firms are competing for the attention of In-House Counsel. So the creation of an online community plays to the most fundamental business development and competitive instincts of lawyers. Every lawyer needs to be a rainmaker. Opportunities to gain insights and access to corporate GCs from the comfort of your own desktop are coveted. To this end, Big Law Business will prominently feature video interviews with  In House Counsel. They will also provide GC profiles and the chance to engage GC in the Chat discussions or build the law firms brand by adding publications and commentary to the site.

The Competition

Blaw is  not actually the first company  to offer an online chat community to lawyers. David Johnson, a former partner from Wilmer Cutler and Pickering created a platform with American Lawyer Media called Counsel Connect in the mid 1990s.  It may have been an idea that was two decades ahead of its time. The world and even Big Law partners have a much higher awareness and openness to online social engagement in the 21st century. Big Law Business also plays to lawyers consciousness of being part of a very exclusive club a factor which may drive more traffic and engagement One issue that argues against participation is the strong branding control exerted by law firm marketing department. It is a lot harder to be spontaneous in the more self conscious and controlled marketing regime which exists in most big law firms today.

Big Law Business is competing with the Memisis Law site which was created by former Bloomberg video host, Lee Pacchia which offers similar video interviews of thought leaders on hot topics. The site has some resemblance to ALMs re-launched  Law.com platform which also offers communities and  a mix of crowd-sourced and editorial content. I anticipate that  Bloomberg  will develop their own brand of law firm rankings before too long. 

I was baffled when Bloomberg did not purchase American Lawyer Media last year when it was up for sale, and now I know why. They planned to complete directly and build their own business of law brand... and they are doing it as “free ware” rather than entering the market only after convincing firms to pay a fee for admission. It is also a dramatic change from the positioning of BLaw which entered the legal market at the high end of the pricing spectrum. Big law partners now have a new source of business intelligence and a platform for client engagement at the best possible price – free!

Access:
Big Law Business is located at http://bol.bna.com/

Subscribe  to Updates:       Anyone can subscribe to receive our Big Law Business newsletter by clicking on a “Sign Up for Our Email Newsletter” icon on the website. There are no restrictions regarding who can view the Site since it will be public.BOL will also provide RSS feeds.
 

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