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Thread: is there a future for free legal content?

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    just me duncan drennan's Avatar
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    is there a future for free legal content?

    Paul Jacobson (an attorney from Joburg) has a question, Is there a future for free legal content or am I being a hippy? posted on his blog.

    EDIT: Added full blog post

    I was having a discussion with my partners in a new venture today about legal content, paid and free. The content I am referring to is the kind of content that you would find in a basic textbook on a variety of topics (employment, family law, business law and more). This sort of content is available primarily from two legal publishers who charge for access to this content and more specialised content. We were debating the viability of a very different model which involves this content being made available for free and, instead, the money is to be made on value added services and tools which take that basic content and make it more useful and relevant to users.

    The question (well one of them) was whether this is a sustainable business model (the one based on free legal content) or whether the only real way to build and sustain a business is to make portions of that content (either excerpts of the articles or selected articles) available for free and use that free stuff to persuade users to subscribe and access the balance of the content in full.

    I have my own thoughts on this and they tend towards what could be described as medial socialism. Then again, free love (in the content sense) may not pay the bills so I'd love to know what you think. Am I being a complete hippy or is there a sustainable and profitable model to be built on the back of free legal content that was formerly a valuable and expensive commodity?

    Read and comment on the full blog post, "Is there a future for free legal content or am I being a hippy?" by Paul Jacobson
    I know he would appreciate your comments on his blog.
    Last edited by Dave A; 31-Aug-10 at 09:17 AM. Reason: Added full blog post
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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    Great blog, great question...
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    OK. That last note was a bit tongue-in-cheek.

    Paul really raises something pretty important here. I did post a comment, but debated posting it here too as I think the blog post is well worth the read. So please take a moment to read it anyway. But here is my comment...
    Paul - This issue is bigger than just legal content. It's about any kind of information.

    I started The Forum SA as a free site pretty much as a cause and viewed the associated costs as somewhere between charity and R&D. I also realised that life tends to pay back in mysterious ways for that kind of effort - and some aspects of that are hard to pin down. I guess that's just the way it is. However, all those good intentions did not prevent some people who were trying to monetise content for the same target market from taking offense.

    Basically, if you're prepared to search hard enough, you can get just about any kind of information on the internet for free. The hard part is separating the wheat from the chaff. The strategy of having "pay-to-access" content seems blown out the window, and yet "pay-to-access" content sites still survive - even thrive. Of course, plenty fail too.

    Very recently we had a really thought provoking post on entrepreneurship (can be read at http://www.theforumsa.co.za/forums/showthread.php?t=625 for anyone interested). One of the random thoughts was "In a world of over-supply and commodification, you are no longer paid to supply. You're being paid to deliver something else. What that is exactly, is not always obvious."

    I think very often that "something else" is convenience.

    So returning to free law material as context. Browsers might want to look up the law to try to get a handle on their legal position. I suspect quite often they're still going to get a legal practitioner to do the work the moment it seems a bit much.

    As example:
    I need some fine print for my invoices - look it up on the web.
    I need to enforce that fine print - get me a lawyer.
    I need an employment contract - I'll find a fairly good one on the web.
    Need to enforce it - get me a lawyer.

    Now if I got the fine print from a lawyer's website - there's a fair chance I'll use that lawyer when I need one - if it's conveniently possible.

    Whether the payoff will be bigger than the investment - well that's why I have an R&D budget - to my mind there's only one way to find out.

    We're in the middle of an information revolution here and the best way for traditional business models to adapt is, I suspect, far from being clearly settled. But I can guarantee there will be drastic changes.

    One day somebody's going to do something on the web that is going to change your industry forever - it may as well be you.
    A thought that's been floating in my head along with all this is "Why is this transition taking so long?" Clearly the support technology is still growing, but I'd like to suggest that the major delay is habit.

    The dominant economically active generation still has an ingrained suspicion of free stuff - we associate value with what we pay and are deeply suspicious of strangers bearing free gifts.

    However, we now have the next generation who expects to be able to get all kinds of stuff over the internet for free and don't even give it a second thought. For many of this generation, the thought of paying for software, music and information is more than alien - it is considered unreasonable stupidity!

    Habit and paradigm are probably the only things preventing a near overnight transition to a new economic order and with it a new way of doing business. But the writing is on the wall - or should that be the screens of the digital highway.
    Last edited by Dave A; 31-Aug-10 at 09:21 AM.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    just me duncan drennan's Avatar
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    I posted this to Paul's blog. As Dave said - take a look at the full blog post.

    (Seen as it is licensed under the creative common license I decided it might be worth while to post the full blog article here - I'd edited my first post)

    Just to add to what has already been said:

    I think one of the keys to understanding the issue is to separate knowledge and skill. In my mind the internet is the great knowledge leveller - as Dave said it is all out there if you're prepared to search hard enough. We could probably say that the internet has commoditised knowledge.

    What the internet can't deliver is skill, and that is where the key lies. Again to quote Dave, "separating the wheat from the chaffe" is the hard part. You could probably go and download just about all the knowledge that I picked up studying 6 years of engineering, but the skills imparted via lecturers, practical training, self-learning, project work etc. etc. can't be downloaded (unless you go all Matrix-ey or something).

    So I could go and download a contract, but not be sure whether that is suitable for my business - who am I going to ask? The person who is handing out free knowledge in an interesting and insightful way.

    You know that I've contacted you about certain things (for which you've referred me to the relevant expert) - that has all come about through contact with you on the internet through your blog and forums.

    I like your blog and think you've got a good understanding of where the balance lies in all of this.

    You might find that you'll end up doing less work, but I'm sure that it will be more interesting and higher paying - giving you more time to blog and play with the puppies
    Last edited by Dave A; 31-Aug-10 at 09:24 AM.
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    Whats stopping somone from creating a Private property type of Venture (legal wise that is) A purley online survey system and email class notifications etc for a reduced amount?

    Should be pretty easy to do and accomplish
    Wellinformed.co.za - Networking Forums SA partner site. Let's support each other for a better South Africa.

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    Useful

    Law and order are for our safety and security so they are supposed to be respected and followed.

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    well.....

    firstly, it can be used to showcase your expertise - and win over skeptical clients

    secondly, with a touch of seo it will land you clients that would have gone elsewhere

    not to mention it is a great branding tool

    just integrate online marketing with offline services - it works great

    just my 0.02c

    peter

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    Platinum Member desA's Avatar
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    Now if I got the fine print from a lawyer's website - there's a fair chance I'll use that lawyer when I need one - if it's conveniently possible.
    Excellent point.
    In search of South African Technology Nuggets(R), for sale & trading in South East Asia.

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