Getting a Better Bead on Bloomberg Law
By Michael J. Robak
The last time I wrote about Bloomberg Law was in my July 2009 AALL Spectrum article titled “The Bloomberg Citator: A first look at BLAW’s citation function,” when I took one of the first looks at the Bloomberg Citator. Since then, Bloomberg Law has transformed into a true third legal research platform. Tremendous changes continue in the legal publishing industry. As noted by Sarah Glassmeyer in 2010 in her blog post and infographic of the “shrinking legal publishing world” and expanded on by Greg Lambert in his 3 Geeks and Law blog post, changes are still broadly occurring in the legal information industry. While it is still far too early to prognosticate how the Bloomberg Law story will play out, it is clear that Bloomberg Law means to be competitive in the world of legal information publishing. As such, this article records the larger changes that have transformed Bloomberg Law in the past four years, briefly reviews a small controversy about the Bloomberg Citator name, and discusses Bloomberg Law’s “killer app”—unlimited access to docket searching and retrieval, including PACER docket and documents, included in every academic user’s subscription.
In 2009, Bloomberg Law was available to only a few law schools and law firms around the United States. As I noted in my previous article, its original availability was only through the Bloomberg terminal. Eventually the decision was made to decouple the Bloomberg Law product from the terminal and make it a web-based product.
Let me recap some of the more significant changes to Bloomberg Law since I wrote my last article as well as provide a firsthand account of conversations I had with Bloomberg Law principals during this time. By 2010, Bloomberg Law was providing more and more law schools access to Bloomberg Law. However, at that point, there was no specified enrollment program. A law school contacted Bloomberg Law, and IDs were created for the students and faculty and sent person by person.
Then, in August, 2011, Bloomberg announced it would be purchasing the venerable Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) legal publishing company for “an estimated $990 million dollars.” The deal was completed in September 2011. This was, to say the least, a huge step for Bloomberg Law because it provided the company with much-needed and highly valued secondary resources.
As Bob Ambrogi said in his April 3, 2012, LawSites blog post, he had previously observed in 2009 that he “likened [Bloomberg Law] to a luxury yacht only partially constructed. It is seaworthy . . . but still has a lengthy punch list.” But, after the acquisition and full integration of BNA content, Ambrogi declared the “punch list” had been greatly shortened.
I should note that during the 2011 AALL conference in Philadelphia, I was invited to a get together with Lou Andreozzi, Bloomberg Law Chairman, Larry Thompson, then Bloomberg Law chief operating officer, and others from the Bloomberg Law operating team. My invitation came from Jill Goodkind of Bloomberg Law, who coordinated the event. And I have to say, there is no host more consummate than Jill. She was generous in making sure the attendees received a chance to speak with the Bloomberg Law principals and fashioned a truly memorable event.
I was given an overview of the then newly launched platform and conducted a wide-ranging conversation with both Lou and Larry. I was particularly struck by both their enthusiasm for the Bloomberg product and their commitment to becoming integrated into law schools. Both, as most know, were former LexisNexis executives and so brought to their Bloomberg Law positions an unusually broad understanding of how the academy and the legal practice intersect.
Then, in 2012, a series of big announcements began, when first, in February 2012, Bloomberg announced DLA Piper’s enterprise-wide adoption of Bloomberg Law for the firm’s 1,400 U.S. lawyers. This was followed by a May 2012 announcement of Jones Day’s firm-wide adoption of Bloomberg Law for the firm’s approximately 1,800 U.S.-based lawyers.
But perhaps one of the largest developments occurred with the fall 2012 roll out of Bloomberg Law to law schools. Bloomberg Law began signing up law schools back in 2008—and even earlier if they had the wherewithal to license a Bloomberg terminal. But during the late spring and early summer of 2012, Bloomberg, together with its Bloomberg BNA representatives, began contacting law schools about their BNA contracts and the merger with Bloomberg. Law schools were offered an opportunity to increase their access to BNA materials and have Bloomberg Law provided to every student. However, the contract specified that for this increased access to BNA, Bloomberg Law was to be treated with parity, i.e., given the same access as Westlaw and Lexis. That meant if an hour of time was devoted to teaching Westlaw and Lexis, an hour of time needed to be spent on Bloomberg, as well. And as Westlaw and Lexis had student representatives, so did Bloomberg. For meeting these requirements, Bloomberg Law would be provided to the students and faculty.
At the 2012 AALL Annual Meeting in Boston, I was again invited to a Bloomberg gathering where Lou and Larry were joined by Bloomberg BNA president and CEO Greg McCaffery, who would go on to become CEO of Bloomberg Law later in the year. At that point, with academic rollout underway, I clearly recall Larry saying, “What a difference a year makes.”
In addition to all of this movement by Bloomberg in the four years since my Spectrum article, it also appears that I created confusion about how to refer to its citator service. Or, stated differently, there appears to be no yet agreed upon “verb” for the Bloomberg Citator.
One anecdotal piece of evidence for this assertion is Mark Giagrande’s February 25 Law Librarian blog post, “What Not To Do When Submitting A Legal Memorandum To A Court,” where he made this aside: “ . . . Oh, and Shepardize (or KeyCite, or whatever Bloomberg uses as a verb for their citator) your cases.”
Why the confusion about what to call the Bloomberg Citator? Why the confusion created when I referred to it as BCIT or “BCiting”? The short answer, written a little longer, has to do with the use of mnemonics by the Bloomberg terminal. The Bloomberg terminal, for those who have not worked with it, relies mightily on mnemonics, or short cut commands, usually in the form of three or four or five letters, to access the very powerful financial functions the terminal is capable of conducting. So, for example, if you want to access the Weighted Average Cost of Capital, you would use the letters WACC as a shortcut to access. Likewise, if you want LIBOR rates, you would use LR at the terminal. And, most importantly, you would use arrow brackets around the particular mnemonic, e.g., <WACC> or <LR>, followed by hitting the <GO> key. And Bloomberg has some 40,000 of these shortcuts to access its information.
So, for the Bloomberg Citator, which can still be accessed from the Bloomberg terminal, one would use the mnemonic <BCIT> to gain access. This was particularly true in 2009, but it is still true today. If you use <BCIT> on a Bloomberg terminal, it will take you to the Bloomberg Citator page. Of course, today, Bloomberg Law uses “BCite” as the notation for accessing the Bloomberg Citator. And, presumably, one “BCites” when using the citator.
As an aside, it was in my meeting with Bloomberg folks in 2011 when they pointed out the branding effort for Bloomberg Law and the relationship to the Bloomberg mnemonics. At that point, Bloomberg Law was branding itself as Bloomberg Law <FIRST>.
This use of <FIRST> appeared like a Bloomberg mnemonic—which is really neat, except there is no <FIRST> mnemonic. The idea was to develop the idea of Bloomberg Law as a lawyer’s first resource.
Back to how confusion set in, as I mentioned in my previous article, Bloomberg Law began as BLAW, a Bloomberg mnemonic to get to the Bloomberg Law offering on the Bloomberg terminal. And, as originally deployed, the Bloomberg Citator had the mnemonic BCIT, which we could pronounce bee-cite or, unfortunately, bee-sit, or something that is nonsensical.
So when I wrote my article in 2009, I correctly identified the mnemonic BCIT as . . . BCIT. This made sense to me because before coming to academia, I had spent eight years with an international consulting firm using a Bloomberg terminal. I was familiar with the Bloomberg mnemonics and still am. As I mentioned, if you use a Bloomberg terminal today (and Harvard Law Library, step up to your terminal to check it out), BCIT will take you directly to the Bloomberg Citator.
Therefore, BCIT was and is a legitimate way to refer to the Bloomberg Citator. Perhaps Bloomberg should consider creating materials that lean toward the idea that the pronunciation and spelling are bee-sight. Actually, BSight isn’t a verb, per se, but the word sight can be used as a verb, e.g., “to look carefully in a certain direction.” I hope this clears up any confusion about the Bloomberg Citator pronunciation.
The Killer App
In this short history of Bloomberg Law, I want to emphasize one thing in particular that Bloomberg provides with the academic package offered law schools: access to state and federal dockets with no additional charge for searching or retrieving case dockets and, when available, documents. Here, in my humble opinion, a “killer app” is born.
First, let me explain that Bloomberg Law Docket searching actually provides searching across Bloomberg Law’s version of PACER as well as state court dockets that are available. These dockets also include the Delaware Chancery Courts, as well as their underlying documents. Many of the state courts, however, do not provide the underlying documents. Bloomberg Law has built into the system a method for retrieving these documents via courier. But those charges are meant to be passed to the subscriber. Bloomberg Law provides a mechanism to prevent a student from accidentally sending a courier to the state courts to retrieve documents.
Second, Bloomberg Law Docket searching also includes many of the underlying documents. So a Docket search in Bloomberg Law not only searches the court’s docket entries, but also where they have the underlying documents, e.g., the complaint, pleadings, depositions, transcripts, etc.—the search actually goes across all those materials. This is profound, as it allows searching for materials in a way not available via the federal court’s Public Access to Electronic Court Records (PACER).
How does this compare with the other two platforms? The Westlaw academic subscription includes docket searching across federal and state dockets, but there is no search across or access to the underlying materials. The academic subscription to LexisNexis—at least, the subscription at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law—does not include Courtlink (its docket searching service). It does include some “strategic profiles” from Courtlink, but those are of limited utility.
In addition to the ability to search underlying documents (and I should note, not all underlying documents are available; a large percentage are, but Bloomberg cannot tell me a specific number or percentage), Bloomberg is manually collecting complaints in certain federal cases. Specifically, it is collecting all complaints in patent cases, those labeled as Nature of Suit 830, Securities Litigation, Nature of Suit 650, and others. Bloomberg Law’s PACER search contains information not available on PACER.
So why is this so significant for law schools? Because though I know schools are using the “free” or “training” PACER in classes, this is a limited and old database of information. The problem with PACER, in particular, is that it is a “variable” cost. Since it is transaction-based, it is very difficult to adequately budget to allow students to use it in a classroom setting. You could certainly allocate an amount of the budget to cover PACER costs; it is a relatively low cost service. But even so, it would be impossible to gauge the exact use of the service, especially with students as they learn the resource. Providing access to PACER and other dockets like the Delaware Court of Chancery are a game changer for teaching incredibly important aspects of how to research and practice like a lawyer. E-filing is becoming more and more common in jurisdictions. PACER led the way with e-filing, and state courts are catching up. Law students need to be exposed to how this works and the importance of docket searching generally for finding incredibly valuable information. Courses like Civil Procedure are enhanced by the opportunities afforded to look at and retrieve dockets and pleadings from actual cases. And this doesn’t even touch the surface of what faculty involved with empirical research can do with PACER and other state court dockets with access to the underlying documents.
I can only speculate that this may be unsustainable for Bloomberg Law and, at some point, this unlimited access may come to an end because of the cost it is bearing. But I would say that this is something we academic law librarians are walking into with eyes wide open, and it is in our customers’ best interest to take advantage of this incredible research tool for as long as we are able.
More to Come
As I suggested earlier, there are still large changes coming to the legal information industry. This is but a snapshot of a four-year period in the life of one legal information provider.
Michael J. Robak (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate director and director of information technologies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Leon E. Bloch Law Library.