Budget Busting, Bundling and Bungling – The Worst Legal Information Mergers/Acquisitions

Published on 2023-09-25 byJean O'Grady

Legaltech mergers continue despite the uncertain economy. The recent acquisitions of Fastcase and Casetext (Thomson Reuters’ acquisition of Casetext for the breathtaking $650M was completed on August 17, 2023) inspired me to “take the temperature” of the legal information marketplace.


The Survey

I gave information professionals the opportunity to provide feedback on legal information mergers in a survey that was open from July 11th to July 18th. Eighty-six law librarians / knowledge professionals responded to open-ended questions asking them to identify mergers that they thought had either successful or unsuccessful outcomes. Although the majority of respondents were from private firms (84%), there were also responses from academic (10%) and government law librarians (6%).

Librarians have long memories, and I was delighted to be reminded of dozens of deals. Over 40 company and product acquisitions, both large and small, covering the past 30 years were noted by the respondents. However, the mergers of the last 15 years dominated the survey.

A post on the best legal information mergers, ”Don’t Kill the Golden Goose- Survey on 30 years of  Legal Publishing Mergers” was posted on Legal Tech Hub on August 2, 2023.

Today I am reporting on the mergers that readers regard as unsuccessful.  I also solicited advice for companies to consider in future information product mergers. In total, there were 75 responders who “voted” for the “worst mergers.”


Here are the top factors that made an acquisition unsuccessful in the eyes of respondents.

  • Excessive price increases (24) 37%
  • Tying products together (16)  22.5%
  • Mismanaged integration and lost content usability (16)  (22%)
  • Ruined customer service (15) 21%
  • Ruined product 14 (20%)


Publishers Most Often Identified with Negative Outcomes.

  •  Bloomberg Law (41%)  31 references addressing one acquisition
  •  Thomson Reuters  (34%) 26 references addressing seven acquisitions
  •  LexisNexis  (24%) 18 references addressing seven acquisitions


General Observation – Librarians have long memories.  

The three most unpopular acquisitions all occurred over 10 years ago.

Bloomberg Acquisition of BNA (2011) (30 Votes)

Thomson acquisition of Global Securities Information (2005) (18 votes)

Lexis acquisition of Law 360 (2012) (8 votes)


Each of these acquisitions highlights a different issue.

  • Bloomberg/BNA– change in licensing model and elimination of print.
  • Thomson/GSI – complete destruction of the product and the “good will” of loyal customers.
  •  Lexis/Law360 – Bundling i.e. refusing to sell Law360 news as a stand-alone product based on the LexisNexis  “corporate mythology” that it wouldn’t function properly outside the Lexis “eco-system” - huh?


The Bloomberg/ BNA Merger – Completing Product Integration Triggers Budget Blowout Backlash 12 Years After the Fact. 

 Survey comment: Bloomberg has eliminated print and online access to BNA content, forcing customers to buy Bloomberg Law content that they don't need in order to get to a handful of propriety go-to resources. Huge cost increases for subscribers.

 Although the merger happened in 2011, it remained “under the radar” for most of the past decade. Bloomberg was focused on enhancing and selling the Bloomberg Law Product while also allowing firms to continue their existing BNA “Practice Centers,” newsletters and books as stand-alone subscriptions.  In addition, they began eliminating print versions of newsletters and treatise materials. Only one person expressed unhappiness with the way Bloomberg had integrated the BNA content. Several people objected to the elimination of BNA print and also highlighted content published by the ABA on the Bloomberg platform.

All BNA content has now been integrated into the Bloomberg Law platform. Responders’ comments were largely focused on increased cost and loss of the ability to select content. I have to inject the cynical observation that Bloomberg Law is simply joining the “single platform” model that Lexis and Westlaw have had in place for decades. Unlike its competitors, Bloomberg offers an “all in” subscriptions model. There are no exclusions or upgrades. If new content is added to the platform – it is automatically available to all subscribers.

I reached out to Joe Breda president of Bloomberg who provided the following explanation for the changes:

"Moving to a digital approach provides multiple benefits, including the ability to invest in new functionality, integrate additional relevant content and practice tools, and increase awareness by making content more accessible. Bloomberg Law’s digital publication format allows editors, authors, and contributors to deliver timely updates faster, while enjoying a smoother publication process. This user-friendly format unlocks valuable information, allowing legal professionals to accomplish their research objectives more quickly and easily. 

In response to your question about content slices, as we shared in 2019, we’ve been committed to consolidating our offerings into a single integrated platform, with no add-ons or up charges. You communicated our strategy to your readers in a blog that summer. This enables us to deliver the most value to our customers.  

Eliminating print enables us to vastly improve the user experience. With our fully integrated product experience, every Bloomberg Law user gets the full benefit of all the platform has to offer - and never runs into a paywall.  

Bloomberg Law stopped printing books several years ago. Bloomberg Law and the ABA Labor & Employment section agreed to shift  the ABA Labor & Employment titles to digital."


Second place. The Big Bungle - Thomson Reuters acquisition of Global Securities Information (GSI).

Survey Comment: Understand what the customers value about the product and keep that intact - sometimes it is the expertise and support of existing staff.  Don't let greed drive every decision. Don't bog innovators down in a large bureaucracy.

GSI sold the beloved securities research platform LivEdgar to Thomson Corporation (the predecessor to Thomson Reuters). This acquisition took place in 2005, almost 20 years ago! The memory remains fresh because of the loyalty customers had to the GSI staff and product. There was almost no mention of cost increases being the problem in the survey responses. Customer outrage centers on the dismantling of a responsive team, and the successive re-branding and re-positioning of a product over the years. Westlaw Business has become virtually invisible to the community, although it lives on inside of the Westlaw research platform.

GSI had all of the qualities that made for customer loyalty. A “best in class” product, top notch research experts who were ready to respond to emergency requests in the context of high stakes deals and short deadlines.

Thomson’s press release stated: “The acquisition will enable West to satisfy the currently unmet needs of transactional attorneys - those involved in work such as mergers and acquisitions, real estate and securities transactions. Moreover, the acquisition will further strengthen and deepen West's relationships with large law firms, the company's largest customer segment.” None of that happened!

The first sign of trouble was that the customer service team were either fired or left. Customer service plummeted. TR tried to rebrand as Westlaw Business and sell it as a separate “Westlaw” platform for transactional lawyers at a jacked up price. Without the service team that built customer loyalty and goodwill, the market moved on. Customers turned to one of the strong competitors which emerged to fill the GSI void: Intelligize, Securities Mosaic and 10K Wizard, RB Source. Those companies developed their own winning formula which combined reliable content, ease of use, a reasonably priced standalone solution and excellent customer support.

If you asked most Westlaw customers what happened to GSI they are likely to respond that it is dead. In fact, Westlaw Business lives on inside of WestLaw, but little is done to promote it or train customers on how to use it. It is like an expensive Christmas toy abandoned by a spoiled child when a shinier bauble showed up. I summarized the travails of Westlaw Business in a 2013 post  Thomson Reuters Re-Launches Westlaw Business (Again): The Business Law Center and the Next Great Battle for the Corporate Lawyer’s Desktop

Other Thomson Reuters mergers that some responders regarded as unsuccessful are: Practical Law, Dealproof, Information America, O’Conner’s. RIA and High Q.


Third Place LexisNexis/Law360 – The Empire of Product Bundling

Survey Comment “As for Lexis - forcing a firm to purchase their legal research platform in order to subscribe to Law360 is asinine. At the end of the day, it is just "news". They're walking away from guaranteed revenue from firms that only require Law360. They're alienating attorneys with this approach.”

Lexis has been a merger machine over the past decade. More than once they acquired products in the same niche e.g. Analytics (Ravel Law and Lex Machina), Securities Research (Intelligize and Knowledge Mosaic), News (Law 360, Newsdesk, mLex)

Law360 was the merger that drew the most criticism in this survey. Nothing happened to diminish the content, in fact the content expanded. But the subscription cost increases have been eye popping. Large law firms are not only required to purchase the whole suite of newsletters (regardless of whether they needed the content – (think  specialized topics like Cannabis Law.) Then Lexis tied Law360 to the Lexis research platform. No Lexis subscription means no access to Law360. To further complicate the Law360 saga, after refusing to allow firms to select custom content packages, Lexis has launched topical Law 360 spin-offs and upgrades branded Pulse and Authority.

Additional Lexis acquisitions mentioned in responses include: Accurint, Knowledge Mosaic, Intelligize, Ravel Law, Courtlink, Matthew Bender, Lex Machina.

Ravel Law was integrated into the Lexis+ platform but it is sold as an add-on called Context. Loyal fans of Knowledge Mosaic object to the forced migration to Intelligize as a substitute product. Some responders view Lexis acquisitions of largely redundant products as an attempt to eliminate competition.

Overall the prior survey on mergers with good outcomes, highlighted Lex Machina and Intelligize as having a good outcome because those products remained available as standalone platforms which Lexis continued to expand and invest in.


Advice for Future Mergers

Sixty three of the 75 responders contributed a comment. I have consolidated those comments into 3 major recommendations for companies who plan to acquire products in the future.

  1. Focus on customer needs before you acquire a product and figure out how you are going to make the acquisition a win/win. (28 comments)
  2. Retain and empower the people who designed the original product as well as the customer service team that have experience with the product and customer needs. (24 comments)
  3. Set Reasonable price increases and make an effort to understand customer budgeting issues. (20 comments)


Additional Comments from responders:

  • Understand what the customers value about the product and keep that intact - sometimes it is the expertise and support of existing staff.  Don't let greed drive every decision. Don't bog innovators down in a large bureaucracy.
  • Dear Company, grant your newly onboarded developers the agency and authority to continue fulfilling their vision. The reason they agreed to the acquisition was partly driven by their desire and ambition to create a superb research tool. Allow them to pursue that. If the big bag of money somehow distorts their vision, consider some deferred compensation structure based on achievements and milestones reached.
  • Do the research on what these products do and how Firms are using these tools. Some products should not be integrated with bigger platforms.
  • Don't buy for the purpose of making more money; buy because you are invested in the provision of quality legal materials and because you will make the produce even better than it was before. Think about why you are buying a legal tech/publishing company -- they are likely doing something really well. Don't destroy that, build on it!
  • Talk to and listen to your customers.  Offer more flexible pricing models (particularly for specialty boutique firms) with flat or reasonable increases over time.  Train and support your sales and technical staff so they can respond quickly and efficiently. And NEVER tell me I'm the only customer who has requested or expressed concerns about something.  It's not my problem if your other customers are not doing their due diligence.
  • Make sure that you have a good workflow for gathering customer feedback for improvements/fixes/expansion and then turning that into real change for the platform in a timely fashion.



About the ExpertView Profile
Jean O'Grady

Jean O'Grady

LTH Expert Venable LLP

Jean P. O’Grady has over 30 years of experience developing strategic information initiatives for Am Law 100 law firms. She holds a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law, an M.L.S. from St. John’s University and a B.A. in History from Fordham University. She is a member of the NY State Bar.

She is also a columnist at Above the Law and a panelist on Bob Ambrogi’s weekly  Legal Tech Journalist’s Roundtable.

Jean was the 2013-14 Chair of the Private Law Libraries Section of the American Association of Law Libraries and a past President of the Law Library Association of Greater New York. She is an incoming Board Member of the American Association of Law Libraries ( 2017- 2019). Board Member, New York Law Institute (2015-2018.)

She is a frequent author and speaker on the transformation of libraries and information centers, digital contract licensing , knowledge management, and the legal publishing industry. She has spoken at programs sponsored by the Information Industry Association, the Association of Newsletter Publishers, Practicing Law Institute, International Legal Technology Association , West Publishing, Price Waterhouse, LegalTech, Lexis-Nexis. Janders Dean Knowledge Management Conference, American Association of Law Schools. as well as AALL, Canadian Association of Law Libraries, Australian Law Libraries Association and the Special Libraries Association.

In 2011 she launched her blog “Dewey B Strategic” to promote awareness of the strategic importance of librarians, libraries and knowledge managers as change agents and innovators in the organizations they support. She has written provocative pieces on a variety of law firm management, publishing and technology issues which have sparked important debates in the industry. Jean started writing a regular blog for Legaltech Hub, Jean O'Grady for LTH, in 2022.

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