Fastcase announced its own publishing house last week: Full Court Press.

The name comes from this New Yorker article about a basketball strategy that gives plucky underdogs a chance against bigger, more skilled, more traditional teams. It recognizes the monumental task of creating a body of secondary legal materials that can compete with West and Lexis.

I’m happy to see Fastcase enter this arena. As I’ve said before, legal publishing is ripe for disruption. Or at least an agile new David taking advantage of the internet to out-maneuver and out-value the Goliaths that dominate the field. Fastcase could be that David.

But there is no shortcut to success here. Fastcase has tried to license good treatises from others, to no avail. I believe they’ve tried to work with state bars as well, with limited success. These traditional publishers, I’m sure, have a hard time giving up their most valuable original content. Everybody has the same primary law; it’s the secondary content that adds value and a unique selling proposition. As Ed Walters readily admits in the announcement, people want access to treatises like Nimmer on Copyright and Collier on Bankruptcy.

That’s why things like adding blog posts from the Lexblog network, though good, will never make up for traditional treatise publishing (as others have already discovered). That content isn’t unique, and it isn’t cite-checked, edited, or part of a greater whole.

There’s no substitute for expert commentary and instruction systematically covering an entire area of law. Fastcase knows this. That’s why it’s entering a field full of Goliaths.

I’m happy about this announcement because Fastcase has shown a willingness to use technology and nontraditional methods to close the gap with West and Lexis. My hope is that Full Court Press will embrace lean publishing from day one. I also hope it will use advanced editing software and simple workflows to reduce the human time needed to write, edit, and produce good treatises.

I have my reservations, though. I fear that Full Court Press, helmed by a Lexis veteran, will turn out more traditional than its David-branding would suggest (after all, Fastcase is still proclaiming its membership in ‘the big three’). I especially fear that small-market states like my own beloved Wisconsin will have to wait a very long time before we see anything published for us.

Still, I’m excited to see any new player in this field. Let’s see what Full Court Press can do.

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