Information vs. advice

Larry Ribstein —  11 October 2010

I’ve been writing about the transition of the lawyer market from advice to information. I posted about my talk last Friday in Seattle.  My article, “Owning the Law,” with Bruce Kobayashi is in the works.

So I was interested in the relevance to this project of Bloomberg Government, discussed in the NYT (HT Zaring).   Bloomberg plans to aggregate and make accessible to subscribers all kinds of detailed info about government. For example, per the NYT:

Separate pages have been created for all members of Congress. With the click of a mouse, users can learn just about any piece of information about their representative or senator: top political contributors and amounts donated, legislation sponsored, even spouses’ names. E-mail addresses for the staffs of each Congressional office — from chief of staff to scheduler — are also available and updated regularly by Bloomberg contractors who call Congressional offices every few weeks to double-check the information. Maps of all Congressional districts are also available, marked with each hospital and corporate headquarters in the area. Bloomberg eventually plans to list the lobbyists who represent those institutions and how to reach them. * * *

This mine of data will be available alongside the work that Bloomberg writers will produce. Their newsroom, which will be in a space on K Street where Google’s offices formerly were, will operate as a hybrid research firm-wire service, with Ph.D.-level analysts being paired with journalists to produce reports.

 The article quotes Jenn Higgins, a health care lobbyist:

If Bloomberg Government catches on, she said, half in jest, it could make her job as a lobbyist obsolete. “If I live outside Washington, this is a pretty big universe of information I pay a lobbyist to know,” she said. “I guess I think at the end of the day a computer can’t take someone to Capitol Hill to meet a member of Congress. Until that happens, I think I’ll be O.K.”

“Half in jest”? For a lobbyist, or other purveyor of customized expertise, developments like this should be no laughing matter.  Same goes for lawyer-lobbyists.

Larry Ribstein


Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law

One response to Information vs. advice

    Arthur Pendennis 11 October 2010 at 12:35 pm

    It is a change, and probably not good for the leverage model of many large firms, but not necessarily bad for lawyers and lobbyists who adapt. I recall a client telling me about 17 years ago or so how the legal treatises on certain specialties coming out on CD and being word searchable would put lawyers in those specialties (like me) out of business. He was wrong. It may have cut back on inquiries on basic questions, but the work of synthesizing and organizing the mass of information into some usable advice for the client in a particular circumstance has remained valuable and well paid. And still cheaper to the client – and more likely to be correct – than figuring it out themsleves. The scut work of research and memo writing, done by legions of junior associates, is the part that has shrunk.

    So the more information is out there, it turns out the more valuable the people are who can turn it into something usable, quickly.

    Years ago I did do a little lobbying, for example. I described it then as something that any reasonably polite person with the proper phone books and access to a good library and current periodicals could do on a project, if they had a couple of months to kill to get the thing done. Or they could call a knowledgeable lobbyist and get it done as quickly as possible. I think that remains largely true, even if that library is now searchable on the web.