Some legal research the other day unearthed a hilarious-in-retrospect account of the first online legal research service — a (pre-)internet startup from almost 50 years ago whose success-and-seediness story is eerily similar to those of more recent tech startups:
Law Research Service is a child of the computer age. In 1960, Hoppenfeld, a lawyer with some background in computer technology, perceived that computers could greatly facilitate legal research. He concluded that a practical system could be developed in which thousands upon thousands of court opinions would be fed into a computer, so that when a legal problem was submitted to the machine it would then select and retrieve all the relevant precedents . … [L]awyers would … pay an annual subscription and a small fee per inquiry. … Similar ideas for marrying computers to the law have been put forth but it seems that LRS was the first such legal information retrieval system to be tried commercially.
Sanders suggested a public offering which would raise not only enough money to cover the LRS’s debt … but would permit LRS to expand its computer library to cover decisions of the federal courts as well as those of the New York courts then already on tape.
Globus v. Law Research Service, 418 F.2d 1276 (2d Cir. 1969) (emphases added to the phrases that made me smile). I just wanted to share this as a nifty piece of legal history trivia, not so much comment on it… but I do have two quick points to make in the “more things change, the more they stay the same” department:
(1) The reported case was a now-familiar type of securities fraud lawsuit: alleging shady practices to raise capital for a tech startup.
(2) Between the financing problems and the “small” fee per inquiry business model: Is there something in the genetics of tech startup visionaries that they assume they can provide huge quantities of information to the masses without much means of actually making money?