Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
May/June 2003, by Delia Venables

Developments at Sweet & Maxwell
by Katy Adelson

In August 2002, Thomson, the international information provider that owns Sweet & Maxwell, acquired Lawtel and over the ensuing nine months, the service has become an integral part of the Sweet & Maxwell online business.

Thomson, originally a Canadian newspaper business, entered legal publishing in 1987 by acquiring Sweet & Maxwell, along with the Canadian law publisher Carswell and the Law Book Company of Australasia. Since then, Thomson has made a number of other key acquisitions including West Group in the US, IOB in Brazil, La Ley in Argentina, Editorial Aranzadi in Spain and Swisslex in Switzerland.

Westlaw is the global legal online brand provided by a number of Thomson businesses. The original Westlaw service was introduced by West Group in the US in 1974 as a proprietary dial-up service and later deployed over the Internet. In March 2000, Sweet & Maxwell launched Westlaw UK and has also acquired New Law Online from CCH, launched CLI Online and, most recently, acquired Lawtel last summer. These online services comprise the Sweet & Maxwell portfolio, designed to meet the needs of all customers from sole practitioners & small firms through to large global law firms, as well as barristers and local government lawyers.

For customers in Scotland, Westlaw UK Scots Law and Westlaw UK Scots Crime were launched within the last two years, providing a valuable archive of information coupled with unrivalled current awareness.

The most recent addition to the Westlaw family of services is Westlaw IE, launched within the last few months for the Irish market.
(See here for a review of this service in this newsletter)

Within Sweet & Maxwell, the Legal Online team is responsible for the commercial direction of the online services. The team includes some who joined the business through the acquisitions of New Law Online and Lawtel and others who have made the transition from the print side of the business. Since August 2002, the Lawtel staff have been relocated to the existing Sweet & Maxwell locations in Chancery Lane, Avenue Road and Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire. As with Sweet & Maxwell's other online services, there are staff dedicated to the Lawtel service throughout the organisation, providing direction, support & development of the service, across all functions from Editorial & Technology through to Sales and Customer Support. If you walk the corridors of Sweet & Maxwell today, you will see familiar Lawtel faces sitting beside their Sweet & Maxwell colleagues, working together to ensure that the services meet customer needs.

Each service has its place within the overall legal market place. Westlaw UK is the authoritative and comprehensive service that delivers unparalleled citable legislation, case law and journal articles complemented by expert commentary and news and business articles from internationally renowned sources. Lawtel continues to deliver "the law that matters" on a daily basis to legal professionals with unrivalled speed and accuracy.

Is there still a place for printed information? Yes indeed. Peter Lake, Managing Director of Sweet & Maxwell, says "There is still a big place for the printed work. We know that our customers like to use printed materials and online services, with the online service being used as a research tool and books being used when they want to read and pore over matters. There is definitely a place for both".

Looking at the market as a whole, and despite the position of the two 'big players', Thomson/Sweet & Maxwell and Lexis Nexis Butterworths, Peter Lake believes that "Customers will always want choice, so the market dictates that there will always be a number of suppliers (aside from any requirements of the Competition Commission). There have been radical changes in legal information provision in the last few years with the proliferation of free, high-quality legal information, including BAILII. Sweet & Maxwell, like every other publisher of online information, is continuing to focus on adding value through greater analytical content, deep linking and cross-referencing of information and ensuring the currency and accuracy of our data. There are a number of publishers in the market in addition to other channels of information, with some even coming from the law firms themselves. It is a very dynamic and fast-moving market and one that we know will continue to be serviced by many providers for years to come."

Thomson, in the guise of Sweet & Maxwell in the UK, are committed to continuing investment in legal information but what is the affect of such ownership on the Sweet & Maxwell business? Alison Cayton, Corporate Communications Manager at Sweet & Maxwell sums it up. "Thomson's strategy is to acquire companies that are No 1 or 2 - those companies are then allowed to run themselves independently to suit their local market. There is no downside to being part of Thomson. We benefit from the investment support Thomson provides, for instance, bringing Westlaw UK to market very quickly, which we did by working with technology specialists around the world. The acquisition of Lawtel in August 2002 was funded by Thomson, and this has strengthened our ability to reach a broad range of legal customers."

Katy Adelson is Marketing Manager of Sweet & Maxwell Legal Online, katy.adelson@sweetandmaxwell.co.uk.

Note from Delia - I hope to have a similar article from Butterworths in the next issue.

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