Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
July/August 2003, by Delia Venables

Developments at Context
by Justin Needle

Context (www.context.co.uk) is an independent electronic publisher concentrating on United Kingdom and European Union legal and official information. Its extensive range of full-text legal CD-ROM and Internet titles is sold under the Justis name (www.justis.com). In addition to legal information, Context publishes two related online services based on official data sources: Parlianet, an index to the proceedings and publications of both Houses of Parliament, and Tenders, a database of European public procurement contracts.

Context is now also positioning itself as a legal information intermediary. Recognising that users of legal information will continue to rely upon a wide range of services - both free and commercial, print and electronic - from a variety of suppliers, its strategy is to act as a bridge between legal content and its users by providing a single point of entry to these highly disparate information sources. As an independent player in the marketplace, with numerous successful, ongoing publishing partnerships to its credit, Context is ideally placed to fill this neutral role.

Based in North London, Context is privately controlled and is a member of the Scandex group. Established in 1972, the group consists of a number of information handling and software development companies, including Capscan (a leading supplier of domestic and international address management software), Noetica (call-centre and customer relationship management software) and Travel InfoSystems (journey planning software for public transport systems, used by Eurostar and the London Underground system).

Context was established by venture capital in 1985 and was a pioneer in the field of electronic legal publishing. The first database developed by Context was a dial-up service offering full-text European Community law (CELEX), which at that time was not being covered by any other service in the UK. This proved a commercial success and in 1989 Context released Justis CELEX, the first legal CD-ROM to be published in the UK. This was followed, in 1991, with the launch of The Weekly Law Reports and, the following year, of UK Statutory Instruments, the first ever CD-ROMs of UK case and statute law. With the coming of age of the Internet as a reliable medium for information transfer, Context launched its web-based service, Justis.com, in 1999.

Today, Context’s customers come from government, industry and commerce, the legal and financial professions and the academic community. CD-ROMs still have a substantial user base, and this will remain the case for the foreseeable future due to their portability and usefulness as archives. Recently, however, subscriptions to Context’s web-based titles overtook CD-ROM subscriptions for the first time and, increasingly, new titles are released in Internet-only versions, on Justis.com.

Because Context is not an originator of content, its relationships with its publishing partners continue to be of central importance. Having initially partnered with EUR-OP (the European Union’s official publisher) and The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England & Wales (ICLR), the list of Context’s partners has expanded to include The Times, Jordans, The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for Ireland, and others. Context’s portfolio now includes a wide range of primary and specialist case law titles (such as The Law Reports, The Weekly Law Reports and Industrial Cases Reports); EU case law, legislation and official information; and the most comprehensive databases of UK statute law available. Recent additions include an online version of Irish Reports and Digests (the primary source of Irish case law), OJ Daily (a daily update service covering EU law) and specialist case report series covering mental health, prison and police law.

Context has also recently reached agreement with The Scottish Council of Law Reporting to make Session Cases, Scotland’s most authoritative law reports, available on the Internet for the first time from October 2003 (see story here).

Users of Justis titles benefit from a straightforward user interface that incorporates a range of powerful search options, with an ever-increasing set of technologically sophisticated features. In recent years Context has begun to place even greater emphasis on the technology-related aspects of its business. In particular, the company was a pioneer in automatic hypertext linking technology and its unique J-Link feature, released in 1998 and available to all Justis subscribers, exploits legal references by enabling end-users to link automatically to the full text of a document from almost any reference to it within the text of a Web page, word-processing document or email message, simply by highlighting the reference and clicking on a button.

The technology behind J-Link has recently been used to create a standalone, customisable Windows application, Link Studio, which allows law firms, publishers and other organisations to automatically convert references within their content into hypertext links, not only to Justis, but also to other external and in-house information resources.

As well as adding new titles to the Justis range and continuing to innovate and adapt to new ways of using information, Context is now, as mentioned above, also becoming an independent legal “infomediary”. Two new services in particular underpin this shift in emphasis. JustCite, Context’s legal citator, is a fully cross-referenced index to a rapidly expanding collection of key UK and European legal and official information drawn from numerous sources, with direct links to full-text documents on services from, for example, Butterworths, BAILII, HMSO and Smith Bernal, as well as Justis.

The second service, JustLink, a neutral, multiple-source linking system and a successor to J-Link, allows users to select a reference within any document and be offered a variety of services to link to. For example, highlighting a case reference or case name will permit users to view the full text on Justis.com, All England Direct or BAILII, or be taken to other related information on JustCite or an internal know-how system.

These new developments represent a continuation of Context's primary aim, which has always been to add value to legal information, and make it more widely and easily accessible, by means of the imaginative application of technology.

Dr. Justin Needle is Brand Manager at Context Limited (www.context.co.uk).
email Justin.needle@context.co.uk.

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