Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
May/June 2004, by Delia Venables

The Debate Continues...
Traditional Legal Publishing - Inevitable Decline or Healthy Development?

In the last issue, Russell Shepherd said that legal publishers were afraid of undermining their traditional paper-based products - and the revenues they received - with online services. He says "the traditional law publishers dare not produce quality digital products because this will hasten the inevitable decline in the sales of book based legal reference material." He also thinks that new leaner and meaner legal publishers (like him) will take business away from the traditional legal publishers.

Here are three responses to Russell's diatribe:

Read on!

Riposte From LexisNexis UK
by Matthew Rowe, Strategic Communications Executive

Russell Shepherd's scrutiny of the issues facing the professional publishing sector is a perceptive one. Clearly his own understanding of on-line publishing adds a special dimension to the analysis. But the realities surrounding ‘hard copy to on-line’ are based as much on outlook, philosophy and business direction as on individual practice.

We must be cautious about adopting the argument that technology is an irresistible force for change. It is true that for every individual who sees technology as a compelling force for good, there is another who fears what it can bring. Our view at LexisNexis is that it allows us to have the best of both worlds. Individual format choice is therefore only part of the equation.

We are proud of our 200 years of publishing heritage. Established names such as Butterworths, Tolley and IRS Eclipse, as well as the encompassing LexisNexis brand, give us the vast breadth and depth of information that we provide to lawyers, accountants, news gatherers and general businesses. It is important that customers can choose between electronically-delivered services or a hardcopy book – or crucially, both.

Customers’ needs – and the business pressures they face – ultimately decide the choice of information format. Publishing in an information-rich age is therefore about providing users with options that meet their wishes. LexisNexis does not solely provide material to the top 100 law firms but also to high street practitioners, so we have to recognise that one cap does not fit all. If a user is interested in employment law, they can (depending on their level of expertise) choose among a number of handbooks, subscribe to a loose-leaf service such as Harvey’s Industrial Relations and Employment Law, or log on to Employment Law on-line which offers all this material and more besides.

Contrary to the belief that hardcopy publishing is reaching the end of the road to be replaced by digital media, we believe there will always be a strong professional market for books. After all, handbooks provide portability and many readers simply prefer the physical interaction with the printed page. This is, of course, an argument that is raging in all sectors – not least among the newspaper proprietors.

Over and above the argument of format choice is the simple fact that customers need to be confident in the quality of the sources they are using – herein lies the real definition of value. The reputation of our authors and editorial staff is not only central to our heritage but defines the true value of our information. Producing a trustworthy source still requires the same intellectual content, whether supplied on-line or off-line. Long gone are the ‘something-for-nothing’ days (which, in any case, were always viewed with suspicion by ‘real’ users like law librarians and lawyers).

If there is one defining argument in favour of information delivered on-line – and accepted by even the staunchest supporter of books – it must be the ease and speed of searching within and across on-line sources. Users of on-line material can cut their research time while obviously covering a subject in more depth and offer their clients a better service (and reduce the likelihood of giving them bad advice). This is a real driving force for positive change in the legal profession: new technology can support new ways of working – and so meet heightened client expectations.

Matthew Rowe is Strategic Communications Executive of LexisNexis UK, www.lexisnexis.co.uk.
Email matthew.rowe@lexisnexis.co.uk.


Riposte from Sweet & Maxwell, Legal Online
by Julie Stott, Strategic Marketing and Business Development Manager

In today's world, you could be forgiven for thinking that the delivery of information purely by electronic means is the only way forward. After all, many commentators would have us believe that the ‘traditional’ way of doing business is no longer a viable option and that new technologies mean that the only way forward is for publishers to move everything into electronic format. Customer demand tells us otherwise.

The publishing industry across the board has been grappling with the electronic vs print debate for a number of years now. However, the print book business is still thriving.

In the legal publishing industry, the content demanded by legal professionals and their advisers requires publishers to provide differing media to suit differing needs. Imagine reading 2000 pages of The Law of Banking online and you can clearly see why a printed book is still a preferred option. In contrast, imagine undertaking a long research trail, covering many cases, numerous pieces of legislation with amending S.I.s, links to journal articles with authoritative commentary included, and you can easily see why online services such as Westlaw UK have become embedded in the way many lawyers and their support staff work today.

The simple truth is that customers require publishers to produce information in different formats. For many, the legal process itself requires print publishing to continue, such as the provision of print court titles like Archbold and The White Book. On the other hand, updating daily e-mails on new developments provided by services such as Lawtel are only viable in an online format. Rather than replacing printed volumes, the online revolution has created new demands for information.

It would have been unheard of, 30 years ago, for a barrister to attend a hearing in the High Court, having been made aware only hours before of a key decision in the Court of Appeal that had a dramatic impact on his case. Today, this is commonplace, with the updating online services, such as Lawtel, providing next day reporting. Far from removing the need to rely on the authoritative commentary provided by eminent authors in the legal field, the creation of online services has supplemented this knowledge with up to date developments, analysis and comment. Emerging technologies creating new demand is not limited to the legal publishing industry – the advent of online advertising for example has not replaced TV, print or radio advertising, but has established itself as a valuable additional channel for companies to reach target audiences.

The economics of legal publishing have also been the subject of much debate. The key to successful legal online publishing is content – information, comment, news and insight which is unimpeachable in its quality. The creation of Sweet & Maxwell’s value-added online services therefore demands substantial and continuous investment.

In March 2000, Sweet & Maxwell launched its first legal online service, Westlaw UK, covering extensive archives of primary law. The initial investment in the service took over two years of development, with many hundreds of additional editorial and technology staff taking primary content and marking it up for electronic use, creating key word searches and developing links between content sets to ensure accuracy of results. Unlike a printed publication, development is not limited to a one-off cost of production. Searching thousands of sources daily to create and maintain updates, creating links to numerous databases to ensure a thorough research trail and adding new authored content and commentary, are all needed for the ongoing maintenance of a reputable legal online service. Understanding the value that this work creates for customers with the resultant savings in research and fee-earning time adds to the economic debate.

If firms are to compete effectively they must ensure that they deliver the best legal solutions to their clients. To do this an increasing number recognise that they have to take advantage of all the tools and services that are available.

The legal publishing industry is one that often attracts comment from many sources. However, the main voices are those of our customers and the message is very clear: print and online information is complementary rather than competitive, and they need both.

Julie Stott is Strategic Marketing and Business Development Manager, Sweet & Maxwell, Legal Online, www.sweetandmaxwell.co.uk.
Email julie.stott@sweetandmaxwell.co.uk.


Contribution from a Legal Librarian

I read the article on the decline of traditional legal publishing with much interest as it is a subject very close to the hearts of most law librarians, who have been wrestling with the thorny issue of print versus electronic for some time now. The book is the preferred medium for many people and there is still nothing to beat it in terms of portability and readability. Many legal textbooks and sets of law reports are not available in any other format than print and show no likelihood of being migrated at present. There is also no substitute for browsing a number of books and using their indexes as a means of legal research. The index leads you to related concepts, which may sidetrack you, but may also suggest other ideas and provide better rounded research.

Of course certain legal materials lend themselves well to new formats and we would now be lost without them. Some provide regular subject alerts and they all enable full text searching and can be made available concurrently to any number of fee earners - licences, permitting of course.

The suppliers of these new databases are very keen to encourage prospective lawyers to use them and they offer them to the law schools at heavily discounted prices. The expectation of Trainees arriving in a law firm is that every firm should subscribe to the major databases as a matter of course. As a result, with our younger lawyers, we are finding a reluctance to refer to printed sources and an assumption that everything is or should be available online. This means that we spend a lot of time trying to explain the differences between the databases, how to use each separate interface, which database should be used for a particular purpose and most importantly, that just because you don’t find something online doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. We try to explain that they may not always have the luxury of working at a law firm where such services are available, but somehow I get the feeling that our words of wisdom are falling on deaf ears.

There are two major issues here for law librarians to deal with - content and cost.

To a large extent, the days are gone when the publishers hosted each other’s materials. Each database hosts mainly only those materials published by themselves which means that to obtain comprehensive coverage, law libraries are under pressure to subscribe to more than one database, irrespective of the fact that they overlap/duplicate each other in certain areas. This obviously has cost implications.

So, not only are we continuing to buy printed sources, we are also having to subscribe to a variety of databases, the costs of which are spiralling. Until recently the publishers have been relatively flexible in their electronic pricing, but all this has now come to an end. In some instances, where we used to be able to select the databases we needed and make them available to key users, publishers now require us to take out firm-wide licences at massively increased costs. They say that they are investing heavily in technology and that this enables everyone in the firm to have access, but why would the tax lawyers want to look at employment law and vice versa? They positively encourage roll out across the firms, and their ideal would be to give all fee earners desktop access. Then in subsequent years they demand greater payment based on the increased usage. I am sure that within most law firms, only the librarians, finance directors and perhaps managing partners have any idea of the cost of legal information and the increasing amounts being spent on online services.

An unfortunate side effect of this has been to damage the publisher/librarian relationship, which has traditionally been very good. It seems as if the emphasis is now firmly on selling - specifically with electronic products - and that service is sometimes taking second place.

Juggling the budget to enable the continued purchase of printed sources and find money for the ever increasing costs of online services is becoming a real challenge. Nobody told me when I became a librarian, that negotiating would be an essential skill and one that I would need to learn as much as any lawyer.

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