Rapidly evolving mobile technologies in the form of tablets, ultra-thin lap-tops and smart phones are having a profound impact on the practice of law.
Around 9 per cent of the UK population now owns a tablet compared to just 2 per cent a year ago and adoption is accelerating. Sales of tablets now exceed the combined sales of desktop and laptop computers. The popularity of these devices among lawyers is also evident. At Sweet & Maxwell, our own survey of subscribers to the White Book, shows that a quarter of them already use an iPad for legal research. Mobile devices and the proliferation of new applications offer lawyers the potential to increase their productivity. However, the lack of a purpose built professional grade app to access legal books has posed a challenge to fully leveraging the potential of the devices for lawyers. This is why we developed and launched Thomson Reuters ProView – a new, professional grade ebook app.
Many lawyers still love to use their books; they are portable, familiar, easy to use and authoritative. In digital format, they could be all those things and more. However, lawyers place a set of unique demands on their reference books and the predominant digital reading solutions built for the consumption of novels are not up to the task. Law books require much more complex mark-up to accommodate tables and many levels of structure. Additionally, they are very rarely a linear read; they are reference aids, there to answer a question and they tend to be much larger than most books, often in excess of 3,000 pages. One of the underlying premises of ProView is that, unlike the other e-readers, it is designed from the ground up for professional content.
With these considerations in mind and an enthusiasm to build something which could be rolled out to Thomson Reuters businesses across the globe, we set out to consult with our customers to identify their ebook requirements and designed a tailored e-reading solution around these. At launch, ProView is designed to operate on the Apple iPad, but later this year, the application will also be available for Mac, Android and Windows.
It is our intention that everything a lawyer might do with print in terms of navigating the text, writing notes and marking up important passages is all replicated within ProView and then improved upon. ProView should behave close enough to a paper book that anyone can pick it up and comfortably use it in an instant but it will also have intuitive, sophisticated features that takes the experience well beyond print. With fewer hefty documents to bring to court or client meetings, as well as faster and more advanced ways to access reference material, ProView ebooks will save lawyers valuable time and literally lighten their load.
Sweet & Maxwell launched ProView in the UK in December 2011 with our first title, Archbold
Criminal Practice. With several hundred customers on board already, the demand for ebooks is clear to see. As 2012 progresses, we will publish many more books, looseleafs and journals into a ProView app which will be enhanced with input from customers.
ProView is free and customers buy Sweet & Maxwell ebooks to run in ProView direct from our website or sales teams. Once a book has been downloaded, it can be accessed anywhere, without need for an internet connection. With Thomson Reuters ProView, lawyers with access to Sweet & Maxwell ebooks can make notes or email sections immediately to clients or colleagues. Internal cross references are hyperlinked and a pop-up table of contents is always on hand for easy navigation. ProView ebooks include the original page and paragraph numbers from the print and updates to content will automatically appear within the app when a wi-fi connection is available which means an end to paper supplements and looseleaf releases.
We also have a set of features which are only possible in our own app. For example, your library and any personalisation will be backed up in the cloud on our secure servers so should you lose your device, your content can be retrieved. Highlights, bookmarks and personal notes can be added to the text which will automatically transfer to subsequent editions. And finally, we have incorporated a powerful search engine which you can access without having to leave the page you are reading and searches can be refined with Boolean connectors.
We have received a lot of positive feedback about ProView and a new release of the app will see additional enhancements that will further meet the demands of our customers. For example, in court, users have found that referring to two books at once on the iPad can be a challenge, so we are working on an appropriate solution. We are tweaking the interface to ensure it is even more intuitive and will reduce the need to refer to a user manual. Speed is everything and a 3,000 page text will push the limits of an iPad’s processor, so we are introducing improvements to increase response times. We are also working to link ProView with Westlaw UK, so that cases and legislation referenced in a ProView ebook can be viewed easily on Westlaw UK. By the time you read this, we will have introduced two more key features – a scrubber bar to simulate the experience of flicking through the pages of a book, and a back button, so users can re-trace their steps more easily.
It is early days for ProView, but we believe that it will have a big role to play in the coming years. The growth in advanced media devices is triggering a dramatic leap forward in the way that information is distributed and consumed and at the forefront of this change is the rise of the ebook.
Chris Hendry is Head of Advanced Media at Sweet & Maxwell, Thomson Reuters. He has worked as a publisher and in online product development within Sweet & Maxwell and his current role focuses on mobile and ebooks.
Editors’ note. This article is part of a series we are running on significant new online products from key publishers. In the last issue we covered ICLR online. In the next we will cover ebooks from LexisNexis. More will follow. Ideas? Contact email@example.com.