eBooks for lawyers – an essential guide

Although eBooks have been around in various guises for many years, they only hit the big time in 2010 with the introduction of Kindle 3 from Amazon and the launch of the iPad from Apple; they have since exploded in popularity to the extent that Amazon now sells more eBooks than print editions. On the legal front, a third of lawyers now use tablet computers and LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters and other law publishers are all now offering an increasing number of their books as eBooks.

Perhaps you’ve already dived in. If not, or even so, here is a guide to the confusing eBook minefield.


eBooks can be read on a variety of devices, including:

  • personal computers and laptops (both PC and Mac)
  • smartphones like Apple iPhone, Android devices, Windows phones and RIM BlackBerry
  • tablet computers such as the Apple iPad, Android devices (including Google’s own Nexus), Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Microsoft’s Surface and RIM’s Playbook
  • dedicated eBook devices like Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s Reader and Barnes and Noble’s Nook.

Dedicated devices are optimised specifically for reading eBooks, incorporating features like “electronic paper” screen technology, page turning buttons and other features not found on multi-function devices. Amazon’s Kindle holds a dominant position.

Tablets and smartphones break down principally between Apple devices, which currently command a 60 per cent market share, and the rest: with those using Google’s Android operating system taking approximately 30 per cent of the market and Windows and RIM (Blackberry) devices just 4 per cent each.

There are obvious disadvantages to reading eBooks on PCs (not portable), laptops (not portable enough) and smartphones (too small). However, they can be regarded as complementary devices as you can, for example, use a PC or laptop as a “control centre” to download your eBooks and sync them to your preferred portable device(s) and/or to read your eBooks on your PC/laptop while in office and your smartphone/tablet while out and about.


Dedicated eBook devices incorporate their own reader software. Reading eBooks on any other device requires reader software; on tablets and smartphones software comes in the form of apps available from the appropriate app store. Readers are generally free so you might download several to try them out.

Examples of popular readers are:

There are numerous other eBook reader apps available from the iTunes and Android app stores.

The ability to view in different sizes and fonts, search, highlight, bookmark etc, depends on the eReader you are using. It is notable here that Thomson Reuters have developed ProView, the first “professional grade” eReader specifically designed with the needs of lawyers in mind. Thomson Reuters ProView titles in the UK are currently only available for the iPad using the ProView reader. Support for other tablet computers will follow.


The most widely used eBook format is ePub which can be read directly by most readers. PDF can also be read by almost all readers.

LexisNexis publish their eBooks in ePub format.

Jordans publish their ebooks in both ePub and PDF.

Thomson Reuters ProView format titles can only be read with the ProView app, currently available for iPad, PC or Mac only (not Android tablets or other readers).

Despite its market dominance, Amazon Kindle won’t read ePub directly, only its own AZW format or PDF; but you can convert ePub for use with Kindle with a utility like Calibre.

DRM and licensing

Digital rights management (DRM) refers to access control technologies that are used by publishers to limit the use of digital content after sale. We’re not going to go into detail here. Suffice it to say that the movement is towards so-called “soft DRM” that is not enforced by technology but by law. Soft DRM doesn’t attempt to create a pirate proof solution but is about stating copyright ownership and the licence position, often including the use of watermarking.

The leading law publishers will manage your eBook subscriptions through a personal online account. Here is how LexisNexis deal with it:

How many times can I download my eBook?

Once you’ve purchased an eBook, you can gain access as many times as you like. Your license to download an eBook from the LexisNexis download centre, however, covers five downloads per title.

Can I share my eBook?

No. LexisNexis eBooks as copyright works cannot be shared. LexisNexis eBooks are electronic publications licensed for your personal use only. If you would like to purchase a multiple-user licence.

What does DRM mean, and how will it affect my eBook ownership?

eBooks bought directly from LexisNexis are not restricted with ”˜hard DRM’ ie they are not time-bombed (the book does not become inactive after a period of time). You can copy and paste and print for your reasonable personal use insofar as copyright law and your licence from us permits. Our eBooks feature “social DRM” which enables us to track licence and copyright violations without inhibiting the users’ experience.


eBooks are updated via the publication of new editions – just like print books! So you download and pick up the new edition and stop using the old. The downside is you will lose any highlighters and bookmarks you may have applied to the old edition, unless you are using Thomson Reuters ProView which promises to transfer them to updated editions.

The ProView app also checks for updates whenever it is connected to the internet and they are downloaded automatically. LexisNexis eBooks are not updated automatically. They say: “Your purchase of an eBook entitles you to a download which is available offline; it is therefore physically impossible for LexisNexis to push updates out to the eBook. One benefit of this is that you can keep a library of old editions, eg statutory handbooks.”


Of course you are! But if you’re looking for guidance on choice of device for law, here’s my tuppence worth:

1) If you need to access Sweet & Maxwell (Thomson Reuters) eBooks, currently you can only do that on iPad, PC or Mac; on Android tablets soon.

2) Other law publishers’ eBooks (in ePub or PDF) can be read on almost any tablet or dedicated eBook device apart from Amazon Kindle. So your choice will depend on other factors.

3) There’s a huge library of Kindle eBooks for the mass market, including popular law, but not for hard law; and it doesn’t natively handle ePub.

Nick Holmes is joint editor of the Newsletter. Email nickholmes@infolaw.co.uk.

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