BAILII has been providing free access to case law for 14 years and legislation.gov.uk provides advanced (if not yet up to date) open access to all in force legislation. These resources have changed the ground rules for law publishing: smaller publishers are relying on them, adding their own value and developing new update services. We asked several independent publishers to describe their services and comment on the free primary sources.
CaseCheck was founded in 2004 by Stephen Moore.
Like BAILII and legislation.gov.uk, CaseCheck pursues the democratisation of legal research, but we also want to make it easier and more relevant. With that objective in mind, we hope to show that keeping up to date with developments in the law need not be expensive and time consuming. We aim to do this by organising and summarising case law and linking to applicable legislation therein on a daily basis, as well as providing legal news articles containing direct links to consultations, reports and practical updates. We therefore seek to bolster the accessibility of the primary sources invaluably provided by BAILII and legislation.gov.uk in two key ways: first, by summarising case law and placing legislation in its legal context; and secondly, by linking back to these foundational sites to help raise awareness of open law publishing.
More can always be done to make primary sources of law more accessible and understandable to the public, particularly in the context of legal aid cuts and the likely rise in litigants in person. This is not necessarily a task for primary law databases such as BAILII or legislation.gov.uk, but may be better left to third parties such as CaseCheck and other small independent law publishers providing summaries of judgments and legal updates paralleling endeavours by the judiciary and government to make the law plain and clearer. We hope that by making primary sources intelligible and helping to organise them coherently, BAILII and legislation.gov.uk will not only be promoted, but also allowed the time and energy needed to ensure their databases remain up to date and accurate.
We publish our content on a variety of media so that it is readily available to as many people as possible in a format of their choice. Although our website serves as the focal and entry point of much of our content, we post regular updates on Twitter, FaceBook and Google+ and provide an email bulletin every Friday containing the legal news articles and case summaries added to the site that week. For subscribers we publish a downloadable and searchable quarterly ebook, the Case Law Digest, of all summaries added to the database during the relevant period. We also have a mobile version of the site for conducting legal research on the go and are making use of new app technologies through our CPD Timecard, which automatically records time spent by subscribers conducting legal research on the site and provides alerts to content recently added and directly relevant to their personal preferences.
CaseCheck has recently converted to a subscription-based service to ensure the ongoing development of the database and to research potential innovations in legal research. The subscription entitles a user to search the summaries we have on the database and provides support in finding judgments that have not yet made it onto the site, the ability to create a personal profile in order to bookmark relevant cases, a weekly email bulletin direct to their inbox and an online CPD recorder. Compared to other online legal resources, the monthly subscription price of £8+VAT pm is minimal. Also, subscribers are not tied into a contract: there is no minimum subscription term and subscribers are free to cancel at any time.
Kate Manning is a legal writer and editor at CaseCheck. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Law Brief Publishing
Law Brief Publishing arose out of a free email newsletter which first went out over ten years ago. Since then we have built up a string of successful legal newsletters including Law Brief Update and Personal Injury Brief Update. These go out monthly to over 10,000 email addresses and include case law updates written by a number of legal professionals.
We also have a subscription-based Personal Injury Brief Update Law Journal. This provides about 25 articles a month on personal injury and related topics and we believe it is the leading online personal injury law journal. The price for a whole office of solicitors is £199+VAT and for individual barristers £125+VAT. This price includes access to up to 12 hours of CPD for each solicitor in an office as well as access to the online version of Kevan and Ellis on Credit Hire.
The benefits of publishing online are immense. Perhaps the most important for our readers is the immediacy, in other words the ability to publish up-to-date content as soon as it arrives and not be stuck waiting for printers and distributors and the like. Alongside this there is the convenience of being able to read the content wherever you happen to be as well as earning your CPD points without the need to leave the office. On the publishing side, online publishing obviously doesn’t carry the same overheads as traditional publishers which means we can afford to be innovative and responsive to both technology and the market without great capital outlay.
That said, it has taken years of hard work to get to where we are now and we still find that we’re coming up with new ideas for improvements on a regular basis and see this very much as the norm going forward.
BAILII and legislation.gov.uk are fantastic sources of legal information and form an incredibly important backdrop to what the rest of us are doing online.
Tim Kevan is a co-founder and Director of Law Brief Publishing Limited. Email email@example.com.
Daniel Barnett’s Employment Law Newsletter began in 1999. We provide employment law updates by email to about 28,000 double opt-in recipients. Most are employment lawyers and judges and about 40 per cent are HR professionals, students and union members.
We send out a bulletin whenever an important case is handed down, which we discover either by an hourly automatic computer review of BAILII, or (occasionally) via Twitter. Typically there are two or three bulletins a week. The case summaries are written by a panel of about 40 employment barristers and a few solicitors who undertake to produce the summaries within a two hour window.
A few years ago BAILII became concerned at the traffic coming from our bulletins. They discovered that there would be several thousand identical “hits”, all from the same source, occurring within a few minutes, which was causing problems for their servers. Initially, Joe Ury (the director of BAILII) had reservations about us linking directly to the BAILII reports. However, they agreed to let us do so and BAILII has been wonderful at coping with the voluminous but sporadic traffic we send to it.
The bulletins are, and will always be, free. They serve six purposes.
First, they are intended to be the leading alerter service for employment law news. We get there first. Our summaries are pointers only: there is no detailed analysis and no commentary on ramifications. They just set out the ratio and the facts in 200 words or less.
Second, they are a promotional tool for the employment law team at Outer Temple Chambers. We are able to communicate directly with segmented portions of the list, so (for example) if we are organising a seminar for in-house lawyers in Leeds, we can target that exact group to receive information.
Third, they promote the employment bar generally as a source of ability and expertise: we always display a photograph of the barrister who writes the case summary, along with a link to their page on their Chambers’ website. Most contributors will receive anything between 20 and 100 click throughs for each summary. When you compare the 45 minutes it takes to write a case summary, which gives the barrister exposure to 28,000 people with the day or more it takes to write a seminar (which will be delivered to maybe 50 people), it makes the promotional value of the bulletins a no brainer.
Fourth, the bulletins generate revenue through advertising. Many carry advertisements for an employment lawyer vacancy or for seminars or conferences.
Fifth, we promote and assist employment-law related charities by giving them free (or very heavily discounted) advertisements for their services and events.
Sixth, we run a business off the back of the bulletins, whereby we write and design own-branded monthly employment law bulletins for solicitors to send directly to their clients (we also use our technology to handle the distribution for them). See www.emplawservices.co.uk for more details.
Our list has grown organically since we set it up. We’ve never paid for a subscriber, never paid for advertisements, and never added people ourselves. It’s very much a testament to the marketing power of regular, reliable, useful and free information.
Daniel Barnett is an employment law barrister at Outer Temple Chambers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the next issue more independent publishers will describe their services.