This is the second in our series on independent publishers providing law update services and their views on BAILII and legislation.gov.uk. In the last issue we covered CaseCheck, Law Brief Publishing and Daniel Barnett.
Bath Publishing was founded in 2004. We currently run two legal update sites: Employment Cases Update on our own behalf and Family Law Hub in a venture with Class Legal, Mills & Reeve and 29 Bedford Row. We also set up and ran Family Law Week for a good number of years (it is now published by Law Week Publishing). All this means we have long expertise in working alongside the open sources of information and adding our own content on top of them.
We regularly link to BAILII and – with some hesitation – to legislation.gov.uk. The existence of these two services was a pre-requisite for launching our services as they provide a means to refer users to primary sources so we can at least make a mark against the larger publishers and their proprietorial databases. Of course, legislation.gov has many flaws – not the least of them being that integration of amendments is inconsistent – but a link there is an improvement on nothing.
On a wider view, I am appalled that we still have to accept these flaws. Providing access to an accurate source of UK law should be seen as a cornerstone of our democracy even more now that many more people will be representing themselves in court. The complexity of our law-making process may have something to do with it so maybe this is a wider issue than the mere publishing budget.
For us, the importance of BAILII is more than a database we can link to; it is also a good reliable source of new judgments we can report. The other source we use regularly is the EAT judgments page. This is certainly a site that could do with some work – searching is difficult as the text of the judgments is not indexed.
Both Employment Cases Update and Family Law Hub are a combination of free and paid-for material. An important factor in deciding what we charge for is whether that content is freely available elsewhere: judgments tend to be free to view whereas articles and training resources will be protected. Of course providing some free content allows us to get readers on to the site in the first place and is viewed as part of the marketing costs.
We publish across most formats (except for an app so far), as I see them as all part of the same thing. The website provides the core material that we then disseminate via email, Twitter and RSS. This way readers can use our sites in whichever way they prefer.
We use blogs as an adaptable way to supplement the core content perhaps for a specific topic. For example, we have just launched a blog running alongside the Family Law Hub which will countdown to the launch of the single family court. And of course there are many sites out there that have deployed blogging software to run comprehensive update services so for me the dividing line is not that great anyway. It is the content itself that makes the crucial difference.
David Chaplin is Managing Director of Bath Publishing Limited.
The availability of free legal information online through websites such as BAILII and legislation.gov.uk has democratised the process by which legal practitioners and information professionals source their content.
At Jordan Publishing we provide a number of law update services for users, both free-to-use and paid-for. The most popular of these is Family Law Newswatch which receives around 26,000 unique visitors each month. It is a free portal providing updates on recent cases, legislation changes, news, analysis and general guidance relating to the practice of family law, giving users a current awareness resource as well as the opportunity to sample content that can be accessed by signing up to Jordans’ premium services. Having purchased a license to the premium information the practitioner is then able view expert commentary beyond the paywall.
A weekly newsletter linked to the portal provides updates on current affairs, meaning the lawyer can read on the go or while having a coffee at their desk. More in-depth content that a lawyer would use in practice is published through our premium Online Services platform, which contains a number of research tools for users to browse cases, legislation and commentary.
Although Jordans sources its judgments independently, the editorial team uses BAILII as an extra check to ensure that our neutral citations are consistent. In addition to this, we have found that the availability of case and statute law elsewhere provides information seekers with a starting point for further research – free resources acting as signposts to our own premium content.
Family Law Newswatch also performs an important branding function. We don’t charge for subscribing to the newsletter or reading our portal content, so Newswatch increases brand awareness for Jordans’ Family Law imprint – directly contributing to Jordan Publishing’s strong reputation as the leading publisher of information on family law.
It is unlikely that free resources will ever be able to provide such authoritative content as that which is commercially available. Jordans’ series of Family Law Reports for example are professionally edited by leading lawyers and judicially approved before publication. Nevertheless, improvements in free services will see them starting to play an even bigger part in the legal information landscape. The legislation.gov.uk in particular provides an increasingly slick user experience, competing with some of the best online legal information services, but lacks the consistency of commercial content. At Jordans, we have a team of legal researchers who update our internal legislation database in order to ensure our publications cite the correct authorities. BAILII meanwhile still has a little catching up to do in terms of usability, though this is sure to improve as advances in web design and semantic technologies create better platforms for free content.
Ted Spilsbury is an Account Manager at Jordan Publishing.
Family Lore Focus
Every practising lawyer wants to keep up to date with developments in their subject area. There are many sites that provide free updating services, but the problem with most of these is that they only refer to news items, case reports and articles on their site. What if they have missed a news item or a case and what about articles and blog posts appearing on other sites? In relation to family law, this is where Family Lore Focus comes in.
Family Lore Focus is essentially a site that collects links to freely available family law content from across the web, including news, cases, legislation, articles and blogs. Regularly throughout the day I check every reliable source that I am aware of including family law sites, general law sites, blogs, newspapers, BAILII and many others, and post links to items of interest.
Links to news items go on Family Lore News, links to law reports (complete with a short case summary) go on Family Lore Case Digest, links to family law related articles go on Family Lore Articles and links to blog posts go (you’ve guessed it) on Family Lore Blogs. The most recent news, cases, articles and blog post links can be found on the front page of Family Lore Focus.
Family Lore Focus also provides two other methods for keeping up to date. Firstly, links to the most important news items and all of the week’s cases, articles and blog posts are included in the Family Lore Focus Newsletter, a free weekly email sent to all subscribers. You can subscribe to the Newsletter simply by giving your name and email address.
Secondly, links to all news items, cases and articles are fed on to the Family Lore Focus Twitter feed @familylaw. A link to the Newsletter also appears every Monday on the Twitter feed.
So, whichever method is most convenient: website, Newsletter or Twitter, Family Lore Focus aims to keep family lawyers fully updated on all the latest developments.
John Bolch is a family law blogger and writer and publisher of Family Lore.
CrimeLine was founded in 2002. It started life as a small distribution newsletter designed to bring to the attention of colleagues the latest cases and legislation. Almost 700 editions later the newsletter is serving the needs of nearly 20,000 lawyers who receive our bulletins.
In addition to the newsletter we have a free access case database and we provide a (paid for) training and consultancy to barristers and solicitors. In recent years we have moved into traditional print publishing and later in 2013 we will launch a digital publishing platform (CrimeLine Complete) to complement the move towards digital working within the criminal justice system.
CrimeLine differentiates itself from competitors on the following fronts: it is (and will remain) free; practising lawyers decide the content, ensuring that we cover first and foremost that which is relevant on a day to day basis; and we are unencumbered by traditional editorial models, which means that we can (and do each week) send out CrimeLine with important developments, sometimes within a few minutes of a judgment being handed down.
Over the last year we have developed our social media strategy, first with Twitter (@crimelinelaw) and more recently via Facebook (facebook.com/crimelinelaw). Twitter engagement has been remarkably successful as we continue to invest heavily in identifying what the customer wants – we really do find it good to talk.
We also developed two apps for the Apple store and tested those, concluding, however, that we would not develop the project further.
We rely heavily on free access to cases and as each year goes by this access increases, allowing publishers like ourselves to create innovative products and drive economic growth (CrimeLine employs six people). Cases come from a variety of sources, including BAILII.
Access to legislation is, however, still woefully inadequate. legislation.gov.uk is ideal for access to new statutes and SIs but it would be an act of professional negligence to use the database for accessing anything more than a few days old. Regrettably the project has been stalled for years and is not really much further on than the old statute law database. If government is to make laws accessible to all, and allow for the use of data it needs to invest considerably in the website.
We are only seeing the start of opportunities opening up as a result of more open access to data and law. I confidently predict a few decades of rapid growth as innovative lawyers further seek to disrupt the traditional publishing monopolies that have stifled knowledge distribution for so long. Whilst some areas of law thrive, the reality is that those lawyers serving the legal aid market can no longer afford traditional products with their sky high margins, which is great news for us!
Andrew Keogh is a solicitor specialising in criminal law and is publisher of CrimeLine.
If you’d like to describe your online law update service, whether it’s a for profit publishing venture or a blog, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.