Lawyering on the Web

By Nick Holmes on January 5, 2000
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Published in the Legal Week Benchmarker, January 2000

Legal portals, ISPs and internet communities

A portal (or gateway), as the word implies, is a site designed to provide access to the web. There are a number of sites providing useful indexes of legal resources for the UK lawyer. Two with the longest provenance are the infolaw Gateway to the UK Legal Web at www.infolaw.co.uk which I maintain and Delia Venables’ Legal Resources at www.venables.co.uk. Both these sites present, in different ways, classified indexes of lawyers, legal resources and lawtech on the web.

Delia Venables and I have also cooperated in authoring Researching the Legal Web: a guide to legal resources on the internet (2nd edition, Butterworths, October 1999) which reviews over 600 legal sites on the web of use to UK lawyers and is designed to be complemented by our websites.

A number of providers have attempted to set up online legal communities. These seek to provide a one-stop-shop for the lawyer rather than necessarily facilitating access to the wide world beyond. In this category fall Lawlink UK at www.lawlink.co.uk, the UK version of the like-named Irish service established with some success at a time when there was little else available for Irish lawyers. Lawlink provides secure email and discounted access to services such as Extel company reports, RM Online company searches Dunn & Bradstreet company credit reports and Infolink legal and business news and reports. A more recent entrant is Lawyers Online is at www.lawyersonline.co.uk which describes itself as a ‘dedicated internet service provider for lawyers’. It provides free internet access and secure email, hosts discussion groups and is developing other content and services.

Other pretenders to the legal community crown include:

Hemscott Legal at www.hemscottlegal.com is a specialist portal aimed at finance/investment lawyers, with data about companies, deals, disputes and recruitment.

Of particular interest to in-house lawyers will be Elexica, Simmons & Simmons’ portal at www.elexica.com. Launched in November last year, Elexica is intended as a gateway to the firm’s expertise for clients and law students, as well as a forum for the whole of the legal profession to discuss relevant issues in law. Unlike the online services Blue Flag from Linklaters & Alliance, or Clifford Chance’s NextLaw, which provide legal solutions (see below), Elexica is designed more as an open exchange of information.

Commercial law news and briefings

The International Centre for Commercial Law from Legalease at www.icclaw.com is a long-established and well regarded source of itelligence about UK, European and overseas law firms, including online versions of the Legal 500, Lawyers in Europe and Asia Pacific Legal 500 directories, with topical briefings on all commercial law topics.

The International Law Office at www.internationallawoffice.com covers similar ground with legal newsletters, law firm directories and legal news. Mondaq Business Briefing at www.mondaq.com also provides thousands of articles on commercial topics by leading UK and international contributors and a number of industry surveys.

Legal news for in-house lawyers is well-catered for by Legal Week at www.lwk.co.uk, the Interactive Lawyer at www.interactive-lawyer.com (The Lawyer newspaper dressed up as an internet community) and In Brief Magazine at www.inbrief.co.uk.

Most law firms of substance provide copies of at least some of their publications online – including newsletters, briefings and more substantial documents. A small number have developed more focussed information resources, specifically designed for delivery over the web. Following are some leading examples in particular areas:

  • Baker & McKenzie’s Global e-commerce Law at www.bmck.com/ecommerce/
  • The Weblaw site at www.weblaw.co.uk, in association with Sprecher Grier Halberstam
  • Masons’ construction and computer law resources at www.masons.com
  • The Simkins Partnership’s Virtual Advertising Lawyer at www.simkins.com
  • The Marketing Law site from Osborne Clarke at www.marketinglaw.co.uk
  • Elborne Mitchell’s shipping and reinsurance materials

Law firms’ online services

Increasingly the larger law firms are giving clients online access not just to their account and matter progress data, but also to their know-how – via what are termed ‘extranets’. These may be set up to accessed only by direct dial-up or over the public internet.

The first such service was Linklaters’ Blue Flag service at www.blueflag.com which gives access to substantial financial regulatory information. NextLaw from Clifford Chance at www.nextlaw.com soon followed. NextLaw provides a spectrum of advice relating to the use of customer and employee information by multinational organisations in up to 30 jurisdictions. Its purpose is to help such organisations assess on an ongoing basis their relevant legal obligations and potential exposure to regulatory risk as well as what they should do to ensure compliance.

Another form of commoditisation of legal services is the delivery of tailored legal documentation which has already been popularised by systems such as HotDocs and RapiDocs. Recently announced, Be-Legal from Berwin Leighton at www.berwinleighton.com will provide a new web based system creating tailored legal documents and supporting professional services for businesses. The system operates by guiding users through simple questions and then automatically generates legal documents, accompanied by a suite of tailored ancillary supporting papers, which take account of the replies. The first module, targeted at entrepreneurs in the internet market, will be available shortly, including non-disclosure agreements, intellectual property transfer assignments, privacy statements and founder shareholder agreements will all be available, alongside documents to incorporate new companies, prepare board minutes and apply for VAT and Data Protection Act registration.