Skip to main content Skip to navigation

JILT 1997 (2) - Paliwala et al.

User Needs in Electronic Law Reporting

A Research Study of The Law Reports

Dr Abdul Paliwala Andrew Cartwright Andrew Terrett
University of Warwick University of Warwick Masons

1. Introduction
2. Opinions on Paper Law Versions
  2.1 A Historical Background
  2.2 Using Paper Versions
3. Use of Computer Equipment
  3.1 Legal Information Retrieval Systems
  3.2 Interviewees' Use of IT
4. Developing an Electronic Version
  4.1 Nature and Extent of the Database
  4.2 Authenticity
  4.3 Ease of Use
  4.4 Search and Navigation
  4.5 Accessibility and Communication
  4.6 Cost
5. Conclusion

Word icon and download article in .doc format Download


This article explores user needs in relation to electronic versions of law reports. It is based on research carried out at the instigation of the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales, the findings of which were used in the development of the electronic version of the Council's Law Reports which have been made available since 1996 [1] . Interviews were conducted with a selected group of judges, barristers, solicitors, law academics and librarians. At the end of the study, all participants were invited to a seminar at which the draft findings were discussed. The study examined the purposes for and the manner in which lawyers use law reports and electronic information systems, before considering what they would wish to see in an electronic version of The Law Reports. While realising that the development and use of electronic media would necessarily have a significant impact on legal research culture, the users were concerned to ensure that any changes should be a development of existing legal culture and values rather than a radical departure from these. Users favoured evolutionary development rather than radical departure from paper systems, in particular desiring the electronic versions to be similar to paper ones, but with added features, and urged the development of common standards among publishers. There was also a desire for economic and ascertainable subscription systems.

Keywords: Electronic law reports, legal information retrieval, CD-ROMs.

This is a refereed article published on 30 June 1997.

Citation: Paliwala A et al, 'User Needs in Electronic Law Reporting: A Research Study of The Law Reports', 1997 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

1. Introduction

The ways in which law reports are published have had and will continue to have a significant effect on the way in which legal work is carried out. The advent of electronic publication of law reports represents the possibility of a great shift in nature of this work and for those who advocate the greater use of this technology, it is vital that this is based on an appreciation of existing systems and their use. This article is based on a series of interviews conducted between January and April 1995 with a cross-section of the legal profession to solicit opinions concerning the introduction of an electronic version of The Law Reports. As these reports are accepted as being the authoritative source of case law in England and Wales, this research was initiated by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales to find out more about current practices and needs in relation to paper and electronic versions of law reports. The 22 persons interviewed were selected on the basis that they had been using computer technology as part of their work for some time, and in this sense they cannot be said to be typical of the legal profession. However their familiarity with both media and their authority ensured that their opinions could play an influential part in the development of an electronic version of The Law Reports. The names of interviewees were suggested by a senior member of the Judiciary, the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Committee of Heads of University Law Schools and the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians [2]. We deliberately avoided a tightly structured questionnaire in favour of a checklist enabling the interviewees to comment as widely as possible and provide qualitative information. The interviewees also participated in a seminar in which the preliminary findings of the research were discussed.

This article is divided into four main parts. The first section considers some of the main features of the transition achieved by the original publication of the Law Reports in the second half of the last century. Although there have been great changes in the quality and quantity of law reporting since the Incorporated Council for Law Reporting in England and Wales was established in 1865, there are important overlaps that can provide useful lessons about the best way of achieving change. The second section deals with current practices in the use of paper versions of law reports. Although the focus of the research was the introduction of an electronic version of one set of reports, interviewees were asked to describe how they used law reports in toto and not just how they used the Law Reports. The third section outlines some of the key developments in the use of legal information retrieval systems and electronic forms of law reporting in the United Kingdom and the relation that these have with existing paper versions, whilst the final section is a synthesis of some of the features that the interviewees considered important in the development of a new form of electronic law reporting.

2. Opinions on Paper Law Versions of Law Reports

2.1 A Historical Background

W.T. Daniel's History of the Origin of The Law Reports first published in 1884 details extensively the chaotic state of law reporting in the first part of the last century. The 'evils' he described were those of a privately operated, largely unregulated market that had little claim to accuracy, comprehensiveness or accessibility, and which, in his opinion had profound and negative effects on the administration of the law itself. The decisions of the courts would be reproduced in numerous volumes, each claiming to be an authentic record of proceedings, yet sometimes disagreeing on fundamental passages. Daniel described a system which ran the risk 'that cases would be used at any moment to contradict the law as universally received amongst the profession'. In the words of the then Lord Chancellor 'inaccuracy was an evil that lawyers had become blunted to' [3]. Variation in what should go into the report meant that whilst some would contain a minimum of factual information concerning the proceedings, concentrating on the causes and reasons for the decision, others would produce reports of great length containing counsels' arguments, documentary and evidential pleadings.

The 'regular reports' were the closest to a judicially authenticated series, produced by reporters with privileged access to judicial papers. Yet even this series attracted hostility, being 'shamefully in arrears, and some of them are disgracefully done'. Not only that but 'they are all very expensive'. Being authorised though meant that they 'must practically be had by a certain class of the Report-consuming public'.

The establishment of the Law Reports can be seen as an attempt to establish a gold standard in law reporting. According to Daniel, the new series would be speedily and, as far as possible, inexpensively produced, and with the support of the Bar would eventually be established as accurate reflections of 'judge-made law'. One of the intended by-products of the introduction of these reports was a reduction in the number of commercial reports produced, something most of the existing commercial series took as a drive towards straight- forward monopolisation. Indeed, following the introduction of the Law Reports in 1865, there was a sizeable reduction in the number of commercial series produced. For instance, the New Reports, which were first published in 1865, ceased publication in the same year. To match the speed of production of some of the commercial sets, the Weekly Notes (which were not intended to be cited in court) were established 'to inform the profession of the current decisions of the courts'. These were later replaced by the more authoritative Weekly Law Reports.

Whether the fact that the profession took over the production of an authoritative series had all the reforming effects intended is difficult to assess. The 'glorious uncertainty' of English law was largely the product of the way in which cases were reported. Through professional and judicial support, the Law Reports succeeded in becoming the authentic record of case law, setting an effective benchmark of the quality of law reporting which applies even today. However, this did not lead to the demise of alternative sources of case law. Series were designed which reflected legal developments, such as setting up of new schemes, for example Workman's Compensation, or the emergence of a distinct body of law, such as Knights Local Government Reports. Others covered cases on particular subject areas, for example, criminal appeals and company law and in recent times there has been a great expansion in specialist series of law reports.

The most comprehensive commercial reports, the All England Reports, were in part a result of dissatisfaction with aspects of the Council's work, most notably, delays in the issue of the monthly parts of The Law Reports. However the standard setting role of the Law Reports reflected in the fact that the form that the All England Reports took was not too dissimilar to that used in the Incorporated Council's series [4]. Similarly, in the criteria used for deciding whether a case should be reported, there is the question whether a case establishes 'new' law (by dealing with a novel situation or by extending the application of existing principles); together with the question of whether a case is a modern judicial restatement of established principles; clarifies conflicting decisions; interprets legislation likely to have a wide application, interprets widely applicable legislation or clarifies an important point of practice.

Although the users of law reports today do not face the same problems of authoritativeness that spurred the production of the Law Reports, the increasing volume of reported cases has created a similar issue of insecurity. This relates to the confidence that a user can have in knowing that he or she has found all the relevant legal material required in any particular task. Although in the interviews conducted as part of this research, it was clear that regular users of law reports often employed sophisticated techniques to minimise the risks of not 'knowing the law', there was also a notable reticence about ceding the work of 'finding the law' to others. Many of the judges interviewed admitted that they carry out their own research when hearing cases, even though it is accepted practice that counsel will supply copies of all the cases they hope to use in argument. One senior member of the Court of Appeal commented that 'I increasingly find that you can't rely on the advocates to provide you with all the relevant cases' [5].

2.2 Using Paper Versions of The Law Reports

Why and how someone uses law reports is largely dependent on what their role is in the legal profession. The judges interviewed, for example, needed to examine cases and specific passages in cases that had been referred to by counsel in argument, together with reference to cases found in their own research. Judges also regularly and widely read the reports to keep abreast of the law.

Barristers spoke of using law reports not only for submitting authorities, but occasionally using the reporting of Counsel's arguments to develop alternative lines of argument. Keeping up to date with specialist fields of law is an essential element of the Barrister's work routine. Amongst the solicitors interviewed there was evidence of a heavier use of secondary sources such as practitioners' texts and case summaries. Referral to law reports would often be for keeping abreast of legal developments and giving up-to-date advice. However, the use made depends on the type of work done by the solicitor, with substantial differences between those engaged in, say, litigation and conveyancing.

Academics used law reports in teaching and research, whether the latter be the writing of a commentary on a particular case or writing articles or textbooks. Librarians have a special role as information managers who responded to individual requests or provided more general information, for example as part of a weekly bulletin on recent cases. There is a growing tendency among all groups to use specialist law report series coinciding with growing specialisation of legal work. The general series used varies between the Weekly Law Reports, the All England Reports and the Law Reports, but with a preference for the Incorporated Council series for its greater authenticity, the inclusion of counsel's argument and the editorial quality.

Most interviewees had access to relevant law reports in their own chambers or offices, though this reflected their seniority. Even so, there might not be ready access to all the different series of reports needed, even amongst the senior judiciary. The judges interviewed were conscious that other members of the judiciary, particularly those on circuit experienced considerable problems in obtaining access to law reports. Similarly, law librarians complained that the cost of law reports meant that there are never enough copies to go around, even when multiple copies of popular series such as the Weeklies and All England Reports were purchased. Most interviewees worked from home as well as their chambers or offices thus making access a significant problem.

Within the paper versions of law reports there exists an elaborate and sophisticated set of tools for finding out about and locating particular cases in hard copy. Those frequently mentioned were Current Law, English and Empire Digest, Halsbury's Laws together with the various indexes to law report series. Reports of cases in newspapers or in periodicals were often considered appropriate starting points, for instance, a cross reference in a case or periodical article. Most of those interviewed regularly peruse law reports, including newspaper reports.

What is interesting is the increasing use of electronic information systems to supplement searching in hard copy. Which system is used depends largely on the nature of the task involved and the computer literacy and enthusiasm of the user. It may be that electronic database searching is a service provided by a librarian. This is often the case in relation to LEXIS. Some interviewees mentioned the profitable use of what is now known as Sweet and Maxwell's Current Legal Information which contains an electronic version of The Daily Law Reports Index. For instance one barrister said:

...these days I tend to use my database first. Once upon a time, before I used CD-ROMs and that sort of thing, if I knew the subject I was looking for, I would go and look in the indexes and check in The Times. These days I would go and look in the databases such as the Daily Law Reports Index which does summaries of The Times law reports and I would do a search on my JUSTIS Weekly Law Report disk. I would go on-line and see if there was anything up-dated on that, and I might well do some research on LEXIS.

Sometimes a brief summary of what was contained in the case would be the basis of the search - The Daily Law Reports Index or newspaper reports such as The Times enable browsing at this level. Searching solely with paper indexes does have its disadvantages especially where the information concerning a case is fragmentary or inaccurate, where the searcher has only the name of one of the parties for instance. Subject searching requires the user to be aware of the nature of different resources for searching as well as access to those resources. All those interviewed were familiar with electronic databases of one sort or another (even if they themselves had not used the many different types) and thus researching using paper-based resources appeared comparatively slow, even 'tedious'. Yet even though the search facilities offered by electronic forms were acknowledged as being superior to existing paper forms, for more in-depth consultation of the reports (not merely 'browsing') the paper version was the preferred medium.

Once a report had been found, how it was then read depended largely on the original purpose of the search. If it had been referred to by counsel, a judge would often read it from cover to cover, looking to see if the portion counsel had drawn attention to could hold the interpretation that it had been given. Headnotes were generally employed as an indication of what was important in that case, references to where an important passage was located or simply indicating whether a case was worth reading. If a user was referred to a specific passage, whether from a textbook or another law report or by counsel, then he or she would go directly to that passage and scan the rest of the report to obtain a contextual understanding. There was no difference between judges, barristers, solicitors and academics in the habit of browsing through and comparing a number of legal decisions at once. On the other hand, most users scanned law reports, particularly the headnotes, when they first read them to consider what cases were relevant to their area of expertise, selecting those which would be read from cover to cover. For our purposes, it is therefore significant that lawyers use a variety of techniques and comparative browsing appears as important as reading the full text. At the time of the original study, the standard monitor screen size of 14" limited the ability to browse more than one case at a time. However, since the study was carried out, 15" screens have become standard and serious users are moving towards 19" screens, making it possible to compare a number of cases at once.

Interviewees indicated general satisfaction with the existing structure and format of paper reports. Our attempt to instigate comparison with the West Key Number system with some interviewees did not produce any criticism of the English approach.

One interviewee commented that one of the advantages of searching through paper versions of reports, browsing from headnote to headnote, was that often this would reveal a passage or an argument that had not been anticipated. Not always knowing precise locations was not necessarily a disadvantage -

'it is not always helpful to know exactly where to go because it's very rare to get a specific answer to a specific question'.

In addition, having an understanding of the report's structure would facilitate ease of movement.

Reflective reading of reports is almost always done using a hard copy version in preference to available electronic ones. There was a variety of reasons given for this - force of habit, the ability to read paper anywhere and strain on the eyes in reading on computer screens. Others reasons offered reflected more legal particularities, such as the wish to highlight or mark important passages [6] and the current inability of some major electronic media to include page numbers or marginal letters identical to those in the hard copy in some series. One interviewee commented:

'It is nice to read books. I own my own set of law reports and it is a pleasure to actually see what has been marked in the past by other people reading them'.

Interviewees mentioned the burden of carrying around bulky volumes, lack of storage space, difficulty of access to reports unless they were available in chambers, office, home or courthouse as some of the main disadvantages of paper versions. A working court of three judges who might be involved in even a relatively modest consideration of cases might require a huge number of case volumes. However, the need for duplicate copies of reports has recently been diminished by wider use and acceptability of photocopied materials. A further disadvantage mentioned was the difficulty of incorporating passages from paper versions of law reports into word processors. Electronic forms were seen as having clear advantages over paper in this respect, but comments were noted to the effect that most electronic forms currently in production did not make this an easy task. For example, traditionally it has not been possible for a user to cut and paste as he/she moves through a case in LEXIS. However, this function is now enabled in the Windows version of LEXIS and WESTLAW.

Most interviewees accepted that computers provided a more effective search tool compared with paper, particularly when one was researching a new and unusual area. However, there was a surprising mixture of responses to the question of satisfaction with paper devices for finding relevant cases. Some respondents felt that these devices were adequate to their needs, while others were enthusiastic proponents of the information technology sources.

3. Use of Computer Equipment

3.1 Development of Legal Information Retrieval Systems

Any attempt to understand the development of the use of computers in the legal profession will need to be aware of the large 'gap' that exists between the advantages of legal information retrieval systems and the actual 'take up' of information technology solutions in legal practice. This has been a guiding thread in the substantial amount of research produced. A number of studies have been specially commissioned to try and explain this 'paradox' between the perceived advantages of information technology and the 'disappointingly low' take up by members of the legal profession (Lloyd 1986 p.1 cf Webb 1993, Widdison 1993, Susskind 1996, Duncan 1997, 1997a). What explanations are offered are often linked to the author's perspective of what place computers should occupy in the legal profession. Nevertheles it is important to note the acceleration in the use of information technology during the last two years. For example, Robson Rhodes (1996) note the doubling in the last two years (to 25% of all firms) in the number of firms which provide workstations to all fee earners. Nevertheless, even this compares unfavourably with the United States, where 60% of lawyers had computers on their desktop in 1993 (Staudt 1993, Paterson and Susskind 1994). It is a common approach in the research to make a distinction between what is referred to as 'front office' or 'operational' applications of IT and 'back office' or 'administrative' applications. The latter refers to the use of computer equipment for work such as word processing, file management and accounts, whilst operational applications, (to which this section is devoted) refer to the use of computers in court-related or legal research work. However, this distinction may become blurred in the context of use by lawyers of information technology from their own desktop, especially with software which in which the user can move seamlessly between word processing, case management, information retrieval and communication.

Legal information retrieval systems provided the earliest example of substantive use of information technology in legal work. The early developments originated in government departments, military institutions and university environments where computer technology offered an efficient means to classify large amounts of data. In the late 1960s, for example, the STATUS project at the UK Atomic Energy Agency developed a system to store all the statutes and regulations covering nuclear energy in machine readable form enabling swift location and retrieval of needed material (Aitken et al., 1972). However it was the professional Bar in the United States that exploited the new technology in the most enduring way (Aitken et al., 1972). In creating a database that had the capacity to store the whole of the United States statute and caselaw materials, LEXIS offered a service to lawyers that is now impossible to ignore. Indeed, US Counsel may be considered to be potentially negligent by doing so. WESTLAW followed in the steps of LEXIS. Since 1973 LEXIS has offered an ever expanding library of primary (statutes, case reports, regulations) and more recently secondary (commentaries, academic articles) material reproduced in full text form (Leith 1991). After 1979 LEXIS became available to lawyers in England with Butterworths Telepublishing Limited as the UK licensees. At about the same time, the STATUS project became the basis for the development of a home-grown on-line system known as EUROLEX. The possibility of a competitive market in information retrieval systems ended when Butterworths Telepublishing acquired EUROLEX resulting in an effective monopoly over legal information retrieval systems. Butterworths Telepublishing developed an extensive range of UK legal material including reported cases as well as transcripts of unreported cases. To the English lawyer, LEXIS has also offered access to a host of additional commonwealth decisions. While other databases such as JUSTIS, LAWTEL and Legal Information Resources (now incorporated in Current Legal Information) provided a measure of competition to LEXIS, the range and depth of the LEXIS database has provided it with an effective monopoly of the UK market until the 1990's when the advent of CD-ROM technology has enabled the growth of a variety of legal datasets. A more recent and spectacular development has been in the growth of the World Wide Web-based legal information retrieval systems. These were taking place even as we were undertaking our study, and in the space of the last two years an enormous amount and variety of information has been made available on the web of which this journal is but one example. In relation to primary legal sources, Cornell's Legal Information Institute <>and the Australian Legal Information Institute <> lead the way (Bruce 1995, Greenleaf 1995, Greenleaf et al 1997Greenleaf et al 1997). However, even in the United Kingdom decisions of the House of Lords are now published on their web pages <> as, more recently, are individual decisions of lower courts <>.

Until recently, the use of information retrieval systems was a question of accessing one of the growing number of databases via a telephone connection. On-line databases offered access to amounts of legal material no commercial library (and very few public libraries) could afford to hold. Yet, access was cumbersome and the interface not user-friendly. There has been much greater concern in the 1980s to make user interfaces more friendly. Thus searching for relevant material can now be done confidently and quickly. Even so, surveys revealed ambivalent reactions to the new databases. For example, Lloyd's report for the European Commission contained case studies concluding that use of particular databases 'had not really changed the firm's working habits, but it has introduced an overall impression of security, which is considered to be of great importance'(Lloyd 1986 p109). This is a point that will be expanded upon later. It is sufficient here to point out that throughout the literature there is an almost unanimous urging of the use of the computer as the vehicle to solve Western jurisdictions' 'information crisis' (see Renton Report 1975) .

A number of research projects have arisen out of the introduction of IT into the legal profession. Many of the early surveys conducted in the 1960s attempted to explore the ways that legal information retrieval systems could enhance the quality of legal research, not only offering to the lawyer a much wider field of information to draw from, but enabling relevant material to be found that much more quickly. Consequently, according to (Bing and Harvold 1977 p.68) there was 'a profusion of projects' aiming to evaluate these claims of superiority. Variations in the assessments of 'relevance' of documents gave some incoherency to the overall results, though one indicator of the computer's 'success' could be in the number of commercial firms set up to profit from the new market. In the United Kingdom it was not until the introduction of the LEXIS system in 1979 that lawyers nationwide were able to test the benefits of computer retrieval for themselves. Before LEXIS was marketed, the two main developments in the UK had a restricted user field, and though the STATUS system developed for the UK Atomic Energy Authority had been widened to include tax legislation, its first users were not lawyers but the Chemical Emergency Service and the Safety in Mines Research Establishment (Bing and Harvold 1977 p.113).

Introducing LEXIS into the UK was, according to the director of the English company responsible, a 'battle ... that was fought to encourage British lawyers to do something they didn't really want to do - namely to carry out the sort of professional legal research of the type and quality which it had become possible to achieve with LEXIS' (Bosworth 1993 p.133). Offering the full text of reported and unreported decisions together with statutory material, LEXIS was by far the most comprehensive of the databases that came to be offered to lawyers. From its beginnings it was marketed at a 'rather small section of the legal profession whose activities involve a large amount of legal research', a user group that Lloyd pointed out tended to be the large, commercial, City of London solicitors firms. Not only would these firms undertake work where the value of transactions outweighed the cost of information, but they would already have large libraries and thus understand the 'value of information'. The other main advantage was their geographical intimacy, making the supporting services easier (Lloyd 1986 pp.181-182). Yet, little thought seems to have been given by the service provider to the fact that within the smaller markets high costs could act as an overall disincentive to the user. This is in marked contrast to the strategy adopted by the Legal Information Network (LINK) which has deliberately promoted a pricing strategy which encourages the widest usage of its services among the legal professions (Susskind 1994, Armitage and Davis 1997).

The first of the European Commission's major user surveys in 1977 found that 'overall, there appeared to be a cautious acceptance' amongst potential users of the advantages of electronic databases (Svoboda 1981 p.69). Although mainly concentrated in government departments, users spoke of such benefits as increased international co-operation, increases in standardisation and the possibility of greater equality before the law. At that time training was widely felt to be unsatisfactory, and there were technical difficulties that made reliance on the database problematic. One of the survey's main findings was that it was difficult to assess the contribution of databases to legal problem solving. This was primarily due to the lowly position that recourse to databases held in the traditional hierarchy of research methods. Rarely were traditional methods replaced by searching on-line. In conclusion, the authors recommended certain principles that should be adopted to ensure a wider utilisation. These were as follows: user confidence was vital, there should be stability in the user interface, search strategies should be simple and few and the database must be kept up to date. The authors concluded with the belief that 'in the near future, legal databases will be only one (minor) tool amongst many. There is a need for education to catch up' (Svoboda 1981 p.115).

The second of the Commission's surveys was published in 1986. The authors pointed out that in the time period between the two surveys there had been significant developments in the legal database industry, and in some countries dramatic ones, 'but there had been no revolutions in the European database industry as a whole'. Although there were differences in the approach of these two surveys, the former being a detailed technical assessment of all aspects of using databases whilst Lloyd's study focused on more marketing related questions, there were telling similarities in the findings. The importance of user friendliness to the end user was emphasised more in the Lloyd study. Both studies highlighted the complexity of the databases and the continuing fact 'that only few of the facilities of a legal database are in practice used by most users'. More disappointing to the authors was the conclusion that the 'working methods of lawyers had hardly changed as a result of the introduction of legal databases, and that neither study foresees a dramatic increase in use' (Lloyd 1986 p 8). However, it should be noted that Lloyd's study was based on research carried out over a decade ago when personal computers and networks were not as pervasive as they are now and before the full effect of the CD-ROM revolution had been felt. Recent studies have indicated significant change in the level of IT use in law office (Touche Ross 1990; Webb 1993, Robson Rhodes 1996). Webb's most recent study of provincial practitioners clearly suggests a significant amount of IT use, even for 'front office' applications. Most significantly, the figures for access to legal information retrieval show that compared with the Law Society study in 1989 when only 6% of solicitors had access to legal information retrieval, the Bristol sample showed an overall figure of 39.4%, including 78.1% in firms of 15 or more partners. It is of course not easy to compare one study with another, but all the indications are that medium and large firms are beginning to use 'front-office' IT applications, as Webb puts it 'usage of front-office IT is somewhat higher than initially anticipated' (Webb 1993 p222).

There was a universal perception that the first generation information retrieval systems such as LEXIS and CELEX were user-unfriendly and partly explained the seeming 'disjunction' between the perceived and expressed (by lawyers) advantages of information retrieval systems and the actual frequency of use. Even those who had participated in training in effective means of on-line research had recourse to databases 'as a last resort' (Lloyd 1986, Irving and Blasdale 1992, Chambers 1991, Webb 1993, Eisenschitz et al 1994). Webb offers the cost of installing and using information retrieval, the lack of IT skills in users, availability and attitudinal barriers. A further factor is that the databases do not meet the needs of the users.

In relation to cost, it is clear that on-line systems discourage frequent use because one is charged for use every time. This contrasts with CD-ROM based systems which are based on 'one off' subscriptions. There is in those circumstances no psychological constraint against the use of such systems. Some evidence for this can be found in the relatively greater popularity of in-house databases in law firms (Webb 1993, Widdison 1993). In this respect, Taylor's US study comparing the use of on-line and CD-ROM systems in New Mexico is very interesting. It contrasts the preference by students for the LEXIS on-line system with that by practitioners for the CD-ROM based systems. An important factor is that students are given unlimited access (on a one-off charge basis to law schools) to LEXIS whereas practitioners have to pay for LEXIS as they use it, while they pay for the CD-ROM service on a 'one off' basis (Taylor 1994).

The lack of IT training is another important factor. In the UK, a payment per use system has undoubtedly discouraged the effective training of law students who will become the future users of IT systems. For UK lawyers as a whole, and solicitors in particular, legal research has a low place in the hierarchy of legal work (Leith 1991 p.119). For Bosworth, the role of law librarians was crucial to the way a system such as LEXIS could expand its user base. Indeed the early surveys had emphasised the pivotal role of such 'mid users'. Unfortunately, most studies paid surprisingly little attention to the fact that computer equipment has only begun to appear on the lawyer's desktop very recently, and even when a lawyer has such equipment, it is not certain that it will be networked to access on-line or CD-ROM based information retrieval systems. Yet, where such access is provided, as is the case with a growing number of academic institutions, there is increasing and effective use of information retrieval systems. In the circumstances, until now, the main technique has been to delegate queries to information librarians in both the large commercial firms and in the academic environment. Law librarians were encouraged to offer training to both staff and students in effective on-line searching. (Gray 1984). However the number of institutions offering effective training is still limited (Webb 1993).

At the same time as attempts were being made to pinpoint those factors responsible for the hesitant approach to retrieval systems, the release of a technical paper in a computer science journal threatened to undermine one of the key claims made on behalf of systems such as LEXIS (Blair and Moran 1985). Searching for relevant material had, for the majority of systems available, been a question of employing combinations of words that most closely resembled the key words or phrases in the stored texts. Using connecting words such as AND, OR, and NOT (the so-called 'Boolean Operators') recall could be both thorough and, it was claimed, accurate. Evaluating a mainstream full text information retrieval system (one that the House of Lords had been using since the 1970s) Blair and Moran found that the rate of recall was far lower than had been expected. Where the lawyers using the system had believed they were obtaining around 75% of relevant documents, in fact, bearing in mind the initial query, only 20% of documents had been retrieved from the database. Blair and Moran agreed that these were surprising results but went on to conclude that it was not too difficult to explain why this was so. They pointed out that the base assumption that it would be simple for users to foresee the exact words and phrases was unsustainable, that several words were often used to name the same event, and in a database of documents such as the one under consideration (it contained all the documentary material, correspondence, minutes of meetings pertaining to a US law suit) queries would often be orientated by the user's perspective on the subject, for example searching for material relating to the accident when it has been called the 'incident', 'event', 'situation', 'problem' and 'difficulty' by the original authors. Blair and Moran did not seek to deny those experiments performed in the 1960's which had demonstrated high recall and precision rates. The difference in their study was that it was conducted on a much larger database: according to their findings 'deterioration of recall [was a] function of a file size' (Blair and Moran 1985 p 296).

While the Boolean keyword search system remains central to information retrieval, recent developments have transformed ways of using datasets by enabling a variety of forms of navigation to supplement keyword searches. These include, in particular, development of searching through automatically generated indexes and thesauri. The most significant development has, however, been that of hypertext. It enables a user to move directly from one document to another by the means of hypertext links which may be pre-defined or defined by the user. Thus, a user can move directly to the text of a case referred to in another case by clicking on a reference to that case, enabling browsing of the corpus law reports in a manner familiar to lawyers. Some of the defects in keyword searching, which received criticism both in terms of efficiency and user friendliness can therefore be obviated by the complementary use of the newer techniques. Nevertheless, the extent to which this is taking place in the legal domain requires further research.

It was a tenet of Lloyd's cross-Europe study that the market in each country could only support one comprehensive legal database. This is perhaps borne out by the fact that in the UK competition between the two databases offering access to Community material ceased when one bought out the other. What has come to be offered in recent times is the introduction of those traditional paper based research tools in electronic form, complementary to hard copy rather than as potential replacements. For example, summaries of recent cases may be found via the LAWTEL system, and it is now possible to access Current Law via a personal computer. Similarly, publishers of case reports now offer electronic versions of popular series, such as the All England Law Reports, The Weekly Law Reports and, more recently, the Law Reports. [7] The advantages of these electronic series is partly in the form they are offered in, namely CD-ROMs. For a one off payment an archive can be acquired with all the advantages of recall and breadth computer retrieval can offer. For some this heralds a change in strategy for those marketing information retrieval systems. Furthermore, the ability to cut and paste directly from a report into a document, a capacity facilitated by Windows-based systems has also transformed the nature of such systems. Rather than viewing the searching capacity of a system as its most important asset, 'given the limited amount of real legal research which lawyers actually seem to do - a better model for selling the concept of access to computerised primary legal information is as, once again, a means of electronic publishing with the emphasis on 'publishing' as much as 'electronic'' (Leith 1991 p120).

3.2 Interviewees' Use of Information Technology

As we were interviewing a group of informed users, it was not surprising that there was a relatively high level of computer literacy as compared with the legal professions as a whole. All used word processing for their document preparation and most had access to computer equipment at home and at the chambers or office. All used the IBM PC as opposed to Macintosh, and the use of Windows was growing although not dominant. Computer equipment also serves as a means of communication for a number of those interviewed, usually within a defined group - FELIX amongst the judiciary, LINK between solicitors and barristers, internal e-mail systems within law firms, and JANET mail for academics and academic librarians.

An increasing amount of interest was shown in wider Internet resources, particularly the World Wide Web, but use was at a very early stage if at all. All were aware of the LEXIS legal information retrieval system but confirming the findings of recent studies, a substantial number did not use it personally, usually relying on librarians to obtain the information (Eisenchitz et al., 1994). A number of our respondents used the JUSTIS CD-ROMs. It would appear that librarians, barristers and academics were more active users of electronic law report systems than solicitors or judges, but this is a highly impressionistic perspective from such a small sample. A factor mentioned by a solicitor was that they do not have much need to use primary sources such as law reports for their work. An interesting explanation was given by a law librarian for determining whether or not large firms of solicitors subscribed to electronic law reports:

'Part of it is political in terms of the balance of partners in the firm. We are a large corporate firm, although we do corporate litigation, so to a certain extent it's the litigation partners who push for it, but the corporate partners are the majority so they won't use it'.

Use of computer equipment was seen by many as complementary to research in hard copy. It can be an invaluable tool for searching for cases across a wide range of sources. The amount of information being stored on systems such as CELEX or LEXIS enables confident searches to be made. Word processing was widely used for creating legal documents and the ability to download from legal databases enables a portion of reference material to be cut and pasted.

Keeping abreast of legal developments is made quicker with the availability of electronic summaries of reports in Sweet and Maxwell's CD based Current Legal Information, LAWTEL and the newly developing Current Law. Further recent developments which require research are services provided by the Legal Information Network (LINK), Sweet and Maxwell's web based service for ordering case transcripts <> and New Law On-Line. The latter provides both case summaries and full text of selected cases.

Use of electronic versions of law reports was not widespread, though those who did use such reports expressed favourable sentiments. At this moment it is important to distinguish between those reports that are produced in CD-ROM form such as the Weekly Law Reports, and those that are offered as an on line service such as LEXIS. The different methods of charging for CD-ROM and on-line services were mentioned by a number of those interviewed, particularly librarians, as significant in determining which system was preferred. Systems such as LEXIS which charge by connection time and number of searches were seen as both very indeterminate as to cost and very expensive. CD-ROM based systems, which involve fixed subscriptions were seen as more manageable and less expensive. LEXIS does have the capacity to offer up thousands of cases as a result of ill-worded searches. The disincentives for using LEXIS were seen as not only the price, but its difficult user interface. A typical comment was as follows:

'I think it is hugely overpriced for the amount of information that you get, because it is difficult to search....'

There was widely voiced criticism of the interface of LEXIS, particularly its look and feel on the screen, its inability to provide you with page numbers of paper reports, the difficulty of moving from page to page, the production of too many irrelevant references and the awkwardness of its downloading as well as the poor quality of printout. This view was not universal and improvements were taking place in the interface even as the research was being done. Academics who used LEXIS found it perfectly satisfactory for their needs, but one should remember that they pay much less, do not have to produce printouts in court and generally use LEXIS to find appropriate references rather than to read on screen. The keyword search engine of systems such as LEXIS has achieved general acceptance, but this is partly because users have not generally used alternative search and navigation techniques. On the other hand, users who have had access to JUSTIS Weekly Law Reports seemed more satisfied with them.

Some users were aware of newer Windows-based systems being introduced which made obvious efforts to offer continuity between paper and computer, that it is that the report on screen looking almost identical to the page in the book. Those who wanted to be able to use a given case, for example, by incorporating a passage into a judgement or a submission appreciated the new developments. However, some resistance was also expressed as regards unfamiliar layout and the new search techniques.

Overall, much depended on the way and purposes for which electronic law reports were used. Those users who were only interested in finding citations to relevant cases and were used to the DOS environment were likely to be satisfied with systems such as LEXIS. Others who were seeking to integrate the use of electronic law reports within their other work on computer were likely to be dissatisfied with the then existing interfaces.

4. Developing an Electronic Version of The Law Reports

Once we had discussed the use of paper and electronic media, we asked users what they would wish to see in an electronic version of The Law Reports. There was general agreement that publishing the most authoritative version of law reports in an electronic form would bring significant benefits to the various legal communities. It was expected that the publication would go back to 1865 and this would be particularly important as no other series published electronically would go back that far in time. Portability, whether delivered on CD-ROM or as part of a network-based dataset could improve the situation faced by circuit judges. In addition, it was said that if The Law Reports were produced in a format incorporating the advantages of electronic versions, whilst being 'friendly' to the new or infrequent user, it could attract many new legal users who had previously given computers 'a wide berth.' Cost was mentioned as being a significant issue for the majority of those interviewed, particularly amongst the librarians, even though this issue was not explored in any great depth in the research.

4.1 Nature and Extent of the Database

We have noted the marked preference for the electronic publication of the whole of the Law Reports. This was the case even though for some involved in court work, reference might seldom be made to cases from before World War II. A number of interviewees felt that for the sake of comprehensiveness it would be an advantage to incorporate Volume One of the Weekly Law Reports into the publication.

Interviewees were informed that it was proposed to divide the data into four volumes and asked for their preferred form of division [8] . In general the preferred solution was for a division according to time periods though this was rarely a firm answer. Those who favoured the existing method of division by court were alive to certain associated problems, such as the reprinting of all CDs on each updating period, and a frequent need to cross-refer between volumes, especially in relation to Appeal Cases. It was felt that a division according to calendar period would have a clear advantage in the ability to search all recent cases within one volume. Some users saw advantages in a broad classification according to subject matter, such as criminal law, civil law and public law but also recognised that this would be difficult to achieve from an 'editorial' point of view. It was nevertheless considered that some of the problems of preferring any particular division could be ameliorated by search and navigation techniques which allowed for a search through all four volumes at once. There were no strong opinions as to the relevant time periods for each CD.

It was widely felt that the electronic version should, so far as possible, mirror the 'look and feel' of the printed version, though the reasons given for this were varied. One such reason was that it would be easier to attract present non-users of computers if there was continuity between the two versions. A more significant consideration was that exact continuity with the paper version including page numbers and, if possible, marginal letters, would facilitate citation. One of the librarians hoped it would not be too dissimilar in its use of features to other electronic law publications as it would avoid having to learn a whole new series of commands and symbols. A barrister suggested that an option enabling adjustment of fonts to suit personal preferences would be useful.

In addition, this desire for near identical look applied to printouts. Such copies would be easy to read as well as being familiar to the users. It was also felt that this would considerably improve the chances of being acceptable in court. echoing Leith's (Leith 1991) point concerning the publishing aspects of information retrieval systems, it was felt that being able to print a report in a form that would look almost identical to the original would be invaluable for barristers and solicitors.

4.2 Authenticity

Subject to this continuity in look, all interviewees considered that printouts from the electronic version should be and would be acceptable in court. This was a generally progressive attitude considering the amount of attention attracted by the issue of authenticity in this country and abroad. With an increase in public demand for access to judgements in electronic form, the issues of standards and authenticity become that much more urgent. Outlining some of the more important issues in a report prepared for the Judges' Computer Advisory Committee of the Canadian Judicial Council, Martin Felsky highlighted the instability of electronic law reports in comparison to the high standards of accuracy in paper reports. 'Copies of texts placed on bulletin boards or on diskettes appearing at the back of law report texts can easily be manipulated by anyone with access to a personal computer' (Felsky 1995 p.10).

At the seminar, it was agreed that the traditional method of accepting the barrister's signature at the bottom of the report was not a sufficient safeguard in the case of an electronic report, because of the possibility of tampering with the content of the report. Technical and other methods of ensuring authenticity of printouts from an electronic report were discussed. It was agreed that this is a matter which needed further consideration, but in principle, reliance had to be placed on counsel's ethics.

4.3 Ease of Use

Strong emphasis was placed on 'user-friendliness'. In particular, it was suggested that many of the colleagues of those we were interviewing would not be computer literate. This limitation requires that the user interface should be simple and uncluttered. Icons should be used sparingly and a simpler search system could be developed for first time users to guide them through a more basic search.

A different aspect of the ease of use was that it should be possible to cut and paste directly into one's word processor from the Law Reports. This would be a great boon to all forms of legal writing. It was understood that in a Windows environment it is possible to implement such a facility.

We also asked whether a user should be able to move directly to another CD-based or on-line database. Many users thought that this would be technically difficult to achieve and some doubted the usefulness of such a feature. Librarians were concerned with the cost of achieving such inter-links. Users might not be aware of the different charging implications of moving from CD to an on-line format, although they agreed that it would be possible to inform the user of this or to control such use. As we have suggested, one dataset which was considered to be particularly important was that dealing with statutes.

In our view many of the users were not aware of the technical possibilities already being exploited by systems such as the World Wide Web, which by using a standard software environment enable datasets to inter-link. Nevertheless, this was the natural implication of the strong demand for standardisation which emerged during the seminar. There was clearly a concern that users will have to learn to use different interfaces in relation to different legal information systems. It was pointed out that there were over 23 different series of law reports. The paper versions were generally similar in approach, but the electronic versions could continue to be very different. This raised two problems, first the need to learn different interfaces for each electronic product, and secondly the difficulty of interlinking from one product to another, for example in the case of a reference in a law report in one series to a case in a different series.

Two different approaches were suggested to the development of standards in this area. The first one was to develop some form of consensus between different service providers as to common standards to provide similarity (rather than sameness) in the interface design as well as a system to enable inter-linking between different series of law reports or other material. A second, and more radical approach was for a separation between raw data and the interface [9] . Publishers such as the Incorporated Council would provide the raw data in electronic form to which users could apply a customised interface. This would permit users to have the same interface for all the electronic information systems they used. While this latter suggestion had its attractions, concern was expressed that this might affect quality control, the authority of the Law Reports and their acceptance in a court of law. It was agreed that these issues related to publishers and service providers as a whole and not just the Incorporated Council. It was considered highly desirable to arrange a meeting, preferably under the aegis of the senior judges present at the seminar, involving law publishers and electronic service providers to discuss the issue of development of standards. The CTI Law Technology Centre agreed to provide assistance in the arrangement of any such meeting.

As one solicitor suggested:

'I see convergence of information into a seamless universe passing from one level to another. Butterworths and the Incorporated Council should do a deal whereby one would be able to move directly in tax law from the textbook to the statute law and case law databases'.

4.4 Search and Navigation

The advantages of searching across a wide database on any subject have already been noted, though keyword searching by itself would be insufficient. Almost all those interviewed spoke of the need to have Boolean features allowing the combination of words, the option of asking for words in the alternative or the possibility of limiting the search to ignore specific terms. It was expected that kin features such as 'truncation', 'root and stem' and 'wild card' would be standard. Other ways of preventing a deluge of irrelevant references included searching through particular subject fields or within a particular time period.

Specific requests included the ability to search through legislative references (e.g. find all cases since 1985 on Section 78 PACE), and the incorporation of a thesaurus facility to identify possible alternative wordings. Searching by concept was considered but thought perhaps too difficult to establish satisfactorily (see De Mulder and Wildemast 1993 on the different attempts that have been made to build such systems). However, interviewees who saw the demonstration of the mockup version did realise the usefulness of automatically generated keyword indexes.

Interviewees were informed that it was possible to have search techniques additional to Boolean keyword search, and they were asked what they would consider useful. The suggestions included incorporating an index, similar to the existing editorially produced paper index primarily because it was familiar and well edited. On the other hand librarians felt that, as the computer would automatically generate its own index, this feature could be superfluous. A contents page might be useful as an updating facility, for instance it might provide a list of new developments since the last edition of the CD-ROM set though a number of interviewees considered that keyword searches were usually adequate. This was linked to the concern that search techniques could become too elaborate and confusing. Such problems are experienced by users in relation to a number of new systems being developed. The most significant request was for the simple search systems mentioned above for the less expert user. If implemented, this would coexist with more complex search structures.

Users were explicit in the desire to replicate ways of moving around paper reports in the electronic version. Emphasis was placed on ease of movement, page by page, half page by half page and the ability to move directly to a specified page. More specific requests reflected the different purposes for which reports are used. One librarian said that users often turned to the last line of a report to see what order had been made. Thus, the ability to move rapidly to that point would be extremely useful. The practice of including in the headnote the location of a specific point was appreciated and therefore, a feature of the electronic version should be to allow direct access to that given point. It was also suggested that one should be able to skip (using a keyword in context feature similar to KWIC in LEXIS) to successive occurrences of the search terms used within the document.

As with browsing in hard copy, the identification of the search term in a case may lead to discovering a related or less developed point. Therefore, the ability to trace a particular point would be a feature of value to both judges and barristers. Other useful information that might be accessed automatically included the name of Counsel and solicitors.

Being able to move directly to a specific judgement was considered to be of mixed utility. Usually, users already possessed an awareness of the importance of a particular judgement. Perhaps more tellingly, it was said that one could not know the value of a specific judgement simply by reading the headnote.

One feature which appealed to almost every interviewee was the ability to move directly to a case referred to in a judgement by simply clicking a hypertext link. Ease of moving back and forth, perhaps by the use of a window to enable cases to be compared, makes for a potentially invaluable tool. These suggestions clearly reflected the browsing habits of lawyers who like to have more than one volume open on their desk at any one time, comparing and contrasting decisions. In this context a link directly from the law report to a statute database was considered to be very significant. If this could not be achieved in the short term, it should at least be possible to move directly to other references to a given statutory provision in the same case or other cases.

4.5 Accessibility and Communication

One of the disadvantages of paper versions of law reports is their lack of easy portability as noted in some depth above. There was general agreement that it should be possible to access The Law Reports from home. The ability to carry the entire corpus of The Law Reports in a briefcase was seen to be a great advantage and as laptop computers can have CD-ROM drives built in or attached, it would be possible to take the law reports anywhere. This is a point common in the relevant literature. Anticipating future trends in IT and law, Widdison, for example argued that portability 'will mean far greater flexibility and mobility for practising solicitors, and will radically change the nature of working as a fee earner in a law firm' (Widdison 1993 p100). Nevertheless, portability presents different problems for librarians. Finding effective means for distributing the reports means that a CD poses the same problems as well sought after paper volumes do. Either you have to buy CDs for each user or you only have one or more copies to be referred to in the library, unless there is a well appointed network. Although networks have become an increasing part of the lawyer's environment, and most of our interviewees had access to networks, these networks were not always connected to CD-ROM readers and databases. In many cases, the library network is kept distinct from the user network, or the CD-ROM is used purely on a standalone basis. Yet, the advantages of networking are clear. Users can access the dataset directly from their desktop or, even, where modem access is available, from their home. We were surprised at the dearth of well appointed networks among those interviewed particularly among the professions, but feel that this situation will change in time. Part of the reason for not making CD-ROMs available across networks may be licensing systems which insist on licenses being issued per terminal rather than per simultaneous user [10].

Seminar participants raised a number of issues about the form of delivery. If The Law Reports were to be distributed as CD-ROMs, how often would they be updated? It was suggested that an on-line update service would be useful as an addition to the CD-ROMs even if the latter were updated every quarter.

As it was envisaged that there were to be 4 or more CD-ROMs, participants also raised the difficulty of moving from one CD to another. Representatives of Context Ltd., suggested that each CD would enable searches of the whole of The Law Reports, but users would need to insert a different CD to actually retrieve a specific case on that CD. However, it was also envisaged that for most users the CD-ROM would be a distribution medium. Speed, convenience and cost make it easier for users to download the CDs on to a fileserver from which users on the network could search and retrieve the contents.

The choice of producing The Law Reports in a CD form, though widely favoured, did have detractors, mainly for reasons of ease of updating. Given that currency was considered important and often criticised, it was felt that an on-line service, linked into a national network, might be the most effective means of delivery.

Even though surveys such as Webb's (1993) and those monitoring IT trends at the Bar found lawyers making increasing use of electronic forms of communication, the availability of internal communication links via e-mail would prove unnecessary to most of those interviewed, although this could not altogether be without benefit. One barrister commented that he could see himself using this to supply his opposite side with the cases he was intending to refer to.

4.6 Cost

As mentioned above, we deliberately avoided making issues relating to the cost of law datasets a central concern of the research. Nevertheless, as Daniel (1884) pointed out in relation to the production of the original Law Reports, cost is an important determinant of use. In particular, it was felt that CD-ROM systems had an advantage in that subscription costs were ascertainable in advance through individual or site licenses. However, some concern was raised about site licensing systems which were based on the number of terminals. At the seminar, a significant different issue raised was that single practitioners or small firms would find it more convenient to have the Reports on an on-line basis for use as and when required, given that a subscription to the full set might be prohibitive. It was considered that the use of a variety of charging mechanisms to meet the needs of different types of users should be given consideration.

5. Conclusion

The study on which this article is based was unique in enabling potential users to express their views on what they would wish to see in an electronic legal information system, in this case the Law Reports.

We assumed at the outset that a new medium of legal communication has the potential to bring about significant change in the way legal work is carried out. Examining the history of information retrieval systems suggests the qualification that the medium must be used effectively for such change to occur (Lloyd 1986). What emerges from this study is the importance for such change to be carefully managed, and be based as far as possible on the existing culture and values of the users. With a series such as the Law Reports the objective of knowing exactly which user group is being targeted, and being aware of the ways in which legal research is undertaken is aided by the unique position the Incorporated Council's series occupies in the administration of law in England and Wales. This is not so much an argument against change but one for successful change. This assumption was reinforced by the interviewees, who suggested that the electronic versions should be as close as possible to the paper form and yet contain innovations such as the ability to interconnect a number of cases, and even a number of databsets, and to be able to cut and paste electronically. The general satisfaction with existing paper legal research tools suggests that users will need to be convinced of the values of speed, convenience and efficiency of electronic versions. As has been found in the surveys undertaken into databases and working practices, electronic research tools are a tool amongst many for those working in the legal profession.

Nevertheless, a combination of factors suggest a growing momentum for electronic law reporting:

  1. The most significant factor is the acceleration in the provision of computers on lawyers' desktop. At the time of the research this was taking place in the academic community, with promising but not spectacular progress among the practitioners. With the publication last year of the Robson Rhodes (1996) study, there is clear evidence of a culture change which suggests that lawyers are at last becoming computer literate themselves, and are being affected by the laptop, network and internet revolution. As long as lawyers themselves were not computer literate, legal information retrieval was dependent on the efforts of law librarians. It is always much easier to take the book off the shelf. A computer on the desktop provides the promise of an electronic library on your desktop. The prognosis must be good for systems which meet user needs effectively.
  2. The development of user friendly interfaces, particularly Windows-based ones, enable law reports on screen to look similar to paper versions as well as cutting and pasting directly into word processed documents and printouts which are similar, if not identical, to paper versions. As a result, electronic law reports are not merely information retrieval facilities but form an essential part of document production systems.
  3. The coexistence of search and navigation techniques which can meet the needs of different users. In particular, the possibility of combining a simple search technique for less frequent users with more complex ones for advanced users needs to be utilised. The potential of hypertext adds the dimension of seamless browsing which replicates the way in which lawyers use primary materials. Recent improvements in computer screens will facilitate the simultaneous opening and comparison of more than one document.
  4. The growing range of legal information retrieval systems including both primary and secondary material will assist in the general shift towards electronic libraries. Seen in publishing as opposed to information retrieval terms electronic versions of law reports are likely to prove more portable, efficient and easily available for users than paper reports. It is particularly significant that CD-ROM based legal datasets are proving to be a commercial success.

Nevertheless, a variety of factors will be critical to ensuring the acceptance of CD based electronic versions. Firstly, there is the need for training in IT and information retrieval skills for lawyers. While valiant attempts have been made at the academic stage of legal education, these have been hindered in the past by the expense of providing the main information retrieval systems to law students. The provision of such skills at the professional stage of legal education is woefully inadequate. Secondly, at the level of the profession, though computer use has been increasing, this has often not been done efficiently to provide systems on desktops. There is need for an integrated approach which provides a lawyer's desktop computer with a variety of facilities, including information retrieval, in a user friendly way. Thirdly, there is the need to recognise that harmonisation of standards will be of benefit to all publishers of electronic law reports, and it is vitally important that the suggestion made at the seminar should be taken up. Since the research was carried out, web based systems have come into their own in the provision of legal information systems using standard interface. This provides a particular challenge for CD based systems. The issue of comparison between CD-based systems and web based ones must be left to another article, but in our view most of the issues raised by interviewees apply as much to web based systems as to CD-based ones.

A more significant factor is the organisation of delivery. Once again, it was not the purpose of our research to engage with this important question except in so far as concerned the issue of standardisation. However, readers of this and previous issues of JILT will be made aware of the current debate surrounding the way in which public legal information, of which the Law Reports form a significant part, is provided to the public (Williamson 1997 and comments; Picciotto 1996; Oppenheim 1996, Robbie 1996, Williamson 1996. see also Saxby 1996 ). Perhaps the most remarkable development is the statement by Lord Justice Saville in a special preface to the recent case of Bannister v SGB plc and others of 25 April 1997, the first decision of the Court of Appeal to be published on the World Wide Web at the request of the judges:

'Such is the scale of the difficulties that have been confronting the lower courts that we have asked that a copy of this judgement should be sent immediately to every county court in England and Wales (for distribution to the judges who sit at that court), as well as to all the parties in all the appeals and applications awaiting decisions by this court. The text of this judgement is to be made available immediately on FELIX, the judges electronic bulletin board and on the Internet (website <>). If this country was in the same happy position as Australia, where the administration of the law is benefiting greatly from the pioneering enterprise of the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AUSTLII), we would have been able to make this judgement immediately available in a very convenient electronic form to every judge and practitioner in the country without the burdensome costs that the distribution of large numbers of hard copies of the judgement will necessarily impose on public funds.'

A separate concern relating to costs is that marketing has until recently been mainly targeted to the large firm sector, with little thought for small and medium sized firms or chambers (Bosworth 1993). This may be changing with the establishment of the LINK information network. However, with the general growth in computing by all sections of the legal professions, charging policy needs to reflect the resources and needs of a variety of users.

In the last Century, Daniel, in proposing an official series of Law Reports hoped it would alleviate 'the difficulty of digesting the enormous mass of constantly accumulating materials and distinguishing the good from the bad'. The careful consideration of the comments and suggestions of those interviewed as part of this study may provide possibilities for a similar cure to the sometimes overwhelming legal information environment.


Aitken, W., Campbell C., Morgan R. (1972), Computers for Lawyers. A Report to the Scottish Legal Computer Research Trust.

Armitage N. and Davis C. (1997), The Use of Teleworking Technologies by UK Law Firms. 12th BILETA Conference. <>

Bing, J. and T. Harvold (1977), Legal Decisions and Information Systems. Universitetsforlaget, Oslo.

Blair, D.C. and M.E. Moran (1985), An evaluation of retrieval effectiveness for a full-text document-retrieval system, Communications of the A.C.M. 28 (3), pp 289-299.

Bosworth, K.(1993), 'In praise of Law librarians: LEXIS in the United Kingdom - 1975-1993'. The Law Librarian, 24 (3), pp 133-136.

Bruce, T. (1995), Choreography for a dancing bear: The web, markets and strategies. Law Technology Journal 4 (2) 11.

Chambers (1993), IT in practice. Law Society's Gazette, 88 (45) p.20.

Clinch P (1992), 'To provide instruction, learning and the common good' An analysis of the reasons given for publishing Law Reports: Part I; The Law Librarian 23(2) 60 Part II 23 (2) 146.

Daniel, W.T.S. (1884), History and Origins of The Law Reports, reprinted 1968 by Wilby Brothers Ltd. London.

De Mulder, R.V., M.J. van den Hoven and C.Wildemast (1993), The concept of concept in 'conceptual legal information retrieval'. 8th BILETA Conference pre-proceedings, University of Warwick.

Duncan P (1997), 'The Impact of IT on Small Legal Practices in Scotland', Work in Progress, 1997 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>

Duncan, P (1997a), Information Technology and the Scottish legal profession: innovators versus the majority 12th BILETA Conference <>

Eisenschitz, T., C.Andrews, C.Oppenheim and M.Walker (1994), Use and Importance of LEXIS in England and Scotland. The Law Librarian 25 (4) pp 219-226.

Felsky, M. (1995), Standards for the preparation, electronic distribution and citation of Canadian case law: Preface to the report prepared for the Judges'Computer Advisory Committee of the Canadian Judical Council. Canadian Law Libraries 20 (1) pp10-11.

Gray, R. (1984). Legal research education in an on-line age. Infuse. September, pp 6-11.

Greenbaum (1991), Coping with a turbulent environment: development of law firm training programmes. Legal Skills Working Papers. Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London.

Greenleaf G. (1995), The Australian LII. Law Technology Journal 4 (2) 5.

Greenleaf G et al (1997), 'The AustLII Papers - New Directions in Law via the Internet', 1997 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT) <>

Irving and Blasdale (1992), The Robson-Rhodes legal IT survey 1992. Computers and Law, 3 (2) p28.

Leith, P. (1991), The Computerised Lawyer. Springer-Verlag. London.

Lloyd, M. (1986), Legal databases in Europe. Elsevier. Amsterdam.

Matthews, K. (1994), Litigation support and the question of evidence, New Law Journal, 15th July, 144 No.6657 p.1015-1016.

Oppenheim, C (1996), 'Crown Copyright and HMSO', 2 The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT), <>

Paterson A. and Susskind R. (1994), Technology, Lawyers and the Atlantic Divide 1994 3 (2) Law Technology Journal 43.

*Perritt H Jr (1996), Law and The Information Superhighway, John Wiley & Sons Inc. New York.

Picciotto, S (1996), 'Towards Open Access to British Official Documents', 2 The Journal of Information Law and Technology (JILT), <>

Renton, D. (1975),. The preparation of legislation: report of a committee appointed by the Lord President of the Council, Cmnd 6053, HMSO, London.

Robbie, G (1996), Crown Copyright - Bête Noire or White Knight?, 2 The Journal of Information Law and Technology (JILT), <>

Robson Rhodes (1996), The Robson Rhodes Legal IT Survey. Robson Rhodes, London 1996.

Saxby, S. (1996), Public Policy and Regulation of the Information Market in the Digital Network Environment. Complex 2/96, Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law, Oslo.

Slade, M., and R. Gray (1984), The impact and potential of on-line legal research systems on academic legal education. British Library R&D Report 5812.

Susskind, R. (1994), Electronic Information Highways for Lawyers, Law Technology Journal 3(3), University of Warwick.

Susskind, R (1996), The Future of Law. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996.

Svoboda, W. (ed) (1981), Users of Legal Information Systems in Europe - A Case Study, J.Schweitzer Verlag. Munchen.

Taylor, S. (1994),. Commercial Application of CD-ROM Technology within the Legal Profession in New Mexico, USA, Law Technology Journal 3(3), University of Warwick.

Webb, J. (1993),. Legal research and information systems: the impact of information retrieval systems on provincial legal practice, Law, Computers and Artificial Intelligence, 2 (3) p.203-227.

Widdison, R. (1993). Databases in Law firms: an overview, 8th BILETA Conference Pre-proceedings, University of Warwick, p91-101.

Williamson, Robin (1996), 'Revision of Crown Copyright licensing, Comments from an electronic publisher', 2 The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>

Williamson R, 'Free Access to Electronic Law '', Commentary, 1997 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>

JILT logo and link to home page