Nick Holmes and Delia Venables'
Researching the Legal Web :
A guide to legal resources on the Internet
Butterworths, 1997, £45
210 pp, ISBN 0-406-89771-9
This is a Book Review published on 27 February 1998.
Citation:Speight S, 'Nick Holmes and Delia Venables' Researching the Legal Web: A guide to legal resources on the Internet', Book Review, 1998 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/bookrev/98_1spei/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1998_1/speight/>
This book offers a guide to the major UK legal resources available on the World Wide Web, and, as such, is a welcome alternative to the many US-oriented directories which are available. The book is primarily intended as a resource for lawyers and barristers who want to use the Web for legal research, but could prove equally valuable for academic lawyers, law students, and even the layman with a passing interest in the law.
It is not, however, a book for absolute beginners (and is not intended as such). Although there is a brief description of the Internet (pp.4-5) this covers everything from basic information through to Java and ActiveX. Beginners would be well advised to read an introductory guide before starting on this book.
The book is divided into seven chapters. Chapter one deals with basic information on how to access legal web sites, and lists some of the major legal Internet gateways. Chapters 2 and 3 examine the primary sources of law, on-line journals and government and parliamentary information. Chapter 4 presents an A-Z directory of resources by subject, whilst chapter 5 highlights law firms, UK law schools and law associations. Chapter 6 looks briefly at international legal resources, whilst the book concludes with a review of sites of more general interest.
There are also a number of Guest Articles, which will be considered in section 4.
The book does not claim to be comprehensive in scope - indeed, the watchword of the whole book is selectivity. Sites have been included either because their content is of importance to the lawyer, or they contain links to other important sites. By adopting this approach, the authors have produced a book which does not overwhelm their readers, but provides them with sufficient information to conduct further research.
A brief summary of each site is provided, although, these tend to be descriptive, telling the reader what is available from the site. This is a little disappointing, since it would have been useful if a more evaluative approach, examining the strengths and weaknesses of each site, had been adopted However, it does provide readers with an easy way of seeing which site is likely to provide the information required.
The only exception to this general pattern is in Chapter 7. Here, the section on `Lawtech' companies (companies which provide software to lawyers) provides a description only, with no URL or contact information. The justification given for this is that many of the sites contain only `brochureware' (basic product and company information). However, anyone interested in the products listed would naturally want further information - and the web page would be an excellent place to look for this.
One of the more innovative features is the use of 12 'Guest Articles', written by people active in the field of law and who use the Web for legal research. These help to break up the inevitable monotony of page after page of site descriptions. Guest authors detail how they use the Web, and provide concrete examples of how useful (or otherwise!) it can be.
Within the Guest Articles it would have been better if presentation had remained consistent with the rest of the book. In other parts of the book, bold text is used to highlight a site name within a paragraph. This makes it easy to spot which sites are under discussion. Within the Guest Articles, however, the text is all plain, making it difficult to skim read in this way.
In an attempt to prevent the book becoming out-of-date during the publishing process, the authors undertook the task of typesetting the text. However, the result of bypassing the traditional publishing process perhaps accounts for a higher number of typographical errors than might be expected normally. The most obvious of these is on page 70, where the CCTA site is described in detail, but no address given. There are other lesser examples. However, they are not sufficiently numerous to detract from the overall high quality of the book.
Occasionally, the book also suffers from incorrect or slightly dubious advice. On page 20, for example, readers are advised that adding `url: co.uk' to a search using Alta Vista will only search for UK sites whereas, in actual fact, it will search for sites which have been designated as companies in the UK. Similarly, David Swarbrick's advice to try guessing a URL (p.29), is not the best method for beginners, who would be better advised to use a search engine.
One of the problems with listing Internet addresses is that they often change rapidly and without warning. Even though only 4 months passed since the text was finalised, a number of addresses listed have changed already. The book gets around the problem by closely integrating it with the authors' websites. All the sites listed in the book can be accessed from the authors' pages, and any changes to URLs will be updated here. However, when I tried, this solution failed, as the amendments had not been made yet.
Another advantage to this approach is that readers do not have to type in each address, but can simply visit the authors' websites and select the appropriate link.
Since the aim of the book is selectivity, it is perhaps wrong to dwell on sites which have been omitted. I was, however, slightly surprised to see that there was no mention of university law libraries. Barristers and solicitors often rely on these collections to supplement their own practice library. Similarly, many libraries offer external membership schemes. Therefore, it would have been useful to include URLs and contact information for some of the major law libraries. Of course, this may reflect a personal bias on my part, given my area of work!
A glossary of terms and abbreviations would also have been useful to aid beginners. For example, the idea of an intranet (p.21), Usenet newsgroups and mailing lists (p.111 and p.117) are all discussed, without any explanation of what they are. Similarly, on page 119, there is a long list of abbreviations with no attempt to expand on their meaning.
This is a useful and well-researched book which I would have little hesitation in recommending. For people wanting to use the Web for legal research, but without the time to search for sites, it will be a highly useful, and time-saving resource. The proposed integration with the authors' websites means that even if the addresses change, the book should still be valid - providing the authors continue to update their pages. The only real question is whether people will want to spend £45 on this book when the information can be gathered for free from the authors' websites. That, I suppose, is one for Butterworths' Marketing Department to consider!