The IT revolution has finally hit the traditionally conservative world of legal publishing. The last bastion of the quill pen is now moving swiftly away from the paper environment toward an electronic medium for the supply of legal information.
Nick Capell, IT director Europe for Thomson Legal and Regulatory Group Europe (TLRGE), believes that after a slow start legal publishing is now at the forefront of technological change in the electronic information world.
Even in paper terms, legal publishing has not exactly been in the vanguard of innovation. The written law is mainly held in loose leaf binders, which are then added to and subtracted from as the law changes.
At times of change a laborious process kicks in whereby the author puts forward an amended copy which, after going through a number of stages, is then sent out to legal practitioners across the country so they can update their binders.
Since February, the Sweet and Maxwell legal information service has been available online via westlaw.co.uk.
Another TLRGE legal publishing service for the regulatory market, called simply "G", is now supplied online for an audience that includes company secretaries, human resources and health and safety officers.
The move over to the electronic medium has also meant radically changing the editorial processes at both G and Sweet and Maxwell. "We have been redesigning the editorial process so that the medium is independent," says Capell. "So it is not until the end of the editorial process that we decide whether the material goes to CD, Internet or paper form."
The demands of matching the technology to this unique approach to publishing has meant it has taken two years to develop the systems for G and Sweet and Maxwell.
"A lot of people don't think of publishing as cutting edge in IT but our future is dependent upon speed of adaptation. It is an exciting area to work in," says Capell.
Though Capell is enthused by the way things are moving in terms of IT developments and the legal profession, he points out that the UK is still way behind the rest of Europe. "In Spain 50% of this data is delivered electronically while the UK lags behind with only 10% of content delivered in electronic form," says Capell.
But the IT director believes that now the changeover from paper has begun there will be rapid movement. "The Internet adds value to our product and search tools can be most valuable when dealing with complex legal material," says Capell.