Why use the Internet? – A Back to Basics approach to the Internet

November 1, 1999

John Ridd has worked in the technology industry for 15 years andis Managing Director of XTML, a specialist provider of permanent Internet accesssolutions. Their Web site is at www.xtml.co.uk

The dramatic increase in the number of large commercial firms going onlinefar outweighs the number of smaller law firms. With over 10.5 million Internetusers in the UK today, it is just as important for the smaller firms to getonline as we approach the next millennium.

The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors accepts that the majority ofsmaller law firms are still not clear as to the relevance of the Internet, whilethe bigger firms are more aware of the technology and are therefore more likelyto integrate it into their business. The impression given is that there is stilla long way to go before the new technologies penetrate the whole of the legalmarket and the Internet is seen as a viable business tool.

The reason for this divide is that the large commercial firms have thefinancial support to employ IT personnel and thus have the knowledge andresources to invest in the Internet, while smaller independent firms have fewerresources and therefore cannot invest at the same level. Due to a lack ofknowledge they often fail to realise the major advantages of such newtechnologies.

At a time when there are more and more people using online services, anincreasing number of ‘cyber clients` and an influx of new online legalinformation services, it has become vital that law firms, whatever their size,adopt an Internet strategy. In light of this, a ‘back to basics’ approach tothe Internet will be addressed concentrating on how the smaller firm can alsoget online despite not having the large budgets of the commercial law firms. Thefollowing areas will be analysed:

  • the benefits of being online
  • getting it right
  • the future


Why is it so important for law firms to go online? In simple terms the mainreason why law firms should go online is a financial one. The Internet will savetime, money and resources; and if used correctly provide the most efficient andreliable information and communication system that has ever existed. The mainbenefits of being online are:

Legal Information Sources

As legal information sources move from books to CD-ROM and the Internet,online services provide an important gateway to a whole host of free and paidfor research services such as Lawtel and Law Links. These electronic productsoffer considerable benefits over the printed word, namely the ability to dofull-text searches, and copy and paste items from the desktop into personaldocuments. They also save valuable time and money by reducing ‘book flicking`by fee earners.

Efficient Communication System

With over 60% of Internet traffic being e-mail, it has proved to be a highlyefficient internal and external communication system, which allows firms toliaise with clients and employees quickly and cheaply. It enables you to sendanything from large documents to small messages at the click of a mouse button,and with increasingly sophisticated security devices it is becoming easier andsafer to send documents via your PC. With the number of people using e-mailincreasing every day and a new breed of ‘cyber clients` emerging, it will soonbe expected of legal practices to communicate via e-mail as well as provideonline consultation services.

Effective Marketing Tool

There has been a sudden increase in the number of large commercial law firmsand barristers chambers investing in the Web, and it seems this trend is likelyto continue. Web sites provide an important forum for law firms to market theirservices, improve their identity, and advertise for candidates. They are easilyupdated and the number of ‘hits`, and by whom, can be monitored for futuremarketing purposes. In a competitive marketplace it is becoming an essentialpart of advertising any service worldwide.


The growth in e-commerce has been dramatic over the last six months and moreand more businesses are selling their products via their Web site. Expertspredict that e-commerce is the future, and that soon we will do all ourshopping, visit our doctors and go to the bank via the Internet. It seems it isonly a matter of time before the legal industry will sell their services in thisway too. This is the greatest reason for law firms to start planning theirInternet strategy.

Case Management Software

There are an increasing number of case management software packagesavailable, allowing clients access to statistical and case information withindividual case tracking tools. This means the appropriate data will beavailable quickly and efficiently via the Web site, cutting out often long andfrustrating telephone conversations.


Across all industry, candidates are looking more and more at whether a futureemployer recognises the importance of the Internet and new technologies. It is afact that obsolete and out-of-date systems are prone to make employees have lowmorale and poor job satisfaction, and this has been shown to have a directrelationship to staff turnover and the ability to attract new staff. In order toattract the right candidates, it seems solicitors across the country need tothink about the Internet.

Getting it Right

With so many different Internet services now available it is often difficultto know what is the best and most appropriate Internet solution for yourparticular firm. It is very easy to get it wrong: a recent report highlightedhow the majority of older dial-up Internet systems currently in use are not onlyinefficient but are costing almost twice as much to their end-users as wouldleased lines available at a fixed cost (which also provide a much more reliableservice). So, to avoid similar mistakes, what are the best ways to go aboutinstalling the right Internet service for you?

  • Firstly, it is important to get the right advice, which for the smaller firms is likely to be from an external source. Rather than having to spend a large budget on specialist IT consultants though, you can often get the advice you need direct from an Internet service provider who will offer personal consultancy services according to the size and resources of the business.
  • Talk to as many people as possible to get an objective point of view, and who better to ask than those who have implemented the Internet into their firm already. You will then be able to get an idea of the latest solutions available and what has proved to be useful and what has not.
  • Consider all the options available to you by looking at a number of different Internet service providers and compare what they have to offer in terms of solution and price. Always take into account the fact that your business needs are likely to change over time, and therefore make sure your Internet service can develop as you do.
  • In an ever-changing and unpredictable marketplace it is also advisable to ensure that the Internet service provider you choose is financially stable and has a clearly defined strategy to sustain it. Otherwise, if anything goes wrong, you could be left with no Internet service almost overnight!

With an increasing number of Internet service providers and servicesavailable it has never been easier for a small firm to get online. However thegolden rule is seek the right advice to make sure you get the right service.Most of all feel comfortable with the service provider you choose; as theInternet continues to expand it may be a partnership which lasts for many yearsto come.

The Future

So what lies ahead for the legal profession as we approach the nextmillennium? By examining the current trends there looks set to be a completeoverhaul of how the whole legal profession will operate in the future. As wehave seen in other industries like retailing and banking, the Internet hasbecome central to how they do business. As our society becomes increasinglycomputer literate, it seems that the legal profession will be no exception tothe need for change.

One indication that the legal profession is starting to adopt the Internet ona wider basis is the fact that an increasing number of law schools are includingspecific training on the Internet to all students. While for some this is only a‘short introductory course in LEXIS, CD-ROM, Lawtel and the Internet`, it doesseem progress is being made and highlights the fact that the Internet is finallybeing recognised as a valuable tool for the solicitors and barristers oftomorrow.

There is still a long way to go though, especially in terms of training manyof our current solicitors and barristers. If firms are to adopt the Internetsuccessfully it is imperative that the appropriate personnel can use thesystems, and therefore it will be vital for the law industry to invest in moretraining programmes if the transition is to be a smooth one.


While it is encouraging that there are an increasing number of commercial lawfirms going online, the downside is that the majority of these tend to be thelarger firms with IT personnel and an Internet strategy in place. There is adefinite need to educate the smaller traditional firms, who, if they are toremain competitive, need to invest in the Internet. The real consequences remainto be seen by those who choose not to.