August 31, 2002


The announcement that, with effect from 1 August, Lawtel was to become part of Sweet & Maxwell left me rather sad. And I was genuinely fearful for the future of online legal publishing.

While Sweet & Maxwell have a long and illustrious history and have achieved considerable improvements in their online products, they are not by nature a force for innovation. Lawtel was. It was characterised by young and enthusiastic staff, and a measure of pushy marketing, but there was real meat in the sandwich. They delivered and responded to customers’ needs in a way which the more established players could not readily emulate. Lawtel undoubtedly made others improve, and move more rapidly than might otherwise have been natural to them. A large number of practising solicitors have been recruited to the need for updated online information by Lawtel – even sometimes when they have gone off and used another system. In short, they made a difference.

Now the reality is that, following this acquisition and the earlier acquisition of New Law, the consumer in this small market can choose between Butterworths and Sweet & Maxwell. Whatever one’s views on these estimable organisations (and I have taken money from both – and may well want to again), it is not a lot of choice. The suggestion from Sweet & Maxwell is that Lawtel will continue to be run as a separate stand-alone service, that subscribers will keep what they had and that the move is a positive development for lawyers. That may be true in the short-term and may even turn out to be true in the long term. But when Julie Stott, who was formerly Business Manager for Legal Business at Sweet & Maxwell and is now Director of Lawtel, goes so far as to say that the market has the same choices as before, I cannot bring myself to believe that that will be true for long.

I sincerely hope that the acquisition brings all the positives from Lawtel to energise the Sweet & Maxwell products; that the areas of overlap are used positively to allow the diversion of resources into further and better services for consumers and that the entrée into the lower value market which Sweet & Maxwell have acquired opens up those markets to wider use of electronic sources. Lawtel has long operated within a large group, Centaur, and may be able to maintain its reputation for speedy reporting and aggressive marketing notwithstanding the move. Above all, I hope that the dreaded promise of ‘integration’ for Lawtel is not of the kind normally associated with the cyborg in Star Trek.

SCL Award

It is that time of year again. It is time to dust the sand from your shoes, put the patio parasol back in the garage (unused) and focus on the IT applications which can properly be nominated for the leading legal IT award. It is time to consider nominations for the SCL Award 2003. If you are an IT supplier, it is time to start dreaming about taking the stage at the Law Society’s Hall on 20 January and receiving your Award from Professor Richard Susskind.

Since this past year has seen some interesting innovation and genuine new approaches from at least three major players in the legal IT field, I expect that the standard will be high. But the SCL Award has always had the room to look outside the expected areas and choose from an unexpected source – so the field is wide open.

Andrew Levison, Head of UK and Europe Consulting Services at Baker Robbins & Co, is again chairing the panel of judges. He has assembled a panel of judges offering a broad range of impressive expertise. This year’s judges include Paul Berwin (Managing Partner at Berwins), Kevin Connell (Director of Information Technology at Masons) and Richard Harrison (Partner at Laytons). The deadline for nominations is 18 November.n