Portals, Gateways, Communities…

January 1, 2001

What is a Web portal?

My own answer would be that a portal has to satisfy these criteria:

  • It attracts the repeated visits of a particular online community (in this case, lawyers).
  • It is updated very frequently – probably daily – and aims to have something new and interesting to offer every time the viewer visits the site.
  • It offers a number of types of information or services rather than fulfilling just one function or purpose.
  • It has a distinctive personality, rather than feeling like a corporate site.

This definition allows me to exclude the professional societies, which are bytheir nature rather ‘corporate’ in style and which do not really have to fightfor their members to visit them; the professional societies have their own placein the sun without trying specifically to be a portal. However, they could welljustify a review of their own on a future occasion. I am also excluding thelegal journals and legal publishers which, again, could justify a review oftheir own but, with one or two exceptions, are not ‘portals’ in the same sense.I am also excluding the free ISPs, which could at some point become ‘portals’ asdefined above but, as yet, have not really done so.

So this is clearly a subjective choice of portals! If I was challenged on mychoice, I would fall back on the famous ‘duck’ definition. If it looks like aduck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s a duck. Alternatively, Icould use the ‘elephant’ definition. You cannot define an elephant but you knowone when you see one.

The portals are described in alphabetical order with my own portal placedmodestly at the end.

Butterworths LawDirect

Butterworths is now providing a free service called LawDirect which containsimportant elements of many of their subscription services. The various databasesare all searchable and link to other Butterworths services (e.g. LegislationDirect and All England Direct) if the user has the relevant subscription. Thedesign of the site is clear and simple and the pages are mainly quite fast toload. Here are the main services offered:

  1. The Cases database contains digests of cases heard since the beginning of 1995. The All ER reporter digests are included in the database back to 1998 when the next-day service began. Prior to that the case summaries have been taken from Halsbury’s Laws.
  2. A daily on-screen or e-mail update with summaries of cases, legislation, quasi-legal materials (white papers etc), European materials and articles. This can be customised to particular areas of law.
  3. The same digest material is also available in a series of databases which can be searched online.
  4. The Statutes database contains digests of Acts of Parliament published since the beginning of 1995, as enacted.
  5. The SIs database contains digests of statutory instruments published since the beginning of 1995, as enacted.
  6. An online version of Is It In Force?, a guide to the commencement of statutes passed since 1 January 1975.
  7. Bill Tracker details the progress of all public Bills before Parliament in the current session and is updated daily when Parliament is sitting.
  8. The Quasi-Legal database contains publication details of material of an official or regulatory nature, published since the beginning of 1995, with a brief outline where available.
  9. The Articles Archive database contains publication details of substantive articles featured in the major legal journals since the beginning of 1995.
  10. An address book gives the address of legal and governmental bodies, e.g. land registries, and also enables you to find out what posts particular people hold.
  11. Digests of European legislation of general application with regulatory impact in the UK, published since the beginning of 1995.
  12. A jobs search is provided by lawmoves.co.uk.
  13. There is a free CPD service based on the ‘In Context’ web journal plus links to CPD-Direct, the new Multi-media CPD service produced in association with Semple Piggot Rochez.
  14. A set of forms.
  15. A good set of links by industry sector.
  16. Current legal news, feature articles and also world news and financial news.

In summary – there is a great deal of useful information here – a boon to anylawyer who has not yet decided to pay real money for online services.

The infolaw site, from Nick Holmes

Infolaw is the Internet Services Division of Information for Lawyers Ltd (IFL),an electronic publishing company dedicated to the legal profession, supplyingoff-the-shelf products and electronic publishing services. This was the firstlegal portal site on the Web, started by Nick Holmes in February 1995. At thetime the only two firms who had Web sites were Jeffrey Green and CliffordChance!

The features which I find most useful include the following:

  1. An A-Z of legal resources by topic, with brief descriptions of each resource. This is probably the best set of links to UK legal resources available anywhere.
  2. Comprehensive listings of solicitors, barristers, notaries, groups of lawyers, associations and other directories.
  3. Lists of legislation from 1987 to date, both alphabetically and chronologically, linked to the official HMSO version where available.
  4. Infolaw also includes detailed Civil Procedure and Family Procedure update pages providing online access to latest materials. This can be used as a standalone update or to complement infolaw’s CPR CD.
  5. Various legal searches set up and ready to use.
  6. A version of Nick’s monthly articles in the Solicitors Journal on Internet topics – always providing new and interesting analysis of current topics.
  7. A subscription service to 700 legal forms in Adobe PDF format, with associated meta-data, most of which can be filled in on-screen. About half the forms are those officially published by the respective Government bodies and the others are produced by Information for Lawyers.

Infolaw is still one of the most comprehensive portals with a mass of usefulinformation. It is also pleasingly fast to load and wonderfully low onadvertising content.

International Centre for Commercial Law

This is a portal for the commercially oriented lawyer, produced by publisherLegalease. Legalease was the first legal publisher to offer online services,first of all with LINK (launched in 1994) and subsequently with this site. Itnow receives one of the highest number of visitors of any Web site in the UK.Here are the main features:

  1. The Legal 500 series, which provides recommended law firms and lawyers in over 60 countries covering the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the US and Mexico.
  2. International Patents and Trademarks database, a fully searchable database of law firms and patent and trademark agencies.
  3. Articles on commercial law developments covering new legislation, developments and cases in specialist practice areas in the UK and also on a wider European basis. These articles are written by specialists in their field from major commercial law firms.
  4. The Courts & Agency Directory, a comprehensive guide to law firms undertaking agency work in the UK.
  5. Legal Experts Directory with 1,500 UK experts with a European Legal Experts Directory coming soon.
  6. Emplawyer, an international guide to recruitment for lawyers, in-house lawyers and support services.
  7. The Student Law Centre which is very extensive with many articles and topics for law students, including a way to search for training placements and holiday jobs.
  8. The Trainee Law Centre, which also contains extensive information.
  9. Legal-it, which is a knowledge-base of articles and advice for those interested in legal information technology issues.
  10. International Legal News, key stories from the world of commercial law updated every weekday.


interactive-lawyer.com is based on the combination of The Lawyer magazine andLawtel, the research and current awareness product, both now owned by Centaur.The particular features offered include:

  1. Current news, features, deals and opinion from The Lawyer.
  2. A five-year archive of The Lawyer (which actually works).
  3. An excellent jobs centre online.
  4. Directories of recruitment consultants, law firms and technology suppliers (basic details are included free of charge but a ‘profile’ can be added for a fee).
  5. Company search facilities via Equifax and Perfect Information and books via Hammicks.
  6. Profiles of prominent lawyers from The Lawyer and also ‘client files’ which are summaries of major companies.

Although Lawtel is given a high profile on the site, you cannot use itwithout taking out a subscription. You can, however, sign up for a free trial.


Sarah Carter is the creator of Lawlinks. She is law librarian at theTempleman Library, University of Kent at Canterbury and her pages have been oneof the mainstays of lawyers, and particularly for academic lawyers, looking forlegal resources in the UK for several years. Her site includes:

  1. Primary sources for legislation and case law covering indexes and digests, periodical indexes and current awareness.
  2. UK government, covering departments and agencies, Parliament, official publications, sources for news & current affairs.
  3. A selected list of sites by topic (a very powerful list).
  4. Substantive law – worldwide, European and International law.
  5. Human rights and international criminal law.
  6. International commercial law, international trade, maritime law.
  7. Legal profession and legal education.
  8. The main UK and European legal publishers.


Lawzone is an online legal community, launched in April 1999. It is one of anumber of ‘virtual communities’ managed by SIFT plc, which has already created anumber of these, including Accountingweb, a community of over 120,000accountants throughout the world.

The Lawzone service is free to the users and revenue is derived from vendorsand suppliers through online advertising, participation in a press releaseservice and through commissions on sales made through the newly-launchedshopping mall. Key features of the service are as follows.

  1. A free weekly e-mail ‘newswire’, with brief summaries of news, legislation and events, edited by Joe Reevy, which now goes to 6,500 people. You can register for this very populare-mail newsletter on the site.
  2. News on current legal topics as well as other industry and professional topics. There is a news team providing news across the various professional ‘zones’: accounting, tax and financial news is particularly comprehensive.
  3. Commentary on current cases.
  4. A directory of law firms and a directory of suppliers to the legal profession (you can enter your information on the site).
  5. Basic statutory details on 1.4 million companies, including registered number, address, date of incorporation and the last accounts filed date (further reports can be obtained for a fee).
  6. A new CareerZone service now offers a jobs service.

The service is lively and innovative.

Legal Technology Online

This site from Charles Christian originally covered only the Web version ofthe printed newsletter Legal Technology Insider but, over the last year, thishas expanded into a series of separate, but linked, subject areas containing amass of useful material. Key features include:

  1. A Web version (HTML) of Legal Technology News.com which contains extensive news on Internet legal topics – otherwise known as New Media. The e-mail version now goes to 11,000 people, partly as a direct news service from Charles and partly through syndication through a number of worldwide outlets.
  2. An on-screen version of Watching Brief Online – the free local government case law newsletter provided by Charles.
  3. Virus Reports – a reference site to find out about the latest virus and hoax alerts.
  4. An archive of back issues of Legal Technology Insider in PDF and HTML file format.
  5. A ‘Legal Technology Solution Finder’ which is a database of supplier information from the Legal Software Suppliers Association which can be searched to provide a shortlist of suppliers for different functions and applications.
  6. Information for legal cashiers and administrators in the form of the Institute of Legal Cashiers and Administrators (ILCA) Web site.
  7. The Legal Web Top 25 site, which covers the ‘hit’ statistics for legal Web sites each month. This is where all the Web wannabees come to see how their figures compare with everyone else’s.

Sweet & Maxwell

Sweet and Maxwell have been so involved with the launch of Westlaw over thelast year or so that they have perhaps not given their own portal site as muchexposure as it deserves. The site offers many useful free resources includingthe following:

  1. ‘Alerter’ which is a daily current awareness service showing items relating to law, regulation and compliance.
  2. ‘Case check’ which is a weekly index of judgments of the High Court, Court of Appeal, House of Lords, Privy Council and certain EAT hearings (this is not archived and so it cannot be searched in this free version).
  3. Court Alerting Service, which is lists from all the Crown Courts in England and Wales, published daily.
  4. Several important directories, including the official Bar Directory (in association with the Bar Council), the Kimes International Law Directory and the Expert Witness Directory (in association with the Law Society).
  5. European Union News, an online newsletter covering EU Law.
  6. Many other Sweet and Maxwell newsletters, in PDF format including Archbold News, Current Sentencing Practice News, Family Matters, In Competition, Palmer’s In Company, Personal Injuries Bar Association Newsline, Professional Negligence Law Review, Quantum and Civil Procedure News.

Now that ‘portals’ are becoming a very competitive area, I would expect Sweetand Maxwell to make progressively more fuss about its own very powerful sitefrom now on.

Delia Venables’ Legal Resources

My site is the second oldest portal on the Web, having been set up in May1995 (the oldest being Nick Holmes’ infolaw – see above). It is intended toanswer the question ‘what is going on, on the legal web’ primarily for lawyers,but also for individuals, companies and students.

Key features of the site include:

  1. Lists of firms of solicitors in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and also Ireland which have their own Web site. There is a special page of firms who are using work-related domain names (a very interesting topic) and firms who are selling legal services on the Web.
  2. Lists of chambers in the UK and separate lists of those chambers, and those individual barristers, who provide significant free legal resources on their sites.
  3. Lists of the main free legal resources in the UK for lawyers, including current awareness services, government information sites, parliamentary and legislation sites, free case law sites, and an A-Z list of free resources arranged by topic.
  4. Lists of the major subscription services provided by the legal publishers with considerable detail as to what each service includes.
  5. Lists of conferences, CPD, recruitment services, legal software and Web design companies, all with descriptions of the services offered.
  6. A set of starting points for legal resources in other countries.
  7. Several ‘Mystery Tours’ which attempt to introduce people to important subject areas with a lighter touch, for example, the best legal sites in the UK; and in Ireland; and across the world; and ten ways to sell legal services on the Web.
  8. For individuals with a legal problem, there is a set of resources by legal topic, where firms of solicitors have provided free legal information on their sites.

Butterworths LawDirect www.butterworths.com

infolaw from Nick Holmes www.infolaw.co.uk

interactive-lawyer.com from Centaur (the Lawyer and Lawtel) www.interactive-lawyer.com

International Centre for Commercial Law from Legalease www.icclaw.com

Lawlinks from Sarah Carter at the Templeman Library, University of Kent atCanterbury www.ukc.ac.uk/library/lawlinks

Lawzone from SIFT plc www.lawzone.co.uk

Legal Technology Online from Charles Christian www.legaltechnology.org

Sweet & Maxwell www.sweetandmaxwell.co.uk

Delia Venables Legal Resources www.venables.co.uk

Delia Venables is a computer consultant for lawyers. She also produces theInternet Newsletter for Lawyers and a series of Internet training courses forLawyers. Her own site is at www.venables.co.uk and her e-mail address isdelia@venables.co.uk