Judge for yourself and give us your verdict

Posted on 7th Dec 2011 in ICLR News

ICLR demo imageThe new ICLR Online service went live seven weeks ago, after a sell-out launch at Middle Temple. Our demos have gone down a storm at major events such as the BIALL, IBA and English Bar conferences. We’ve signed up over 500 free trials. We know people are using it. What we would like to know is, what do you think of it?

We’re not the only ones. Nick Holmes, whose pioneering blog Binary Law has been dealing with all aspects of legal information in the digital age, recently posed, or posted, this question:

ICLR online – who’s putting it through its paces?

He, too, would like to know what people think:

I’m curious also why there has been almost zero feedback online since about the service – particularly as anyone can sign up for a free trial. I did and was quite impressed, but I’m not a real user able to evaluate it meaningfully. Surely this is a groundbreaking alternative to the expensive Wexis services for the individual barristers and small chambers?

He would like to input from “real users”, such as judges and lawyers, students and academics, librarians and information professionals, to help him assess the service. We think his apparent modesty (“I’m not a real user”) somewhat belies his long-standing expertise on legal information matters, to which his blog (on the air since 2004) stands tribute. He acknowledges, too, that the lack of exposure of ICLR Online about which he comments in his post is a largely online phenomenon: he cites the extensive pre-launch publicity with iconic poster campaigns in Chancery Lane and Temple tube stations, in legal journals and the national press, and the direct mail campaign and email promotion, not to mention a string of sponsored BabyBarista posts.

The answer to his apparent surprise at the lack of online user feedback might be that everyone who’s used the service reckons it does exactly what it’s supposed to and, if people find nothing to complain about, they don’t tend to get worked up enough to go online and express a view. (A substantial number have expressed their approval by taking out subscriptions, so we must be doing something right.)

Another point might be that the sort of people who regularly appear in the blawgosphere tend to be journalists or commentators – pundits if you like – rather than bread and butter practitioners. When there are stories to talk about such as Britain’s relationship to the European Court of Human Rights, or the sentencing of riot offenders, or Ken Clarke’s latest MoJ initiative, it’s unlikely these pundits are going to consume airtime and Rioja expatiating upon the wonderful neatness with which different categories of judicial consideration are colour-coded for clarity in the index cards on Citator+, or the ease with which cases reported by ICLR at any time from 1865 to yesterday afternoon can be searched for and within, or at the touch of a button displayed in instant court-ready PDF format, well, the fact remains, it’s a bit like saying a Rolls Royce engine purrs. It’s no more than you’d expect. What else would it do?

An exception to the above is Ruth Bird, the Bodleian Law Librarian at the University of Oxford, (and therefore a real user of the sort whose views Nick Holmes is after) whose review on Slaw (a Canadian legal blog) was generally complimentary, while expressing anxiety (understandable from the point of view of an academic librarian) at the risk of content being withdrawn from the big aggregators. She means, of course, the same thing as Nick Holmes refers to in his portmanteau word “Wexis”. And no, there is no current threat of ICLR withdrawing content from Lexis or Westlaw. Indeed we are proud to be part (a fairly critical part we suspect) of their smörgåsbord of content. But among the other virtues of the ICLR Online service which she highlights in her report, such as:

The ease with which one could locate and cross reference a case”, “a link to the ICLRs citator/index card service which provides subject matter, appellate history and cases considered” and “a briefcase tool which allows a collection of authorities to be stored in one location for reference at a later date”

She also cites “the advantage of The Law Reports is that they are selected for the legal issues they raise”. On this she quotes the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, as saying “Sometimes less is more.”

So now the question is, do you agree? What do you think of ICLR Online? Nick Holmes would like an objective view, so do please get in touch with him. Or mention it in your blog. Or comment here, below, on ours. The ball is in your court.