Scots law jurisdiction – it is actually a real thing, you know

Admittedly, various legal database suppliers seem to think that English/Welsh law and Scots law are interchangeable.

For example: Westlaw. It’s developed a sort of “know how” product called Insight, which should allow more in depth analysis and updates on certain points of law. This is handy, and the sort of things our users like – no wading through articles or textbooks and checking if they’re up to date or take into account recent judgments – just nice primers on specific legal points.

Which would be lovely, if Westlaw could remember that not all jurisdictions are the same.

When I go into the Scots Law tab on Westlaw (which should restrict my searches to only Scottish material, hence avoiding a lot of time wasting and confusion when I’m looking for something with a specific Scottish meaning), it gives me the new option of Insight within that tab. “Oh good,” I thought, “they’re actually paying some attention to their Scottish users, and putting Scottish content on!”.

So I went into the Contract section…and immediately was irritated. As you can see from the photo, despite Insight being within the Scots law tab, the information on contract is for English law, as “The Law of Contract in Scotland” by William McBryde is the core text for Scots law.

Wrong. Oh so VERY wrong. Even more glaringly wrong when you consider that McBryde is available as an electronic book on Westlaw, just as they inform us that Chitty is.

If a resource is inaccurate and/or misleading, it teaches the service users to mistrust it: how much time will I be wasting telling my users that Westlaw’s accurate…but only up to a point…usually…and really, it’s best to double check everything they do on it?

How about we just agree Insight’s inaccurate for any Scots law, and have it removed from access via that tab until it’s useful?

And Westlaw’s not the only legal database provider being stupidly unhelpful and forgetting that English law and Scots law are not one and the same thing.

I used LexisLibrary to access Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia of the Laws of Scotland. Even ignoring the fact that their new style search results don’t work (a whole other issue we will need to go in to with them later), they’re working on being confusing too, although not to quite the extent as Westlaw.

If I’m using Stair, I am looking specifically for Scottish legal information. I will not be helped by being given information from other jurisdictions. So helpfully inserting a suggestion at the top of my search about what a term means in an entirely different context is of absolutely no relevance to my search. It may be a “key narrative definition”, but it’s for an entirely different country, and for an entirely different topic!

We, as the intermediaries for users of these resources, need to be able to confidently tell them: “Yes, that information’s accurate – experts in legal issues have checked the contributions and I can confirm they’re as good and reliable as you can get.” Right now, I just can’t do this, and it means our users trust in these (very expensive) resources is being eroded more each time they come up against a glaring inaccuracy.

So, legal database publishers, lets try going over this again, shall we?

Scotland is a separate jurisdiction from England and Wales
Scotland has different laws from England and Wales
Scotland has different legal terms than England and Wales
Scotland has different legal resources from England and Wales

Can you all repeat that until you know what it means, and stop trying to give us English/Welsh law instead of our own? Oh, by the way, you might want to remember that Welsh law is likely to start differing significantly from English law soon too, as their Assembly starts to exercise their powers. Try and take that into consideration for the future?

Law books ain’t cheap

Certain old law books are very, very expensive (like this one).

Certain new law books are also very, very expensive. This book has slipped from its original publication date by about 3 years so far, so there’s no guarantee that it will actually be coming out in November this year, as currently promised. But just look at that price.
£785.
Yes: that’s not a typo. It actually costs £785 for a single volume of a single book.
It has 568 pages. 
That’s £1.38 per page.
Law book prices are just insane sometimes.
 

Customer service – a dying art?

Or really, any sort of service at all, since offering a ‘free’ issue of a newsletter for assessment doesn’t really make me a customer, since I’ve not bought a product yet….

Ah, the joys of LexisNexis! They must be getting desperate for business indeed, if their new tactics are anything to go by.
I was called up a few weeks ago by a woman. I don’t know who, she never gave her name. She asked me if I would like a free sample issue of their relaunched “Tolley’s Employment Law Newsletter”. As thats an area we cover, I said yes, but also that it was hugely unlikely we’d take out a subscription of any sort. She said that was fine, but went on to make a HUGE point of the fact that, I HAD to reply to the email she would be sending me within 30 days. I had no idea what the email content would be, it would be made clear in the email, but I HAD to reply to it. I said no problem, and calendared it in as I was talking to her. She had me spell out my email address, letter by letter, so there was no confusion over it.
Then she said that I “might” get an invoice, but it was ok, I could ignore it, as long as I replied to the email to confirm whatever this mystical email wanted me to confirm, I assume my refusal of a subscription, since she was now mentioning invoices.
She said was going to email me right that second, and remember, it is absolutely ESSENTIAL that I reply to that email.
Needless to say, the email didn’t arrive…but days later, the Newsletter did. Now, without this email I can’t cancel this non-subscription that I don’t have…yet also, they have no evidence of any sort of request from me to receive this sample issue…I wonder how this is all going to work out?
I contacted the customer service email on the website as soon as the issue arrived on the 24th August (which reminded me the email from Phonecall Woman had never arrived), and told them I had received a sample copy, had no intention of taking out a subscription, had been left with no contact details for the woman who called and no email to reply to to confirm I didn’t want a subscription, they could regard this as my statement that I did not want a subscription to the Newsletter, and forward this to the appropriate department to deal with.
I got no reply or acknowledgement from customer service, no contact of any sort. Now, the date I put in the calendar for reply (at the very latest) to that non-existent email is the 17th September…lets see what happens, shall we? Invoicing for a non-requested, non-existent subscription?
Fun and games with publishers. *sigh*

The Free Legal Web – who for?

The current Big Idea in the legal / library blog world is the Free Legal Web (FLW). Originally mooted by Nick Holmes, the idea is to pull all of the content currently floating about the ether (legal professionals blog posts, Government information etc) into one portal. That in itself is a big enough task, but what doesn’t seem to be clear yet is…who is this Free Legal Web for?

The people involved so far seem to be legal professionals and IT specialists. The legal professionals will be working out some way of getting the useful materials together, and persuading other legal professionals that giving up their valuable time and work (such as blog postings) for this enterprise will be a worthwhile investment, and will reap them rewards in the end. The IT professionals job will be to write the scripts and programmes that will get everything together in the one place, and working well with all the other bits and pieces.

That’s all lovely (although it’s hard to tell what’s actually being done, as the discussions are going on behind an invite-only Google Group, which to me, kind of defeats the purpose of harnessing the collective intelligence of the legal and information professionals), but when this all singing, all dancing portal is up and running, who’s going to be using it? I would have thought this was a core question, to be settled right at the start, yet it doesn’t seem to have been discussed at any point.

If you’re designing a portal to work alongside the subscription legal databases like Westlaw and LexisNexis, then I assume it’s being aimed at people already working in the law, and therefore able to understand and interpret the information being presented to them there. The content will be academic / in depth, and of relevance to other members of the legal profession. Certain assumptions can be made about the level of knowledge and understanding of the user, and their grasp of the content. It also means it’s unlikely to be being used by members of the general public. Since legal professionals are likely to be persuaded into contributing to the FLW by the prospect of it eventually increasing their business through building of a reputation, this is not a good start.

If it’s designed for the general public, to allow them access to the elusive laws they’re meant to keep within, then good interpretation of the law is needed, not just access. People working in the law can forget just how difficult it is to find out what legislation means for people without access to subscription databases, information professionals to check for currency and further discussions of legal points…and even the language of legislation, while precise and succinct, can be incredibly confusing for someone with no experience of reading it, confronted with it for the first time. Content for this FLW would need a different focus – explaining the law and its impact on the general public, with references to the original case law rather than references to law reports inaccessible to the general public. Guides equivalent to first year law students introductions to the various aspects of the law would be needed. Clear signalling of whether legislation applies to all of the UK, or only the devolved areas would be essential. In other words, it would be a very different beast then the FLW designed for legal professionals.

So…is it a Professional Free Legal Web, or a Public Free Legal Web?

Definite improvement from Lexis Nexis

Having had to delve in quickly already this morning, I’m liking the redesign.
My main delight is the fact that, when using Stair Memorial Encyclopedia (our main reason for subscribing), there’s now a lovely new option.
Previously, to see a whole section of the encyc, you had to click individually on each separate paragraph.
Now, when you click into a para, there’s a lovely option in the top right that says “View whole of”…it’s a joy!
Now I can scroll merrily through the encyclopedia, without thinking that it’d actually be quicker to use the paper version!
Well done Lexis Nexis!

Now, off to get used to the navigation (already re-sorted my bookshelf) before someone else needs me to do something useful with it!