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?

Copyright joy for law firm libraries!

Yay!
As emailed out over lis-law last week, the Copyright Licensing Agency have developed a CLA licence just for law firms. Body of the press release below:

New licence for law firms

15th October 2008

CLA have announced the launch of a new licence designed specifically for UK law firms.

From 1 November 2008, the new Law Licence will offer law firms additional benefits to the existing photocopying rights.

The Law Licence now enables articles and clippings from law reports, journals and press cuttings (magazines, journals, legal and other periodicals, but not newspapers) to be scanned, stored electronically and distributed externally to clients.

The new licence has been developed in consultation with The Law Society of England and Wales and the City of London Law Society so that it meets the needs of law firms that wish to copy from law reports and journals, business titles and other published media.

Chris Holland, Librarian & Head of Information Services at the Law Society said, “CLA photocopying licences are well established within the legal sector. This new licence gives additional rights to make digital copies, reflecting the much increased use of digital technology in law firms, including the use of electronic case files and shared email folders. It also removes the previous limit on the number of photocopies that could be made for a single occasion or purpose, thus providing more flexibility than the previous law firm licence to photocopy.”

The licence will be officially launched at the Law Autumn event at Birmingham NEC on October 15 & 16 where customers will be able to find out more about the benefits from CLA licensing staff.

CLA’s Andy Greenan, who is leading the licence launch, says, “Law firms want to be able to digitise relevant articles and reports to share with individual clients by email or within a case-based file. For the first time this licence allows that and I am sure demand will be high.”

Law firms that already hold a CLA licence will be able to upgrade from 1 November.

For further information about the benefits of the new Law Licence, please contact CLA on 0800 085 6644, email licence@cla.co.uk or see www.cla.co.uk.

Now, I’m assuming that if the Law Society of England and Wales are happy with this, it’s equally applicable for Scotland. Hopefully. Being able to legally scan and store certain things can be handy, although we’ve often already negotiated these sort of agreements with individual publishers. Any reduction in the amount of time spent faffing abouttrying to work out what we’re allowed to do, and with what materials, will be very nice!

No publicity, please!

So, last week I did a firewalk for charity, at Edinburgh Zoo. Due to the ‘delightful’ roadworks going on in Edinburgh for, ohhh, eternity, I arrived at the event at 7pm just as the briefing started, instead of the planned 6.30pm for registration.

Apparently, in the few minutes before the briefing officially started, it was announced that a daily news show crew were there to film us, and if anyone objected to being filmed, could they make themselves known. It seems like nobody did, because we were all filmed by the crew at various points, usually in the background to the presenter.

I have absolutely no desire to be on TV, particularly during a stressful event, so I was not best chuffed to find out by questioning other firewalkers that what I thought was perhaps going to be a promotional clip for the company organising the firewalk, or for the Zoo itself was actually going to end up on national telly. Added to this was the fact that I had not been asked about my agreement to the filming, and had not given permission either verbally, or in writing.

I’ve viewed the report, and can clearly see myself at one point, although others might not recognise me. I have no way of knowing what other footage that I may have been in was cut.

So, my questions are…
Since I was repeatedly filmed in a private place (the seminar room of the Zoo) without my permission, could I justifiably have objected to the use of the footage?
Is the firewalk area of the Zoo (a grassy public area in the middle, after opening hours of the Zoo) also a private area?
Is it legal to film people like this when they haven’t given any sort of proveable agreement?

It’s a moot point now, as the footage is out there, but it’s something that annoyed me, as I think you can tell!!

Technical terminology

I was looking at some Bills on the Parliament website, and I wanted to find out more info about what some of the stages abbreviations meant. So I clicked on the link to take me to this page.

And I was delighted to learn that ‘ping pong’ is a proper term, when discussing the progress of legislation through Parliament.

PP – Ping Pong, where the bill passes back and forth between the two Houses debating amendments to the bill

  • L – Commons’ Amendments considered in the House of Lords
  • C – Lords’ Amendments considered in the House of Commons

Brilliant -the mental images of members of the House of Lords and House of Commons playing Ping Pong in Parliament will keep me amused all day!! 🙂
Off to have flashbacks to Pong now!

I think I’m offended

So, after you hit retiral age, if there’s nothing else for you to do at a law firm, you get to become a librarian?

And what does an 88 year old DO in terms of library work? Is it just an honourary title, which allows him to potter around the office, or is he regularly asked to do research?
Did he use online resources, or work mainly with the printed texts?

Actually, I’m genuinely interested – I would love to think he was whizzing about in Westlaw, digging up stuff from LexisNexis Butterworths Direct, looking up the Statute Law Database, shattering preconceptions about older people and technology!!

Although sadly, I think it’s more likely that ‘librarian’ was just a job title they gave him to keep him happy, rather than because he was a great researcher, and helped keep his service users on top of the rapid changes in their profession…

SWOP meeting: "From Parliament Square to Holyrood – historical official publications online"

Belatedly writing up the SWOP meeting, which I posted info about here. Links to available presentations here.

This turned out to be a really useful and interesting event, even though it may have been aimed more at academics and researchers than anything else (it was only me and someone from a Council who weren’t academic staff).

  • “Parliament’s past online : a review of sources” Paul Seaward Director – History of Parliament Trust.

This part was full of interesting historical information, and background on UK Parliamentary materials development e.g House of Lords and House of Commons records were stored in different buildings, so a fire in 1834 that destroyed HofC records prior to that date had no effect on HofL records. Parliament Rolls and Statute Rolls are separate. Parliament Rolls of Medieval England (subscription service) and BOPCRIS (an HE and FE academics access only site). So, there’s sources, but you have to be an academic to view them, from the looks of it!

  • “From archive to internet: producing an online edition of the records of the pre 1707 Scottish Parliament” Gillian MacIntosh St Andrews University

A review of the background to the development of the Records of the Parliament of Scotland online. Highlighting the lovely option for parallel translations from old Scots, that can be viewed alongside their modern English translations. Noting that there’s now a citeable reference style for the old Acts (eg [1604/4/22], denoting year, month and number of the Acts), and original sources are given, unlike the previous printed edition, which is now known to be inaccurate and suffered from the editors personal bias!

  • “Prototyping Hansard” Robert Brook, UK Parliament

An un-official, ad-hoc project, working with the raw Hansard data and reusing it in various ways. It’s a very basic, non-prettified version of a website, but it allows users to search on tagged items to find all sorts of information on them, eg, by member name like Tam Dalyell. They specifically don’t work with the most current data, stopping at 2004.

I have to confess to tuning out slightly for the following presentations:

  • “Online Historical Population reports” Matthew Woollard – Project Director, Online Historical Reports Project.
  • “Digitisation of Parliamentary Texts at BOPCRIS” Dr Julian Ball, Project Manager, BOPCRIS
  • “ProQuest Parliamentary Papers” Rob Newman, Senior Editor, Proquest CSA

These were very definitely aimed at the academic sector, and researchers of population / history, and therefore not of particular use to me.

But overall, definitely an afternoon well spent – I have a far better understanding of where the historical parliamentary materials came from, why there’s gaps, why the printed collected Scottish Acts are unreliable, and now know about a funky online tool to play with Hansard! 😀