The Main Site
Before logging in to ICLR Online, I looked at their main site which has a wealth of free information. As well as the latest case summaries/published cases search, it has an up-to-date blog, details of ICLR events, and other entertaining snippets. I must admit to not using the case digests in my current awareness, but I have now rectified this by adding their RSS feed onto my reader. This is going to be an extra part of my daily bulletin and I can link to the summaries.
It is an attractive site with the red, green and blue of their bound law reports incorporated into the theme. It’s obviously a site with a dual purpose; it offers quality free information, but also it is their shop front for the sales of hard copy and online database.
Once you are logged in to the database, the shopping basket and numerous tabs disappear. The layout remains clean, with clear demarcations of search boxes, and at-a-glance columns of case summaries, reports and case notes.
Simple searching is straightforward; you can search for name, citation or free text. Advanced searching isn’t much more difficult; you can narrow your search by date, judge, court, and most importantly catchword. Anyone who has used Lexis to find cases will know that it is best to start by limiting the search to the case summary.
They have solved the problem of cases where the names are just letters so you can search successfully for P v P, for instance. This lack of implied truncation has its downside because you have to remember to use * at the end of words but I like their decision to do it this way.
If you want to find cases heard under certain pieces of legislation, you have to use the free text box, eg “Equality Act 2010, s 108” or “Protection from Harassment”. I tried it with a wrong spelling, using harrassment, and the database gave me one hit where there is a spelling mistake in the summary. Searches have to be spelt correctly.
The search relies on Boolean operators, which isn’t a problem for information professionals but a potential difficulty for lawyers. There is no information on how to do proximity searching. I only know it can do sophisticated searches like this because it was demonstrated to me. I can’t remember the string but it is not like Lexis or Westlaw. Only the most basic information regarding truncation and connectors is given in the PDF help guide, so I would recommend they add a html help page/pop up.
The results are laid out in a simple way. The emphasis seems to be on finding and navigating a single case. The citator gives a summary, with cases considered, appellate history, words and phrases, and commentary, where this information is available. A link to the report is given, either to the ICLR full text or a link to BAILII. The case can be saved, printed, or added to a bundle in your briefcase. The PDF is conveniently laid out, just click to go to the headnote, facts, judgment etc.
However there is a major problem. If you are doing a search on behalf of a user, you sometimes need to send a list of case summaries to them because they don’t know exactly what they want. There is no option to tick and send results to an email address so you’d have to go into each record and cut and paste.
The problem is the out-dated philosophy of this charitable publisher. I admire their high-minded approach by being committed to providing a service to the legal profession, but they are hamstrung by their need to maintain a ‘moderate price’. The other publishers are free to charge what they like for their services and invest substantial amounts in them. This must be frustrating because these publishers who take information from them are benefiting from the knowledge and expertise of the law reporters employed by ICLR.
I wrote that the website acted as a shop front so that lawyers and library services could buy hard copy law reports. However few people want to purchase hard copy runs of law reports. Most people who come to this site are there for free case summaries, or going to the paid online service. These two aspects of the site could be split so that the sales part doesn’t interfere with the fee/free online information.
Finally the major selling point of the ICLR archive for the legal community is its selective editorial focus. One of the main topics of conversation that I had with the ICLR team was replicated recently with a lawyer. Lawyers – solicitors, barristers, judges – are drowning in information. Full text databases of unreported cases such as Lawtel, Bailii, Westlaw etc encourage the production of huge bundles; every point argued, every angle covered, with as many cases quoted as possible. Therefore given the parlous economic state of the legal profession, I see an eventual return to quality filtered information and the ICLR are perfectly placed to fulfil this need.
The information in this database is exactly what you’d expect from the ICLR but despite the tablet optimisation it isn’t an innovative addition to the legal information fold. And I really didn’t want to write that. A database needs to meet a certain minimum criteria, regardless of the information it contains. The ICLR team have the enthusiasm, contacts, and knowledge to transform ICLR Online into something ground breaking and fit for the future. But it needs appropriate investment, or it won’t happen.