Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sending out email bulletins

This article appeared in The Internet Newsletter for Lawyers, July/August 2006 and was written with Daniel Barnett.

What with the wigs and gowns and their ancient buildings in the Temple, barristers as a breed are not generally associated with innovation and new technology. However, last year we brought together a team of sixteen barristers with the aim of dispelling such an image.

Our goal was ambitious: to set up the largest legal email bulletin in the UK. Subscribers would get experts giving them pithy summaries of all the important developments in their area for free in return for which contributors would be receiving more publicity and coverage than most of them could possibly achieve working alone.

Starting from scratch, this would be quite a challenge. However, our confidence lay in the quality of the product. We had identified what might be described as the second stage of the development of online information provision.

The first stage had simply been that of getting as much information as possible online and also perhaps aiming to get as much of it as possible available to all at no cost. However, such projects almost became a victim of their own success since consumers in most areas of the internet are now suffering from information overload. This has resulted in the irony that whilst in the past lawyers may have read the odd case summary that was passed around an office, they now read much less as there is nothing to distinguish the useful cases from the mountain of others.

This is where the idea came into its own. We believed that the next stage in the evolution of online information provision would be the growth in edited content written by experts in particular specialist fields. As a team of barristers we were perfectly placed. Not only did we have our own professional reputations as experts but we also had the brand of our profession itself as a guarantee of quality.

With this in mind, the name for the project was fairly easy to come up with. A bunch of ‘briefs’ writing ‘brief’ case summaries led to the name “Law Brief Update”. The sign-in website (www.lawbriefupdate.com) was launched last year. Since then, the number of people who have signed up has already reached over 8,000 and is rising steadily each week. Each month, a bulletin is sent out containing around half a dozen condensed case summaries in each of the main areas of law (including commercial, PI, family, employment, crime and property).

The bulletins are not intended to replace services such as Lawtel, which provides a far more comprehensive service. However, it is a very effective alternative for those who prefer not to pay commercial fees to legal information providers, or who simply want a short, snappy summary of crucial cases, rather than detailed recitals of facts and arguments. It also goes one step further and provides cases which have specifically been picked out as significant by an expert in a particular field.

For technical assistance, we have had the help of IT expert Garry Wright of 3001 Internet (www.3001.co.uk) who designed the web-site and set up the database using free software called dada mail (mojo.skazat.com). This is a web-based e-mail list management system. To quote from the Dada website: "Dada Mail handles double opt-in/opt-out subscriptions, sending complex announce-only and/or discussion mailing list messages, archiving/viewing/searching/resending/syndicating (rss, atom) sent messages and doing all this and more with style." We have also needed the assistance of a programmer to tailor the software being used to our particular needs, in particular in setting up and running the database.

There have been a number of ways that we have achieved this sign up rate (8,000 so far). First, we already had existing newsletters in our own specialist fields which each go out to over 12,000 people in personal injury and employment law respectively (see www.pibriefupdate.com and www.danielbarnett.co.uk). We were therefore able to promote Law Brief Update through our own publications.

In addition, there have been a number of publications which have agreed to cross-promote our bulletin in return for promotion of their own products. An example of this cross-promotion is Mike Semple-Piggott’s Legal Practitioner Newswire (www.lawinabox.net). Over time, the content is also being taken up by publishers providing specialist hard copy magazines in particular areas of law such as EMIS Professional Publishing’s Personal Injury and Property Law Services (www.emispp.com). W e have also worked hard to get as many links from other sites as possible in the knowledge that this is perhaps one of the most important factors in achieving the all important ‘google rating’.

In terms of those that have signed up so far, the vast majority are solicitors and the other significant group are barristers themselves. However, it is surprising how many people without legal backgrounds have also signed up and this is perhaps an indicator of the underlying interest or curiosity that the general public have in all things legal. We have had good feedback, with people not only finding the bulletins useful themselves but also, in many cases, printing them off for further distribution or storage.

The team of barristers has now risen to 24 and is likely to grow further over the next few months. As the number of subscribers increases, it is intended that Law Brief will launch specialist newsletters within other areas of law in addition to those already existing in personal injury and employment law.

In addition, the first subscription service has also been launched. This is the Personal Injury Brief Update Law Journal (www.pibriefupdate.com/pibulj.php) which is written by a team of around 30 barristers and other experts. The article titles are advertised in the PI newsletter and whilst the initial issues have been free, later ones will be by subscription with xpl Publishing (www.xplpublishing.com) who will publish bound copies every six months.
Whilst it remains to be seen whether the ambition of becoming the biggest legal email newsletter will be achieved, what can be said with certainty is that we have surpassed even our own hopes for the first year.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Rob the Rubbish

During the last year my Dad has become quite well known for cleaning up some of Britain´s most beautiful countryside, most notably on Ben Nevis in Scotland and Snowdon in Wales. Today, he´s in Cumbria cleaning up Scafell Pike.

It started with him quietly cleaning his own village of litter in mid Wales and went on from there. Slowly the media picked up on his efforts and he has now been featured in numerous newspaper articles and TV and radio shows including the Richard and Judy Show, Countryfile and the Jeremy Vine Show. The Independent stated in one of its leaders that "Mr Kevan thus follows in the footsteps of others who have decided something must be done and done it. One thinks of Florence Nightingale, Albert Schweitzer, Bob Geldof, Diana, Princess of Wales...". At the end of 2005, Stephen Jardine of the Edinburgh Evening News stated that Robin Kevan was his choice for Man of the Year and concluded: "Britain needs more people like Rob the Rubbish who recognise enough is enough and are prepared to take responsibility for doing something about it."

Following this publicity, he´s become a bit of a symbol not only for those who love the beauty of the countryside but also for what can be achieved by one man. His next project is a trek to Mount Everest with Travel and Trek in October 2006 to clean up the world's highest mountain. For futher information see his website.

Good luck on Scafell Pike today!

The picture above is of my Dad cleaning up Mount Snowdon and is copyright Howard Barlow.