Reference point, and click

Most lawyers have long since defied the popular image of them as quill pen-wielding traditionalists and embraced the technological revolution in all its megabyte glory.

For the most part, that has meant getting to grips with such products as Books on Screen, which, as its name implies, allows conventional legal texts to be consulted via computer screens, and the market-leading US- based operation Lexis-Nexis. Now, as a result of a link-up between the Council of Law Reporting and the electronic publisher Context, the leading case law will be available at the touch of a button.

Under the agreement the entire 130-year history of The Law Reports is available on two CD-Roms at pounds 5,000 for individuals and pounds 10,000 for organisations (though there is a lower-cost deal with law faculties). The electronic Law Reports, as the development is known, will also be available on-line, with supplementary CDs published regularly.

However, Robin Williamson, managing director of Context, plays down the importance of the CD-Rom publication. That is just an enabler, he says, pointing out that the real value in what the company is doing comes with giving "a real, and required, benefit to customers".

To ensure that it achieved that, the Context team extensively consulted practising lawyers, academics and other users in the early stages. At the heart of the new product is a program - Dynamic Document Linking - that enables cross-referencing between the various materials in the Context database.

Since that catalogue will shortly include Sweet & Maxwell's Common Market Law Reports and Criminal Appeal Reports and the Lloyd's Law Reports, as well as the electronic Law Reports, Weekly Law Reports, Industrial Cases and Family Law, Mr Williamson believes his company has the edge over the competition. "We have consistently listened to our customers' requirements, and developed our range and capabilities accordingly,"he says.

Having started in 1986 by publishing European legislation, north London- based Context now employs 40 people and last year had a turnover of pounds 3.75mn