Clifford Chance to advise via the Net

Elizabeth Davidson reports

CLIFFORD Chance has become the second UK law firm to launch a Future of Law-style legal advice and information service across the Internet.

The service, Nextlaw (nextlaw.com), became available to "selected clients" for an as yet undisclosed annual subscription fee three weeks ago, although it is due to be officially launched in May.

It offers advice on data protection law in 30 jurisdictions in the US , Asia, Eastern European and European Union countries and offers a comparative service between each jurisdiction.

Clients use the service by following a series of questions designed to identify the nature of their legal problem and then provide them with an answer.

The Lawyer understands that four other top 10 City firms are seriously considering similar projects. They include Herbert Smith which is yet to decide on which area of the law to cover and whether to charge a fee and Nabarro Nathanson.

Nabarros managing partner Colin Davey said its project was "within the firm's strategy, although nothing concrete had yet been achieved".

Linklaters was the first firm in the UK to offer a service of this type when it launched Blueflag (blueflag.com) in August 1996 a daily updated service designed to give legal advice to investment bankers, broker dealers and portfolio managers dealing with Europe.

Blueflag acts as a "virtual lawyer", giving advice on investment across countries. It operates on a flow diagram basis which helps users to identify their legal query.

UK and Asia Pacific versions of Blueflag were launched in January, and Linklaters is now working on Latin American and Eastern European versions which it hopes to launch in the autumn, with a US version to follow.

The 10,000-page, 23-country service is available on a subscription basis at an initial cost of between £3,000 and £5,000 per annum plus £1,200-£2,000 per country.

Linklaters partner and head of financial markets, Paul Nelson, who set up and oversees Blueflag, said that about 80 per cent of a user's legal needs could be met through the service, leaving the lawyer to get on with the "cutting edge stuff" of investment law.

Nelson said the service was "the way of the future" and he expected other big firms to follow suit.

The service fits in with the vision of the lawyer as a legal information engineer as portrayed by author Richard Susskind in The Future of Law.