Westlaw Europe challenges Lexis

Liz Davidson reports

US legal publishing giant West Group is expanding into Europe with promises to provide an information service serving all the legal systems in Europe.

UK lawyers will soon be able to tap into a research service which has the current working title of Westlaw-Sweet & Maxwell. This will provide legal information and up-to-date case law from all European countries together with a news service specifically aimed at lawyers.

Westlaw Europe, which was launched on 12 May, will compete with Lexis/Nexis Europe to be the main provider of online legal and business information. It claims that it will use a state-of-the-art Internet-based system and a "superior" user interface and provide multiple language-search capabilities.

Westlaw's development director Clemens Ceipek said the company hoped to have its service "up and running" by the beginning of 1998 and aimed to have fully completed its range of products within three years. He added that some products were still under development.

Ceipek said that Westlaw had already held discussions with a number of companies, and hoped to enter into partnerships with law publishers throughout Europe.

Westlaw Europe was formed as a result of London-based Thomson Legal & Professional Group teaming up with Thomson Corporation's US legal publishing division, West Group, the leading information provider in the US, with an annual revenue of $1.2bn.

Lexis/Nexis Europe, which is owned by Reed Elsevier, was recently formed from the integration of all Lexis and Nexis activities in Europe.

The amount of legal information delivered online in the US currently stands at about 30 per cent.

The figure is much smaller in the UK, but Ceipek said that it "is growing all the time".

"We want to provide all the information a lawyer needs, legal information plus supplementary services around them," he explained.

Jonathan Goodliffe, Simmons & Simmons' know-how lawyer, welcomed the competition the Westlaw service will bring to the market.

"The great disadvantage about Lexis having a monopoly on the market is that the reporting of cases can be delayed," he said.

"The service provided by Lawtel is more up-to-date but much less comprehensive. I would certainly consider this service if it were cheaper and better than the one currently provided."