The on-line revolution

Over the last 10 years, the information manager's time has been spent increasingly in evaluating products. Baker & McKenzie is swamped with telephone calls and literature on such products and their enhancements. Lawyers are not the only ones to wonder what happened to the paperless office.

Continual evaluation is essential and the information manager has to be particularly selective to ensure that lawyers have access to the best and most suitable electronic resources.

Bakers subscribes to a wide range of legal on-line and CD-ROM databases: Lexis, Westlaw, Legal Journals Index, Celex (on-line and CD-ROM), Lawtel Plus, and ECJ Cases Pending. On CD-ROM only, the firm has Polis (Parliamentary), statutory instruments, OJ C series, Eastern European legislation and EC References.

The list is twice as long for non-legal databases which are equally important, if not more so, as competition between law firms increases, and marketing functions expand. Company, trade marks, market research and news information are available on databases such as Nexis, FT Profile, Maid, Dialog and Datastar.

And the number of electronic formats is also increasing – Bakers has remote dial-up and ISDN databases, CD-ROMs, host databases, the Internet and on-screen textbooks.

The initial problem is separating the essential from the peripheral. Content, ease of use, after-sales service, technology and the pricing structure all have to be considered before deciding whether the product should be added to the firm's library and information centre.

Direct access by end users is one more factor, and each database should be considered separately. And do the lawyers have the time or inclination to hone and update the skills required for the different databases?

The on-line revolution will have far-reaching implications for law firms. Office space and working methods for lawyers and information professionals are already adapting to meet the advances in electronic storage and retrieval of information and to maximise good usage. A sure recipe for disaster is to install them indiscriminately and leave the lawyers to 'have a go'.

Dianne Gwynne-Smith is library and information services manager at Baker & McKenzie.