SPEECH BY THE HONOURABLE THE CHIEF JUSTICE CHAN SEK KEONG, PRESIDENT OF SINGAPORE ACADEMY OF LAW AT THE LAUNCH OF LAWNET2
1. About seven years ago, I officiated at the 10th Anniversary celebrations of LawNet. At that time, LawNet had been on the Internet for only two years. Nevertheless, some 65% of all practising lawyers
in Singapore were already using Legal Workbench.
2. We took quiet satisfaction at the progress and success of the Legal Workbench but we did not rest on our laurels. Instead, the small but effective Secretariat at the Singapore Academy of Law continued to innovate and develop LawNet services.
3. Over the years, the following primary materials were added: the Straits Settlements Law Reports, the Kyshe Reports, the Straits Law Journal, decisions of various tribunals and boards including those of
the Strata Titles Board, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore,the Income Tax Board of Review and more recently, the Competition Commission of Singapore.
4. But the growth of LawNet did not stop at these and other primary materials. Today, LawNet users have access to a wide range of secondary materials including textbooks from the Subordinate Courts
Practitioners Library and the Academy’s journals and publications. Also available are journals such as the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, the Singapore Year Book of International Law, and the Asian Journal on Mediation. And in an innovative move, LawNet has sought,and received permission, to mine and include the legal updates from many prominent law firms, public institutions and government departments.
5. Such secondary material provide relevant analyses and commentaries from academics and practitioners, adding new perspectives to case law and indeed, to the interpretation of statutes. Well-written commentaries and standard texts also provide muchneeded guidance to practitioners unfamiliar with specific areas of law.
6. In this regard, I would hope that more law firms could consider contributing their research material, articles, books and perhaps even advice to clients, perhaps after a suitable cooling-off period and with
careful redaction of client-sensitive information, if necessary.
7. With the amount of legal materials available on the Legal Workbench, I don’t think it would be any exaggeration to say that subscribing to the Legal Workbench is good value for money.
8. Which brings me to the next topic. At its launch, the Legal Workbench was innovative, not just in terms of technology, but also in the subscription model. Instead of charging users on a “per-search” basis, Legal Workbench was made available on a “buffet” basis. For a low, flat rate, a subscriber is able to search all databases, as much as he wants. Subscription packages for Singapore law firms cost as little as $60 for a one-lawyer law firm. Larger law firms pay less and less,on a per-user basis, for their subscriptions. I wish to emphasis that fees are not increased, regardless of how much the subscriber uses
9. Even then, our charges have remained unchanged for almost ten years, despite increases in the scope and depth of material available on the Legal Workbench. Manpower and other costs incurred in making the content available have also made it increasingly difficult for the current pricing to remain.
10. A modest increase in subscription rates is necessary. After detailed consultation with the Law Society, the Academy has decided to raise subscription rates but this will take effect only three months from today. For the smallest law firms, the increase is almost negligible: a one-man law firm will pay $63, instead of $60. The decreasing scale will still apply. Larger firms will pay less on a per user basis for their subscriptions, although the sliding scale discounts have been reduced somewhat.
11. The Academy did not take this move lightly. In fact, increasing the Legal Workbench subscription rate has been considered many times in the past. But each time, it has been postponed, whether because of the prevailing economic conditions, or simply because the
timing was not “right”. With the new features, and content that I will be announcing next, I trust that you will all agree that the subscription increase is fair and reasonable.
12. Before I do so, I just wish to briefly address something that is asked of me from time-to-time – “why can’t it all be free?” Often idealistic and well-intentioned, the user who asks this question may not
appreciate the sheer amount of work and effort that goes into developing, and maintaining a system as complex as LawNet. Whilst there are some “free” law sites on the Net, none of them has the rich value-added content that has always been the hallmark of LawNet.Headnotes, case indexing and commentaries are just some of the additional content which practitioners have told us they need. These are in LawNet, but only because LawNet has succeeded as a selffinancing, commercially viable service, able to pay for hardware,software, and most importantly, editorial and other manpower effort and expertise.
13. Unfortunately, there is no way to provide LawNet services free,unless someone funds its maintenance and development. Someone would have to pay for it at the end of the day. If you do come across
someone who is willing to provide a large endowment fund to finance LawNet indefinitely, please let me know. We will seriously consider naming the Legal Workbench after him, or her.
New Features and Content
14. When the Legal Workbench was first launched, users were,generally, not very web-savvy. They needed training on the use of the Internet browser, many were using dial-up modems and access was
slow. Their employers needed convincing to move to broadband. A lot has changed since.
15. Today, broadband is now affordable and the broadband penetration rate in Singapore is among the highest in the world. Almost every student is familiar with using the Web. Today, those who enter the legal profession are already familiar with the technology, and ore importantly, they are increasingly sophisticated users with ncreasingly demanding needs.
16. With the launch of LawNet2, they will not be disappointed.
17. After many years of work, and with much consultation with ractitioners and academics, we are ready to unveil the next eneration of LawNet on the Internet.
18. In addition to a more powerful search engine, and a revamped ook, there are many features and tools in LawNet 2 that will allow subscribers to search, save and manage information. Personalisation
features will allow each subscriber to choose what he wants to see, as soon as he logs in. Time-saving features allow subscribers to keep tabs on areas of law that they are interested in. Law firm administrators can also add and remove authorised users, and reset passwords for users.
19. But perhaps the most useful feature is instant accessibility to the entire collection of the Official Law Reports published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales. The Reports, dating back to 1865, are now available to Legal Workbench
subscribers, through a commercial arrangement that SAL has reached with Justis Publishing Ltd, a UK company which has the exclusive right to distribute electronic versions of the ICLR’s reports.
20. I have seen LawNet 2 in operation. The way that Singapore legal materials has been integrated with English law material is impressive. Every citation to English law in Singapore cases is hyperlinked to that case. More notably, when viewing any English
case, a “reference trace” will be available. This will show the user whether and what later decisions referred to that case.
21. Here, I would like to gratefully acknowledge the participation of Justis Publishing Ltd, and CrimsonLogic Pte Ltd, the Academy’s IT partner for LawNet 2 in bringing this project to it’s launch today.
22. Although we will strive to develop our very own body of Singapore case law, we cannot dispense with the main body of common law materials, especially those reported in the official series of the English reports. We cannot be nationalistic in our laws when
there is a much richer corpus of common law materials that we can tap on from other common law jurisdictions.
23. In this connection, even as the Academy launches this exciting new suite of services, the LawNet Management Committee, chaired by Justice Lee Seiu Kin, will continue to look into the possibilities of
expanding the international and comparative law components available within LawNet 2.
24. In closing, I would only add that I firmly believe that LawNet 2 is indispensable for all practitioners in Singapore. A practitioner who subscribes to this service will, with a few clicks of his mouse, have at
his command practically all the law that he needs to advise or to plead on behalf of his client. I have earlier mentioned that within three years of its launch, 65% of all practitioners in Singapore were subscribers to
the Legal Workbench. Now, more than 80% of practitioners are subscribers. The LawNet Secretariat will be knocking on the doors of the remaining law firms in the weeks and months to come. I would go
so far as to say that unless he or she has comparable access to the same content through other services, I have difficulty understanding how a lawyer can adequately advise his client without being a subscriber to LawNet.
25. I now ask you to join me in welcoming the LawNet 2, the second generation of LawNet.
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