E-FILES: Legal advice offered online

Brookers' 'bread and butter' is legal information, but the company also offers HR and business information in addition to tax and accounting publications.

www.brookers.co.nz

The professional information market is a competitive place. Brookers, a local subsidiary of the

global Thomson Group, competes with Butterworths, part of Reed Elsevier, and CCH, part of Wolters Kluwer, in offering online, CD and hard copy information to law, tax and accounting professionals in particular.

Brookers' "bread and butter" is legal information, acknowledges business development and technical manager Carl Olson, but the company also offers HR and business information in addition to tax and accounting publications. Brookers' products include Westlaw, which competes with the Lexis-Nexis database service.

Olson says most of the major players use the same tools, Folio Views, a search engine, Site Director, Live Publish and the SGML language, so the three or four trainers the company employs to educate customers around the country in its products often end up training them in their competitors' products as well.

Olson says Brookers, which began life as a legal annotation service in Wanganui in 1910, has run its Web site for a number of years and undertaken a number of face-lifts of the site in that time. Brookers first published electronically in 1993. Olson says while there is an additional cost with each new medium, using the Web to deliver information enables Brookers to "add value" for customers, ensure timeliness of information and closely customise products. It can, for instance, now consolidate on a weekly basis, rather than the six-monthly basis possible non-electronically. It also allows Brookers to "throw it out there" - trial new services - and work more closely with customers to meet their requirements. While the company has typically focused on the "upper end" of the market, the Web may enable it to tailor information products to the numerous small firms in the New Zealand professional market. It also intends to continue to "leverage its international resources" in providing new products.

The move online has meant altering existing practices. "We had to change our ways of doing things," says Olson, whose title is a good example of shifting roles. This included improving discipline in managing information, such as making changes to a common data set rather than one of the "information streams". Previously content was typically created by editors on word processors, then passed on to typesetters. Now editors are directly using SGML tools and the process is "much more integrated", says Olson.

The company, which reports to Thomson in Australia, employs between 150 and 200 people typically, of whom up to 30 are devoted to IT. The site was largely developed in-house using mainstream products and is hosted in Wellington. It is linked to Wellington's CityLink fibre network.

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