As a freelance lawyer, you probably spend a lot of time working on your own, maybe at home, maybe in a co-working location, but away from other lawyers. A key concern may well be how you can stay up to date with legal and regulatory developments, as well as having an idea of what may be coming down the line. It can be much more difficult without the luxury of law firm professional support lawyers, legal librarians/knowledge managers or training team supporting you. It is also something that can crop up at a job interview or during a performance management review – how do you stay up to date?
The law is constantly changing – case law, new legislation, consultations, Law Commission projects, and across different jurisdictions – English law, the law of the devolved administrations, EU law. How on earth do you keep on top of it all? It can all seem quite overwhelming in terms of both volume and also in relation to deciding that is important? Busy lawyers do not have time to read everything, and clients won’t pay you to stay up to date. As a result, you need to have an efficient system of working out what the key developments for your area of law are, so that you can concentrate on the key issues and not the “noise”. It’s all in the name – continuing learning. It is worth making time to take stock and consider how to keep up and put tools and strategies in place to ensure you are up to date and don’t miss the key developments in your practice area. It is also important for your own continuing professional development.
Free resources | Law firms & organisations
Law firm blogs & thought leadership
Law firms are well worth researching. Many are very active in thought leadership and publish blog posts and longer articles on their websites about the areas of law they specialise in. Examples include Lewis Silkin’s adlaw blog and Allen & Overy’s recent Commodity Finance report. Linklaters and Freshfields are also examples of law firms offering thought leadership articles in various sectors such as technology, fintech and healthcare.
Pinsent Masons and Cameron McKenna operate the out-law and Law-Now services respectively where you can sign up for current awareness emails in the topic areas that interest you and read longer articles on their websites.
Institutions & organisations
However, there are plenty of other free learning options too which can help you keep up to date with the law and market practice. Following the organisations of interest on social media helps you keep up to date with their new publications. For example, you may follow the Consumer and Markets Authority, the Advertising Standards Authority and the EU Court of Justice to keep up to date with new consultations, rulings and cases in the areas of consumer and advertising law. It is also worth following the court social media feeds, government departments, EU institutions, law firms and lawyers who have an interest in your areas of expertise such as IPKat for intellectual property law issues as well as law associations such as the Society of Construction law or the Society of Computers and Law. Consider also the industry associations. Examples include the British Retail Consortium, the Renewable Energy Association and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising
However, it is important to consider your sources in the same way you would critically consider your “black letter” legal resources, some people appear to be authoritative on social media, but it is important to check against the black letter sources. Equally, if you see something on the BBC website, look for the underlying source.
Blogs, events and online learning
Blog posts, podcasts and webinars can all be a good source of information. Some face to face events are free or very low cost and can be a great way of finding out about developments, but also making contacts with other lawyers who may be of assistance in the future or provide help in other areas of law. Legal events in your city can be found on EventBrite. Online courses can also be helpful, consider providers such as Futurelearn or Coursera – you can do the courses for free and interact with other learners. Examples of the courses available include contract management and shipping law.
It is also worth making use of The Law Society library if you are an English solicitor and particularly if you are in easy reach of Central London. You can use the library to research something – or ask their staff to do the research for you. Scottish and Irish lawyers may be able to make use of similar services at the Law Societies of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Barristers can make use of their Inn libraries. In addition, the Inner Temple’s library has a free current awareness service and an active Twitter feed.
Paid-for services such as LexisNexis and Practical Law offer many tools for keeping up to date such as weekly and daily news emails and trackers of legislation and cases. They also cover sectoral news, which can be useful for keeping up with industry issues as well as the law. There are also other paid-for alerter services such as Mlex, which among other things covers competition and Brexit news, and Lexology for general legal news.
Melanie Ashworth, solicitor at LexisNexis, says:
“Working for a legal information services provider means that keeping up to date with the law is essential for my role, but its also part of the fabric of the way I work on a daily basis. I’m alerted to source updates (legislation and case law developments) throughout the day via LexisLibrary and our current awareness teams. I also work with specialist practitioners to analyse the practical impact of each of these developments”.
As well as using social media to watch organisations’ activities, you can also set up an RSS feed – feedly is a useful tool for this and is very easy to use.
Another free tool is the Google alert. You can set up an alert around a topic or organisation of interest. So for example you can track developments around, for example, the Law Commission project on driverless cars to find latest news, commentary from the general media and law media, as well as individuals’ comments.
In the same way, you can use social media hashtags to watch for new developments and commentary. An example might be to use #emplaw on Twitter for employment law highlights such as new tribunal decisions or commentary on recent ones.
Don’t forget old fashioned media – newspapers, listening to the radio, textbooks. A professional support lawyer at a top national law firm says:
“reading a quality newspaper and/ or news magazine regularly is also a great way of keeping on top of legal developments; after all, the law doesn’t exist in a vacuum”.
As well as newspapers, consider sector journals too. Many offer some free articles on their websites, and you can also subscribe to their magazines and email updates. Examples might be Retail Week or The Grocer for retailers or Utility Week for the utilities. Academic journals such as International Journal of Hospitality Management may also be useful, although access may be expensive and articles may be a little too specialist for day to day legal practice.