Since I started life at the bar a copy of the Red Book (Family Court Practice) has been my comfort blanket. Initially an old beaten copy of last year’s edition given to me by someone in chambers who knew how tough it was to find the money to buy one when starting out (it was still expensive then, around £400 I think). Later my very own…One year I had two when, having bought one, Jordans sent me a review copy meaning I could have one for home and one for chambers. And more recently, after years of the paper getting thinner and thinner and the book still getting heavier and heavier (particularly in the Munby years!) – I took the plunge and moved to the pdf version.
I found over time that on a holistic welfare analysis of the pros and cons of the red book, that the frequency with which I needed to refer to the red book had diminished to the point where it was just a massive pain in the backside (figuratively) and shoulder (literally) to lug around a book that I almost never looked at. It was still worth paying an exorbitant amount for a book I rarely used, because it was valuable when I did need it, but it wasn’t worth carrying around in hard copy all year just because the paper version was marginally easier to navigate. So, paperless it was.
I was still largely working on paper at that time, and hated the pdf version at first, but persevered and managed to get the hang of its basic navigation. It wasn’t the best even right up to last year, but then I have become used to working with a text book that, even in hard copy, always had an index that NEVER included the keyword I wanted to search for. As my pdf skills improved, most notably as I began to go paperless entirely last year, I reached a point where I could usually find the page I wanted faster than anybody else, using page numbers, key word searches and occasionally the irritating index – and I could extract the relevant few pages with a couple of taps on my ipad and ping them to judge or opponents. Making me the biggest keener in the room. Plus my shoulders didn’t hurt any more from carrying the damned thing around on my back or in a suitcase.
So, I ordered it again this year….
It arrived about a month ago – later than usual because, I think, it was issued simultaneously with the hard copy, and the hard copy was held up by some mysterious print error which now seems to have been the faliure by someone to have included the index! Thus, those who are still on paper now have a huge red book to carry, AND the annoyance of having to also lug around a separate index, and to try not to lose or forget it.
But this year sadly the advantages of going paperless have evaporated. Without warning the publishers have moved the digital version across to epub format which means you can’t just open the red book in a tab on your pdf reader. You have to open it in an entirely separate app (on my machine apple books) and if in court switch between one app and another to go between your red book and your bundle.
So, within an hour or so of download I’d given up on it, having established that :
- the file was prone to hanging up my app on either the laptop or ipad, and only intermittently showed in the apple books library on both
- the navigation was completely impossible to operate because the ToC was clickable but not easily scrollable, could not be furled and unfurled, the links didn’t work reliably and the search function / page navigation / back functions don’t operate at all the same as in my pdf reader (if they work at all). After multiple attempts I could not work out how to navigate back to page one, back to the index, or back to where I’d been a moment ago before accidentally clicking on something in the ToC whilst trying to scroll down to locate what I actually needed. It’s not clear to me how much of this is specific to the way the navigation on the specific file is set up and how much of it is to do with the software it is required to run on, but either way its massively annoying.
- there was no way of extracting a section of text to print or email to an opponent or judge
- everyone else who had tried it was similarly disgruntled as far as I could tell from social media
I mulled it over for a week or so, tried it again a couple of times, but ultimately decided this was not something I wanted to pay 500 quid for. I’d also remembered in the meantime that our chambers subscription to lexis provides an online version of the red book, which, although a little cumbersome, is actually possible to navigate, download sections, and email to self etc. Now that wifi is (touch wood) pretty reliable in almost all the courts I visit, this seemed to me to strike a far better balance as between cost, benefit and irritation levels.
So I cancelled. Or at any rate I tried to. But I was persuaded, as it seems were a number of others, to wait for a pdf version of the book that they were apparently working on in response to negative feedback (seriously, the feedback must have been atrocious for them to do this!). It would be ready in a couple of weeks and the cancellation period would be extended. I was sceptical now I’d settled on falling back on the lexis subscription, but thought I’d wait and see.
Over the weekend I was sent another download. It is another epub document. It has all the same issues, and I can’t see any difference. It ISN’T a pdf. I tried to use it to answer an actual live question a colleague had coincidentally asked me to test it out again. It took me almost ten minutes to work out how to get to information about change of name and the notes to s13 Children Act 1989, by which point the answer had already been found. In it’s current form it is no use to me at all.
There is now a suggestion that in fact this was an error and the pdf version will not be coming until September. In the meantime the product I have is unusable and the lifespan of this £500 product will be reduced to 9 months (assuming that the publishers are back on schedule to publish in May 2020 as usual. There is (so far) no suggestion that the price will be discounted for those who don’t cancel.
I will wait and see what comes but the longer I go on the harder it is to see how I could justify this sort of expenditure. I’ve written this post not just to have a pop at Lexis, but for two reasons :
- firstly, I would be interested to know if others have had similar experiences or if I am being a bit of a failure in getting to grips with apple books. Maybe there are some easy work arounds that I’ve not found, although I’m not hugely inclined to spend much time up-skilling myself. Maybe there is some other piece of software available on both laptop and ipad that will transform the experience. If you do have useful practical tips to share please add a comment.
- secondly, I suspect that there are lots of people who have been sent downloads which they’ve not really looked at as its the summer – they may be on holiday – and they may not have grappled with the 14 day cancellation period, may not appreciate the wider issues, and may not be aware that there is the prospect of a pdf version emerging in the autumn. As far as I am aware lexis have not sent any proactive general email to purchasers of the epub version letting them know what is going on – they have responded to those who have kicked up.
I think on both points the sharing of knowledge will hopefully reduce the amount of stress and duplication of time that we all spend sorting this out. We’re all still on a learning curve on paperless working – even those who were early adopters. I’ve found twitter and social media really useful for cutting through barriers to doing this or that, as often someone can say ‘oh that’s easy, to solve x problem you just do y’ – a solution that you would never find through trial and error or via google or a helpline. So, your thoughts, experiences and tips please.
I do close though by noting that I find it frustrating that the new epub version of the book was launched with a great flourish as new and improved without (as far as I can tell) any decent market research. It would have taken no effort at all to really find out about the users of this book to know that we are moving in droves into digital format, but we are working with multiple files in pdf formats and that the book was therefore already in the right format for the users of it (albeit that the navigation was less than brilliant). Big pdfs are cumbersome even when the navigation is set up properly, but there was plenty of scope to invest energy into improving the navigation and utility of the pdf book without switching formats. I’m afraid I think that Lexis have squandered a lot of the goodwill that Jordans built up over many years as the main family law publisher, by treating loyal customers in this way – I don’t know but suspect that the rationale was probably something to do with moving to a format that better protects copyright, but whatever it was this will have hit revenues at Lexis (although of course even the revenues from the red book are a mere drop in the ocean for the big beast that is Lexis). It is such a shame because the actual content of the red book is second to none – and when you do need it it is invaluable. But, whilst I will make my final decision when I see they promised pdf version, it is very probably the case that this episode has nudged me into a realisation that I probably don’t need to pay this much money for this product any more.