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Extending richness and reach: empirical evidence from public access web sites of UK legal practices

Duncan, Peter and Barton, Karen and McKellar, Patricia (2001) Extending richness and reach: empirical evidence from public access web sites of UK legal practices. Journal of Information, Law and Technology, 2001 (2). ISSN 1361-4169

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In their book Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy, authors Evans and Wurster see the transfer of information as a 'trade-off between richness and reach'. Reach refers to the number of people who share particular information, with Richness ('Rich') being a more complex concept combining: bandwidth, customisation, interactivity, reliability, security and currency. They argue that with the advent of powerful information and communication technologies, this historic trade-off between Richness and Reach - in general the greater the reach, the less the richness, and vice-versa - may no longer apply. It is now possible to have increasing amounts of both Reach and Richness. In the context of the marketplace for legal services, the concepts of Reach and Richness have a resonance with, for example, Susskind's latent legal marketplace and the interaction and community advocated by Terrett. This paper has two inter-related themes. Firstly, it describes Evans and Wurster's concepts, and relates them to recent literature regarding the impact of technology on the marketplace for legal services in the United Kingdom (UK). In particular, it is suggested that Richness and Reach can be used to extend The Legal Grid, Richard Susskind's tool for analysing the strategic impact of technology on the legal practice. To test the refined tool, the second part of the paper examines a particular application of technology - the provision of public access Web sites by UK legal practices. Using James Ho's value-added Matrix as a tool for measuring the 'Richness' dimension of the site, the results of two surveys of legal firms' public access Web sites are presented. Combining both the theoretical and empirical aspects of the paper, a number of issues are considered including the Web as a 'democratising' opportunity for smaller firms, and the use of client-specific Extranets, in addition to publicly available Internet sites. The paper concludes that although the Web provides Reach, offering Richness and the sense of community required for creating and sustaining relationships with potential clients could be difficult. Some suggestions are made for enhancing the 'Richness' of Web sites; along with avenues for further research.