Paul - This issue is bigger than just legal content. It's about any
kind of information.
I started The Forum SA as a free site pretty much as a cause and viewed the associated costs as somewhere between charity and R&D. I also realised that life tends to pay back in mysterious ways for that kind of effort - and some aspects of that are hard to pin down. I guess that's just the way it is. However, all those good intentions did not prevent some people who were trying to monetise content for the same target market from taking offense.
Basically, if you're prepared to search hard enough, you can get just about any kind of information on the internet for free. The hard part is separating the wheat from the chaff. The strategy of having "pay-to-access" content seems blown out the window, and yet "pay-to-access" content sites still survive - even thrive. Of course, plenty fail too.
Very recently we had a really thought provoking post on entrepreneurship (can be read at http://www.theforumsa.co.za/forums/showthread.php?t=625
for anyone interested). One of the random thoughts was "In a world of over-supply and commodification, you are no longer paid to supply. You're being paid to deliver something else. What that is exactly, is not always obvious."
I think very often that "something else" is convenience.
So returning to free law material as context. Browsers might want to look up the law to try to get a handle on their legal position. I suspect quite often they're still going to get a legal practitioner to do the work the moment it seems a bit much.
I need some fine print for my invoices - look it up on the web.
I need to enforce that fine print - get me a lawyer.
I need an employment contract - I'll find a fairly good one on the web.
Need to enforce it - get me a lawyer.
Now if I got the fine print from a lawyer's website - there's a fair chance I'll use that lawyer when I need one - if it's conveniently possible.
Whether the payoff will be bigger than the investment - well that's why I have an R&D budget - to my mind there's only one way to find out.
We're in the middle of an information revolution here and the best way for traditional business models to adapt is, I suspect, far from being clearly settled. But I can guarantee there will be drastic changes.
One day somebody's going to do something on the web that is going to change your industry forever - it may as well be you.