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KEEPING YOU STRAIGHT
Free new online database answers your legal questions

by Norman Geddes

IN my first column in this series I discussed how, whether we are always conscious of it or not, the law affects practically every aspect of our lives from the cradle to the grave. We are required to register all births and deaths, and decisions we make during our lifetime including jobs, marriage and buying our own home are all subject to legal contracts. The law governs our relationships with other people, and is the foundation upon which a civilised democratic society is based.

This being the case, it would be surprising if, from time to time, questions involving the law did not occur to us to which we did not immediately know the answer. And worse still, we might not know where to look to find the answer, especially if there was no urgent need to consult a solicitor straightaway.

For instance: “I think the meter reading used to calculate my electricity bill is wrong. What can I do about it?”

Or: “If I am accused of a motoring offence, am I obliged to give my name as the driver at the relevant time?

If you are an employer: “What are the basic issues to be aware of in relation to Age Discrimination?”

And a final example: “What type of legal work does Legal Aid cover?”

As you might imagine, up until recently, finding authoritative information about these varied topics would have been frustrating and time-consuming. But now help is at hand – at the click of a mouse.

There is now an online legal database accessible free-of-charge from your own home or office computer that will answer most of the legal questions that you are likely to want to ask it.

The concept of an online source of Scots law sounds like a database comprising downloads of dusty legal tracts with arcane references to case law – but nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the best things about it is that it is extremely user-friendly, and you need absolutely no prior legal knowledge or expertise in order to be able to use it.

You start with a question, which the system then categorises into a relevant area of law, and then comes back with digestible chunks of pertinent legal information, written in plain English.

You can ask your question in your own words, and the database’s powerful search engine will be able to come up with the relevant information you require.

In fact, to demonstrate the database’s flexibility at the press launch earlier this year, one of its designers keyed in the phrase: “I bought a TV and it’s crap!” Lo and behold the system swiftly retrieved and presented on screen some succinct facts and information about consumer law.

The database’s ease in translating such enquiries and in ensuring that replies are easily understood is due in part to the wordsmithing of director Bill Millar, former editor of Scottish Business Insider.

Information on all aspects of Scots law can be accessed, ranging from family law through to the legislative procedure of the Scottish Parliament.

This first interactive website database on Scots law was the brainchild of two Orkney solicitors Roy Flett and Duncan Hill, both partners at Lows law firm in Kirkwall.

Roy Flett says: “There seems to be a perception that the law is for lawyers. But this service should help open it up to the general public.”

He added: “We’ve got to stress that this is information not advice. It will never replace one-to-one legal advice that is specific to an individual’s situation, but it will complement that service.”

Duncan Hill also stresses that the system does not seek to replace lawyers, as it provides only information, not advice. But in fact, he said it can save money spent in answering enquiries which a law firm may not wish to bill clients for, but which nevertheless take up valuable time.

Hill and Flett first came up with the idea for the database when they were reviewing their own corporate website and seeking ways to add value and create an interactive relationship with clients. Hill said: “Most law firms had lots of marketing material but very little of any real use on their websites.”

They realised that to build a sophisticated database would require more than the resources of their small firm. “Our argument was that law firms should collaborate to their mutual benefit and to their clients’ benefit,” Hill said.

This they did, the database is now up and running, and has won a ringing endorsement from the Law Society of Scotland. Douglas Mill, chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “Making this legal information database available to clients lets solicitors concentrate on what they are best at - providing advice.”

And we at Frazer Coogans are pleased that the new legal database is now available on our own website at www.frazercoogans.co.uk

Especially as we are the first firm of solicitors to offer this free new service in Ayrshire.

When you next need some legal information or the answer to a legal question, simply log on to www.frazercoogans.co.uk and scroll down the menu on the left hand side. Click “legal info”, and when you get to that page, if you are a first-time user, click “register”.

You will be asked to choose a User Name and a password for yourself, and to provide your name and e-mail address. This takes only a couple of minutes, and then you can proceed to “Search for content” and key in your question.

I would stress that you do not need to be an existing client of Frazer Coogans in order to make use of this service, but if it is legal advice you need rather than factual information, then you will need to consult a solicitor as well.


Norman Geddes is senior director of Ayr-based solicitors Frazer Coogans.


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