Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
As more and more people have computers in their homes and as children who have become familiar with computers grow into adulthood, the Internet as a resource will become increasingly important.
In terms of legal information, people will look first to the Internet to give them what they are looking for and only when this proves insufficient will they visit a solicitors firm.
From our point of view as practitioners, we are often approached in our offices or in our private lives by people who are not clients but who still expect us to direct them to legal resources on the web which will help them with their problems. We cannot really just say that we "do not know" what is available for them on the web!
Since January of this year I have been researching and writing a "legal handbook" for the general public, describing how they can obtain both free and paid for legal advice, and where they can find legal information on the net. There is a vast amount of information out there, and in most cases the seeker after legal knowledge will find an embarrassment of riches.
By informing clients and other contacts, many of whom may be in great distress, of these resources, we are providing them with a useful service.
The best of these is the National Citizens Advice Bureau site - http://www.adviceguide.org.uk. This has a vast database of information on a huge range of topics and is a good place for the general reader to start looking for legal information. There are also a few commercial sites which have a considerable amount of general and specialist information online, although these sites will, of course, wish to generate income by referrals to their panel of solicitors, or selling legal documents and services (nothing wrong with that though). Compact Law (formerly Law Rights) is one such site - http://www.compactlaw.co.uk, another is Law on the Web - http://www.lawontheweb.co.uk .
There is a vast amount of information available on government sites, and many of these sites are excellent, not only for the general public but also for the practitioner.
One superb site is The Home Office Immigration and Nationality Directorate - http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk. This contains practically everything you could ever want to know on immigration and nationality matters. Another helpful site (particularly for the lay person) is the DTI "Tiger" site on employment at http://www.tiger.gov.uk where a worker or employer can follow an online flowchart/questionnaire to see what regulations apply to him, with links to further information about his rights.
Those wishing to conduct their own litigation should visit the excellent Court Service site which is at http://www.courtservice.gov.uk and which has online practically all the court forms one would ever need, plus helpful leaflets for the would be litigant-in-person. Those seeking information about limited companies should visit the Companies House site - http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk where you can check the registered office (and indeed the existence) of companies using the web-site's free search facilities (follow the 'company information' link), and check to see if someone is a disqualified director. The site also contains general information about limited companies generally. There are similar government sites on most areas of government and local government work and practice.
Government sites can all be accessed via the UK Online site http://www.ukonline.gov.uk. This is a vast site but the people creating the site have tried hard to make it user friendly. For example there is a section called "life episodes" with links specific to common situations such as moving home, having a baby, death and bereavement etc. There is also the opportunity to comment on consultation papers and take part in on-line discussions. The site is so huge that this in itself may make it difficult to find something particular, but it shows a genuine effort to make the government sites more accessible.
There are many sites which can be of great help to the general public which have been set up by not for profit organisations. One marvellous site is the Help the Aged web-site http://www.helptheaged.org.uk which has helpful legal information for senior citizens (e.g. on welfare benefits, pensions, and housing matters) and also has other services such as home shopping.
Other good sites are Victim Support http://www.victimsupport.com, most helpful for victims of crime, and Reunite Online http://www.reunite.org, the international child abduction organisation which has information and contacts.
In the family law field, there are numerous helpful web-sites including Families need Fathers - http://www.fnf.org.uk, Womens Aid Federation - http://www.womensaid.org.uk and Children's Legal Centre - http://www2.essex.ac.uk/clc/.
Many of the most informative and authoritative sites are those set up by practitioners - barristers, solicitors, surveyors and so on. However so far as the general public are concerned some of these are hard going being written in a formal and legalistic style, often in very small type. A small selection of the best I have found are as follows -
Mark Walton's site has a useful guide to the Mental Health Act which is clear and easy to read - http://www.markwalton.net/
Neil Addison has a very good site for victims of harassment and also for those wrongly accused of it - http://www.harassment-law.co.uk.
The Lister Croft Partnership have a helpful advice service called Probates Direct with information on bereavement, useful contacts and books - http://www.probatesdirect.co.uk.
Sprecher Grier Halberstam's site Weblaw has helpful articles on many aspects of Internet law and the provision of services over the Internet - http://www.weblaw.co.uk.
My own site Landlord-Law Online provides easy to understand information and advice for private residential landlords and tenants - http://www.landlord-law.co.uk
Jon Maynard offers the Boundary Problems site which has useful information on boundary disputes of all types and how to avoid or deal with them - http://www.boundaries-maynard.cwc.net.
NB - There was only one area of law where I was unable to find an online information site at all and this was Education law. Education lawyers take note!
The net can also help someone find a lawyer. First should be mentioned the very useful Law Society directory site www.solicitors-online.com, based on the Law Society's own records. This must surely be the most up-to-date data-base available. You can search against a name, an area, or a type of legal work. The results will include details of the firm, a link to their web-site (if any), and clicking on the post-code will bring up a helpful map showing how to find the firm's office.
Another excellent site is Just Ask - http://www.justask.org.uk. This has information about all organisations (including not for profit organisations) which are part of the Community Legal Service and is therefore particularly helpful for those on benefit or a low income who will be eligible for free advice under the scheme. It is also helpful for finding specialist firms, particularly in areas of public/welfare type law.
Finally, one must mention Delia Venables' own site http://www.venables.co.uk. This site provides a list of all solicitors' firms with web-sites, as well as a list of solicitors willing to give free initial advice by email. The site also lists legal web-sites for individuals generally under different legal topics. For someone looking for an answer to a problem, this site is probably the best place to start, as Delia gives a short description of each site which is extremely helpful (and the lack of which makes the Law Society and Just Ask sites, although excellent, rather impersonal).
As solicitors we often advise clients who need support, non-legal, and perhaps even some legal information, which we may not have the resources or the time to give. Writing the book has been a useful experience for me, not least because I am now usually able to point clients, who I cannot help myself, towards a web-site which may give them assistance.
For example, in Norwich (where I practice) I am on the rota of a local legal charity, Norwich and District Legal Services, where the general public can attend Tuesday and Friday lunch-times to get some free advice from the rota solicitor. Every time I have done this I have regretted not having the book with me as I have wanted to recommend web-sites to clients. I find that members of the public are generally very receptive to the idea of seeking information online, and usually either have access to the Internet themselves or via a friend's computer.
The world of online advice and information is here to stay. The legal profession must seek to understand it, use it, and eventually become part of it, it we are to survive in the world today.
Tessa Shepperson, firstname.lastname@example.org is a solicitor in private practice in Norwich. Her new book, The Legal Advice Handbook, published by Law Pack Publishing, should be in the shops in November costing £7.99. It can also be purchased direct from Tessa via her web-site at http://www.landlordlaw.co.uk or from the publisher's site, www.lawpack.co.uk .
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