Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
March/April 2004, by Delia Venables

Major Scottish Firms Work Together to provide a Legal Knowledge Data Base
by Delia Venables

A very interesting development is taking place north of the border involving firms working together in a way as yet unknown in the rest of the UK.

Legal Data Solutions is a company in Scotland founded by two solicitors from Orkney which has managed to bring together 15 of the major firms in Scotland to share in the content provision for a new database of Scottish law. The database is then embedded into the websites of the contributing firms which choose to do so, and other firms. Corporate bodies can also licence the database without being part of the development process. There is a demonstration on the Legal Data Solutions site and the database can also be viewed on many of the participating firms' own sites.

The contributing firms are as follows and the list shows which firms have already embedded the database in their own site and the name they have given it:

  • Anderson Strathern (Knowledgebase)
  • Balfour & Manson (Legal Online Resource)
  • Bishops
  • Burness
  • Harper Macleod
  • Ledingham Chalmers
  • Lindsays (Information Zone)
  • Maclay Murray Spens
  • MacRoberts
  • Morton Fraser
  • Murray Beith Murray (Knowledge)
  • Ross Harper (Legal Data Base)
  • Shepherd+ Wedderburn
  • Tods Murray (Knowledge Bank)
  • Turcan Connell

  • Jameson & Mackay (Legal Info) is the first non-content providing firm to license the database for their site.

    The different names, and the different branding for each firm is part of the attraction of the scheme since the firms can feel that the database is "theirs".

    The Law of Scotland has been broken down into 14 Categories of information. Each Category is then broken down into Sub-Categories and Base Categories, creating a simple hierarchical information tree. The actual information itself is contained within each Base Category in the form of a simple "Answer", a more detailed "Factsheet" or a simple "Document". Most of the information comes in the form of "Answers" all of which are free to view. Professional support information for law firms is shortly to be added to the system.

    The company was set up in July 2002 with funding of £650,000 from a number of bodies and the new company's offices opened in Livingston. Since then, the initiative has made good progress, as can be seen from the list of participating firms, above.

    The company is now also in consultation with a number of leading English firms to develop a version for England and Wales.

    More Information

    Here are some questions I asked of Chief Executive Roy Flett.

    Delia. How did you go about getting the 15 firms to collaborate with you? And were there others which declined?

    Roy. The benefits of the system were explained to the firms concerned and, in seeing those, they agreed to become Content Providers. However, since this had never been done before, it took time to convince some of them, though others did commit quickly. (It is also true to say that some of those firms which ultimately signed up to be Content Providers declined in the first instance.) Yes, a few did finally decline, usually after much consideration, though they turned out be in the minority, and discussions with some of those continue.

    Delia. How are you dividing the input between the firms - is it one topic each?

    For a database such as this to have credibility in the marketplace, the information has to be of the highest quality. That is why we signed up well-known firms with excellent reputations in their respective fields. Firms were not chosen at random but rather on the back of the experience in the areas where they contribute. The input is not divided up quite as simply as topic by topic though, broadly, that is correct. And of course, some topics are bigger than others. But to give some examples, most of the Business & Organisations Category (with some small exceptions) is being written by Maclay Murray & Spens, though within that you will find a Sub-Category on Charities which has been written by Lindsays. Elsewhere for example, you will find the Work & Employment Category has been written by MacRoberts, while the Wills & Trusts Category has been written by Murray Beith Murray. The Criminal and Legal Aid Categories have been written by Ross Harper and so on.

    Delia. I gather that you developed a "content delivery system" to manage the input of new information. Presumably, the firms use this to keep it up to date.

    Roy. Yes, the software allows the firms to input content online into the editorial system. Our Editor takes charge of it at our end and it passes backwards and forwards (in reality, very few times) before the content is finally approved and digitally signed off by the Content Providing firm. All firms have found the system easy to use. It allows for regular updating and indeed, all Content Providing firms are obliged to keep the legal information up to date within an agreed period.

    Delia. What is the attitude of the Scottish Law Society?

    Roy. The Law Society of Scotland has been very helpful and supportive. Their chief executive, Douglas Mill, has described the database as "an invaluable tool" which will allow firms to provide their clients with a valuable legal service in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

    Delia. What about CLS - any connections there?

    Roy. Not at the moment, not least as the CLS applies to England & Wales. Orkell Plus, the name of the Legal Data Solutions populated legal database, is multi-jurisdictional in nature but applies only to the Scottish legal jurisdiction at this time. (We had to start somewhere!) However, we intend to replicate the process in England & Wales next.

    Delia. Although you mention Factsheets and Documents in your literature, I did not come across any in my own 'tour' - I must have missed them - can you give me some examples of these?

    Roy. The bulk of the information in the first instance does comprise (Questions and) Answers. Those were our first priority when populating the system while Documents were always going to follow. There are over 3,500 Answers live in the system and over 170 Factsheets. (Over 1 million words). If you look at say (for example only) the Murray Beith site, click on Knowledge on the home page, click on Knowledge Categories, Wills & Trusts, Wills, Making a Will, you will find a couple of Factsheets (F) and a Document (D) at the bottom of the list on that particular page that appears. While Answers are all free to view, many of the Factsheets and Documents require either a modest payment or special access permissions from the firm involved in order to view them. You will however, see a synopsis describing the item.

    Delia. You have had considerable funding for this initiative so presumably there has to be an income coming in, at some point. Do you charge the firms for the use of the database?

    Roy. Yes, while we believe we are providing a genuinely useful and unique service that will provide considerable benefits to people, we're not a charity and our investors are certainly looking for a return. We charge Licensee firms an annual fee for their database licence, though Content Providing firms receive a substantial discount. Importantly, the licence fee structure has been designed to make Orkell Plus affordable to law firms of all sizes from the one-man band, to the 100 + partner firm. Ensuring this industry standard product is available to all law firms has been very important in our pricing strategy.

    Comments from the Firms Involved

    I contacted several of the firms involved and asked for their comments. They were all very positive about the project and they felt that Legal Data Solutions had done a good job in “pushing” for the content on a regular basis and ensuring that it is of good quality.

    One firm said that collaboration between law firms is going to become increasingly important and likened the project, in this context, to the collaboration of Property Agents in the Solicitors Property Centres.

    All the firms felt that the quality of the database was enhancing their own websites and providing them with up to date information in a way that would be impossible for them to achieve on their own.

    Although there is an element of altruism in the project in providing good legal information without charge, most firms also feel they will benefit from viewers who need specific advice rather than general information and become clients.

    One of the smaller firms, Jameson Mackay, was pleased that the database would show clients that you do not have to be a large City-based firm to provide a good service - an interesting reason for small firms to get involved as well as large ones.

    Yuill & Kyle Offers Firms a CreditToolbox

    Another initiative from Scotland comes in the form of a product which can be embedded in other firms' own websites, with their own branding.
    Yuill & Kyle of Glasgow are debt recovery and credit control specialists who have developed a series of downloadable documents including demand letters which automatically include any interest and collection costs due. Regularly updated news on debt recovery and credit control topics is also provided.

    Email Stephen Cowan

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