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Legal advice by webcam in 100 libraries by year end

New service will be free of charge to clients and funded through fee paid by participating law firms

13 April 2012

Instant Law, the videoconferencing service launched last month to provide legal advice by webcam, aims to be present in 100 public libraries by the end of the year, business development director Ian Dodd has told Solicitors Journal.

The service is currently available in three libraries: Birmingham central library, Marylebone and Westminster.

The plan to roll out the service across Britain’s 4,000 libraries will start with the 44 in the Birmingham area.

From any computer Instant Law users will be able to access free general advice about the law provided by The Justice Gap and Epoq’s Desktop Lawyer, with its range of template letters and build-your-own legal documents.

Two other links take users to the national debt helpline and even to NHS Direct’s self-diagnosis service.

Library visitors can access the videoconferencing service in Instant Law’s red phone boxes which are located on participating libraries’ premises.

The phone boxes are equipped with computers where registered users can contact a solicitor using technology similar to Skype or Apple’s Facetime.

Using a touch screen clients select the area of law they are interested in before being put through to the business’s call centre and routed to a solicitor.

The first 20 minutes are free and at the end of the period clients are told how much they would have to pay for further advice.

The service covers family law, employment, debt, wills, landlord and tenant, personal injury and even crime.

There is no charge to libraries, with solicitors paying a membership fee to be involved in the scheme.

Instant Law originally planned to set up its phone boxes in shopping centres but Dodd said the strategy changed following conversations with Douglas Laird, business development manager at Birmingham central library.

The library, one of Britain’s 4,000 and Europe’s biggest, has 1.4m visitors every year and backs onto the Paradise Forum, a recently refurbished shopping centre just off one of Birmingham’s main squares with an annual footfall of 12m.

This prompted further conversations with other libraries resulting in the service launching in Westminster and Marylebone in early March, followed by Birmingham a few weeks later.

This week the service teamed up with St Philips Chambers to provide advocacy work for cases originating in the Birmingham area.

It is on the verge of signing a similar agreement with a London set for cases originating in the capital – some of which are handled by solicitors in the network.

It has also just finalised an agreement with Camden Law Centre, in north London, to assist with the provision of debt and employment advice.

Instant Law is the brainchild of former legal aid solicitor Marlan Higgins, who has had an interest in alternative ways of delivering legal advice since his days as senior partner at Oxford-based firm Turpin & Miller.

In 2005 Higgins set up a similar service for the firm’s housing law clients before setting up on his own two years later and launching Legal Advice Direct, in Witney. The local MP, David Cameron, welcomed it as an alternative service that could help plug the legal aid gap in the area.

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