Helen Sage reports
Free legal advice offered on the Internet by a Scottish firm has taken just one week to enter the top 10 most popular services contacted through the Edinburgh-based Internet cafe Cyberia.
Adams Criminal Defence, also based in Edinburgh, has become the first European solicitor to offer free legal advice on the Net. Launched on 25 January, the service provides 53 pages on the web site answering questions about issues such as assault, sentencing and police powers.
As well as giving general advice, practitioners are also available on a secure link through email if an Internet user wishes to consult them with specific questions.
Solicitor Adrian Smith, who is in charge of the system, admits the service is a way of promoting the firm but said it also represents a way to help people at the same time.
He said: "The concern has always been that lawyers appear to be unapproachable, difficult to contact and expensive. Young people require legal advice and guidance communicated to them on their wave- length if it is to be effective.
"Since most offenders are young people, and most Internet users are young people, what better way to communicate this free advice?"
The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed the introduction of the Adams Internet service.
Secretary Kenneth Pritchard said: "The service is a very innovative way of providing help for the people most in need."
He added: "It is a matter for the individual law firm and not for the Law Society to actively encourage but I think the initiative is admirable and Adams deserves to benefit from it."
The Faculty of Advocates is making similar plans to use the Internet for legal advice.
Spokesman for the faculty Quentin Jardine said: "It is an excellent idea which could be taken further. The faculty has been looking into it but is not at the stage where plans are being formulated."
The only other firm offering a similar service is Pink Murray, of Nova Scotia, Canada, which has approached Adams about establishing formal links.
In the US hundreds of law firms advertise their services through an "Attorney's On-line" service.
Adams' Internet pages are on web site Http://www-edin.easy net.co.uk/adams.