The Law Society is to invest in electronic information services with joint venture partners and will provide the data to solicitors on a commercial basis.
The services, provided by the Legal Practice Directorate (LPD), could revolutionise the way that solicitors can receive information.
Law Society members will be paying extra for services they currently receive effectively for free. However the services provided will be more extensive and will use CD- ROM technology. New services may also be introduced.
The first of the revamped services will appear later this year when the society launches its directory of expert witnesses. Joint venture partner FT Law and Tax, part of the Pearson publishing group, is thought to be investing at least u1 million in the project.
The directory, in printed and CD-ROM form, will be launched in November.
Andrew Lockley, LPD director, says: "If the upgrading of the expert witness service is a success the society will be willing to invest in similar upgradings elsewhere."
Lockley says: "It's the first stage of a major development in information services for the profession by the directorate. It will certainly improve the service we already provide."
Other future services are still on the drawing board.
One such service could be a database of legal opinions and precedents. "That's a completely new service that we don't provide at the moment," says Lockley.
The society may use the CRIDON system adopted by French notaries as a model.
"From time to time we look to see whether the services provided are what the profession needs. There are possible new developments over the next few years going way beyond what we have done so far. Many involve electronic communications," says Lockley.
Marie Staunton of FT Law & Tax is employing an extra 14 people to produce the expert witness database and directory.