Making contact

The Northern Legal Office Exhibition at Manchester's G-Mex last month was an ideal opportunity for lawyers to find out about the range of services available.

Major players in the information technology for lawyers field branded the first ever Northern Legal Office Exhibition a success owing to the “high quality” of contacts made at the show.

The exhibition – sister show of the popular annual Solex exhibition, also sponsored by The Lawyer – is set to become an annual event after making its debut at Manchester's G-Mex hall on 21-22 October.

More than 60 companies exhibited, including leading lights in the legal technology marketplace such as Axxia Systems, Norwel and Solicitec, plus smaller companies and first-time exhibitors. Nearly 1,400 people visited the show.

While comparisons to the ever-popular Solex exhibition, held in London's Barbican in June, raised expectations as to the numbers likely to attend, most exhibitors said they made useful contact with people in the North.

Exhibitor Meridian Legal Services managing director Graham Currie praised the “quality of contacts” and said he was “surprised by the firmness of the enquiries”.

The Northern show aims to counteract the London-centric tendency of previous lawyers' shows, and caters for high street firms as well as City practices.

Visiting solicitor Paul Inns of Cheshire firm Robert Hanratty Anthony & Co said: “It is good to have an accessible show – I would not have gone if it had been held in London.” He described his visit as “helpful and informative”.

Axxia Systems demonstrated four new products: account collecting package, Minisoft; automated billing system, Auto Billing; a computer diary system and a management information product.

Managing director Stuart Holden revealed that Axxia had finished installing full practice management systems into London firm Lewis Silkin at a cost of £250,000; Manchester's Pannone & Partners at a cost of £300,000; and Slough's Harrison Cartwright at a cost of £300,000 – all in September.

Axxia also recently installed a practice management system for Berrymans Lace Mawer, at a cost of more than £400,000.

The show proved a runaway success for newcomer to the legal marketplace Threshold Computing which not only launched a £450 product – its Legal Aid Wizard software package – but claims to have sold 20 copies and received 160 enquiries during the fair.

Legal Aid Wizard, designed at the request of Leamington Spa solicitors, Alsters, aims to do the paperwork which lawyers normally have to do themselves after civil taxation hearings, and prints out legal aid forms. It can save up to 80 per cent of the time spent working out costs, according to Alsters head of litigation Sebastian Calnan.

Pilgrim Systems managing director Ronnie Paton spent the two days making contacts with English firms in a bid to change the Scottish image of his company. Paton said his company, which provides Lawsoft practice management systems for law firms and is about to sign a £250,000 deal with Bird Semple, has many customers south of the border and abroad, such as leading Nairobi firm Kaplan & Stratton. Paton said the company is currently looking for London city centre premises with a view to opening an office within the next six months, and has been looking at properties around Bishopsgate.

Former 'fraud squad' officer Terry Tooher attended the exhibition to offer a Legal Check service, investigating business crooks, tracing copyright breaches, conducting searches on business people and undertaking surveillance work with his company International Legal Network. According to Tooher, an increasing number of lawyers are using the service.

Infrastructure provider The Data Base received a lot of interest when they demonstrated the Intranet they designed for Manchester firm Davies Wallis Foyster. The site, which uses browser technology in the same way as the Internet but operates on a smaller scale, allows staff at the firm to access, for example, telephone lists of colleagues, and search for specialists within the firm. Data Base Business Development Director Edward Hodgson said the next stage would be an Extranet, or an Intranet available to selected clients.

The Data Base, which is a Microsoft Solutions provider, is due to complete a £250,000 infrastructure installation for Newcastle firm Dickinson Dees, due for completion this month, and is also providing Irwin Mitchell with a Web site, due to be completed in outline by 7 November, and an infrastructure which is due to be completed by February at a cost of £2m, said Hodgson.

Hodgson also revealed that Leeds firm Nelson & Co has signed a £160,000 deal with The Data Base to provide infrastructure technology, and with Pilgrim Systems to provide software.

High-speed scanning and imaging company Law Copy, which runs a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week document copying service from London's Chancery Lane, launched a new product, Alchemist, which can provide litigation support by condensing up to 20,000 documents into one CD-Rom file. Company manager Chris O'Reilly said the CD-Rom service could integrate into any existing system.

O'Reilly said the company was now opening a Manchester office in January and also hoped to open an office in Edinburgh.

Technology makes land registry records available direct

HM Land Registry offered live demonstrations of a drive to embrace technology which has seen the introduction of direct links between registry and lawyer.

Chief Land Registrar and Chief Executive Stuart Hill states that “more than 14 million titles” are already computerised, and he expects all registered land to be computerised by the year 2000.

At the show, registry staff demonstrated the computerised Direct Access Service, which offers lawyers immediate access from the comfort of their own offices to titles in England and Wales.

For an initial outlay of about £250, lawyers can conduct searches of the register and order copies of documents, inspection certificates, title plans and documents.

To plug into the service, which has been available for nine months, lawyers need to install a modem and ISDN line, and become an account customer with the registry. Users are billed automatically at rates equal to those for the registry's postal, telephone and fax service, and hard copies of the information can be printed out from the screen.

The registry is currently at the forefront of a four-year debate on property purchase, which is due to finish on 12 December.

That is the date when replies to the registry's consultation paper, Proposal to Restore Price Paid to the Land Register, must be received, before the registry makes a recommendation to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg.

The inclusion of the price paid for land or property on the most recent sale in the part of the register open to public inspection has caused controversy among the conveyancing ranks, despite the fact that the service is available in many European countries including Scotland. The practice was stopped, except when the owner of the property requested it, in 1975 at the Law Society's recommendation.

A pilot study is currently being held in the Bristol area of a new service – The National Land Information Service – which offers searches of the valuation office, local authorities, electricity and gas lines.

Registry staff at the Northern show also demonstrated telephone services whereby users can gain immediate access to the information via one single telephone number, to request an official search and order office copies.

The registry last year opened its first Property Information Centre – a high street shop in Liverpool where customers can conduct checks over the counter.