Aberdeen Online!

June 30, 1999

Brandon J Malone is a solicitor with Bell and Scott WS,Edinburgh and a member of the Committee of the Scottish Group. He reports on theGroup’s February meeting.

February, and the Scottish Group find themselves in the Granite City on abraw bricht nicht1 for a joint meeting withthe Robert Gordon University. The University’s magnificent new Faculty ofManagement building on the banks of River Dee on the outskirts of Aberdeenprovided the setting for a talk by Ben McCabe of Registers of Scotland, andGraham Gibson of Kirklands Solicitors.

Registers Direct

The meeting, chaired by Veronica Strachan of the Faculty, moved swiftly frompreliminaries to the application of technology in legal practice. Ben McCabe,Marketing and Sales Manager for Registers of Scotland, made full use of thestate-of-the-art facilities offered by the Faculty building to present astimulating and challenging talk on Registers Direct.

Those who follow the exploits of the Scottish Group in the Society’smagazine will have read Brian Meek’s article on the Group’s visit to theAgency’s offices at Meadowbank House, in the February/March 1998 edition of Computersand Law. On that occasion the Group viewed the workings of the Direct Accesspilot scheme, a DOS-based system which has been in operation since 1995.

Following on from the success of the pilot, the Agency was shortly to launchRegisters Direct, a web-browser based, direct-dial extra-net allowing users toaccess five of the Scottish Registers, including the Land Register and theRegister of Sasines.

There is no sign-up fee and no monthly subscription charge for use of thesystem. Instead users are billed for each search of the system. The charge willbe about »5 per search, varying for each of the different registers.

The system has full digital mapping, and Searches of the Registers for eachcounty in Scotland can be made using a number of different criteria from surnameto postcode. The system will therefore be of use to the police, and localauthorities tackling housing benefit fraud (apparently home-owners who claimhousing benefit on their own property are a major problem) and council taxarrears.

A less Orwellian application of the system is of course instantly accessibleland title information for those involved in property transactions. Benexplained the numerous security features in place to prevent unauthorisedinterference with the system. The records are to be accessed from a ‘datawarehouse’ in which the primary records are to be mirrored, thereby preventingcorruption of the primary records, and allowing continuous access in the eventof any problem in the main system. The system will not be available via theInternet. Instead, individual users will be given a unique username andpassword, and will dial into the system directly.

Search information will be backed by the Keeper of the Registers’indemnity, and records of all searches will be kept so that solicitors can usethe system with confidence. An initial problem will be getting solicitors on theother sides of transactions to accept a property search printed off theiropposite number’s computer screen, but electronic watermarking is seen as aremedy to this problem, and doubtless the system will gain acceptance with time.

Currently the system is one way only (a simplex system), with titleinformation flowing from the Agency to the user. However, in Ben’s estimation,fully electronic property transactions may be with us within the next five orsix years, allowing title registration online. Food for thought for theprofession.

Why lawyers need to get online

After a short break for refreshments, solicitor, software developer, andmember of the committee of the Scottish Group, Graham Gibson of KirkandsSolicitors in Perth entreated the audience to ‘Get Online Now.’

Why get online? Graham’s answer was a combination of opportunities anddangers. The existing web-based market is huge. The audience was surprised tohear, and pet dogs may be alarmed to learn, that they are now less common inhouseholds than PCs. This together with the advent of TV-based web access meansthat the number of ‘cyber-clients’ is increasing, and is set to balloon. Thosefirms not on the Net might find that the switched on public goes withcompetitors offering instant accessibility.

So there’s the danger, but what of the opportunities? Graham’s own firmis soon to become web-resident with the launch of an interactive property site– a branch office on the net. Graham hopes to take advantage of the levellingeffect of the Internet which means that a small firm such as his can competewith larger firms on an equal footing – high street frontage counting forlittle in cyberspace.

A further benefit of having a single online system is that Graham’semployees need not necessarily be physically located in his office duringworking hours, which cuts down on the cost of office space. Homeworking is ofcourse available to the partners of a firm for those who find spending time athome less stressful.

Graham went on to argue that properly to take advantage of e-commerce,lawyers will have to adapt to sell ‘products’ on the web where the financialreward is not linked to chargeable hours spent. Such products might includeestate agency, mortgages, people and property searches (selling on the RegistersDirect product), wills, personal injury claims, and matrimonial cases. Theunderlying theory being that an interactive Web site will remove the need fortime-consuming background work allowing professional time to be spent moreprofitably. Additional income could be made from site advertising or a premiumrate helpline.

Graham’s central messages for the evening was ‘don’t let the web leaveyou behind’.

Closing the evening’s proceedings, Veronica Strachan thanked our speakersfor outlining not only the opportunities presented by the electronic age, butthe business imperatives which we the profession must face up to in the newmillennium.


1. An Aberdonian euphemism for an evening which is Arctic incharacter.