Birmingham and Westminster city councils are teaming up with legal video conferencing business Instant Law to provide library users with free access to online advice, Legal Futures can reveal.
Instant Law UK launched its first video conferencing kiosk  in a shopping centre shortly before Christmas, and on 5 March the service will start in Birmingham Central Library and Westminster’s Marylebone and research libraries.
After trial periods, the service will be rolled out to other libraries in the areas, and Instant Law says it aims to sign up four other regions by April.
The company has shifted its business model since launch and now does not charge for the initial contact and advice received via the service, which will be provided by employed solicitors.
If users need to go on and instruct a solicitor – and Instant Law estimates that around 10% will – they will be referred to law firm network HighStreetLawyer.com. The company is also in talks with two barristers’ chambers.
The plan is now to be in 100 locations within 12 months and 360 locations in 24 months. Though it wi
ll continue to place kiosks in those shopping centres which have already been identified – with three set to launch at the end of January – the focus is now on libraries. Services will in time be extended to cover non-legal issues such as debt problems.
Users will access the service through a dedicated computer screen and webcam in a secure location in the library.
Douglas Laird, business development manager at Birmingham Central Library, said: “Providing additional, vital and useful services to our library users is part of our continuing strategy. We feel that there is a gap in the market for an easy to access and use legal advice service and the in-library computer-based solution provided by Instant Law UK fills this gap.”
Instant Law’s managing director, Ian Dodd, said: “Public access is a fast-growing service some law firms are offering. However, people can often find it difficult to fix a convenient appointment time to discuss their problems and some find solicitors’ premises rather intimidating. Having a secure and private environment in a library overcomes these problems and provides a professional advice service.”
HighStreetLawyer.com founder Gary Yantin added: “Simple access to legal advice for consumers is one of the key tenets of the Legal Services Act and we believe that the video conference concept developed by Instant Law with the experience and service that our law firm members can provide is a winning formula.”
Instant Law is recruiting solicitors to give first-stage advice. For details, call 020 3368 3330 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .