Case study: Bar Association of Leuven
In Belgium, membership of a local Bar Association is compulsory for advocates. The Bar Association of Leuven consists of approximately 500 advocates. For years, it has been a pioneer in the Internet Age. The first stages of this ambitious project were already launched in 1996, and over the years the programme has consistently been expanded. At present this project includes:
- a public web site,
- a database of lawyers,
- a private intranet, accessible for the advocates only, and
- home pages for the individual lawyers.
For some years a database of cases pending before the Court of Appeal was availbale as well, but this was taken over by the Government.
public web site
The public web site is intended for the general public. Apart from the general information on what the Bar Association is, and what it does, it gives a lot of information that is useful to the visitors: it explains, e.g., under what circumstances people can get a Government paid ("Pro Deo") lawyer if they can't afford one. Or it shows how lawyers' fees are calculated (!), or what people can do if they think their lawyer is overcharging, etc. This FAQ has proven quite successful.
The web site also includes monthly updated lists of lawyers that can be downloaded as PDF files. These, too, are very popular.
View the site at http://www.balieleuven.be.
database of lawyers
The database of lawyers is a part of the public web site, but is worth mentioning separately. Apart from the usual searches on name, or city, it allows the user to find a lawyer based on the (self declared) field of expertise of the lawyer. If you need, e.g. a lawyer that specialises in computer law, the database will not only tell you what lawyers have expertise in the field, it will even allow you to find the one that lives closest to where you live. Available since 1997, it probably was the first of its kind, and has since been copied by virtually all other bar associations.
This database is updated once a month.
See the database in action at http://www.balieleuven.be/data.
private intranet for the lawyers
Apart from the publicly accessible parts of the web site, the Bar Association of Leuven also has its own private intranet. It contains information about deontology (professional ethics), about activities of the Bar Association and related organisations, as well as more practical information like contact details of courts, opening hours of jails, etc. Hundreds of pages are grouped in close to 20 different sections. The information is entirely maintained by members of the bar.
The intranet also offers various types of messaging and virtual conferencing services, for which each lawyer has been given his own e-mail address. There is even a chat-facility to which other lawyers who happen to be online, can be invited.
home pages for the lawyers
As a bonus for the lawyers, a one-page web site with a permanent internet address (URL) is generated for each lawyer, with information from the online database. That way, lawyers who do not have a dedicated web site of their own, can still refer people to a web site for more information, and print this URL on their business cards, letter heads, etc.
These pages can be found at http://advocaten.balieleuven.be.