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Lawseal promises secure electronic communication

1 November 02

The Society’s secure electronic communications initiative is gearing up for launch early in 2003

by Gordon Brewster

Lawseal is being developed by the Royal Bank of Scotland for the Society to enable solicitors to communicate with their clients and organisations electronically in a completely secure way. It will change the way legal business is carried out and is a significant step in electronic communication.

The Society’s initiative is based on a tried and tested electronic communication technology called Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) which has established governing rules, administrative procedures and distribution arrangements. This will be the first PKI designed specifically for Scottish solicitors, their clients and the legal profession.

Lawseal is web-based and each member may purchase a digital certificate giving them a public and a private digital key.  The keys allow documents and e-mails to be encrypted and decoded quickly and securely so that only the intended recipient can open and read them. Members will also be able to send and receive documents with digital signatures to verify the sender’s identity.

Private keys must be kept confidential. It is this key which is used to digitally sign documents before sending them or decode documents received encrypted using the corresponding public key. Public keys can be given to everyone and the Society is considering the best ways to make public keys widely available.

The Society aims to send individual security codes to each practising solicitor. When received this should be treated exactly like a bank PIN number and only opened by the intended recipient. A second individual security code will be e-mailed to each member before the launch of Lawseal. The two security codes will be required to complete the registration process on the Lawseal website. The Society wishes to ensure that every legal firm and sole practitioner in Scotland can start using Lawseal from day one.

It is the intention that firms will have an account created for them on the Lawseal website which will enable members of staff and clients of that firm to obtain digital certificates. Using the account it will be possible to easily manage all of the digital certificates issued by that firm to their staff and clients.

Several firms will participate in a pilot which aims to run in November, December and January. The participating firms have been selected to reflect a cross section of legal work and IT systems. They will be working on a transaction, for example, a commercial property deal, and will be able to use Lawseal to send and receive signed documents and paperwork securely. There is still an opportunity for firms to take part in the pilot and participate in the development of the initiative.

Duncan Murray, the Society’s Council member for IT Projects, said: “It is an exciting development in the way solicitors communicate with their clients and organisations and will most definitely speed up legal transactions at very little cost to the users.

“Lawseal is simple to use yet it allows both clients and solicitors peace of mind knowing that they can send confidential documents electronically and with complete security.”

Gordon Brewster, the Society’s  Director of IT, said: “The Society is in the unique position of being able to spearhead this initiative on behalf of its members. Lawseal has far reaching implications and aims  to provide a high quality e-commerce solution meeting the needs of solicitors and clients well into the future.”

Head of E-Trust Services, E-Commerce and Internet at the Royal Bank of Scotland, Charles Gibb, said: “RBS are delighted to be chosen to supply the Law Society of Scotland with a Public Key Infrastructure which will enable members of the Society to implement secure electronic communications.”

Stuart Munro, Partner in Livingstone Brown, one of the firms participating in the pilot, said: “My firm is delighted at the progressive approach of the Society and to be involved with the pilot. I firmly believe that the way in which litigation is conducted will be transformed within the next few years and Lawseal marks the first major step along this path.”

Lawseal is supported by key Scottish legal organisations including the Crown Office, Scottish Court Service, Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Registers of Scotland.

The Society and the Royal Bank of Scotland are organising a road show about Lawseal - further details will be published in the Journal. Once Lawseal is launched, a Helpdesk will be available providing support to members.

If you have any specific questions about Lawseal, would like the Society’s IT team to speak to your faculty or firm, or would like to take part in the pilot, please contact Gordon Brewster by e-mail at gordonbrewster@lawscot.org.uk

Articles on secure electronic communication have appeared in the Journal in December 2001 (All I need for Christmas is some PKI…I think) and February 2002 (Electronic Signatures - who needs them?) which are on the Society’s website at www.lawscot.org.uk