Not only entrepreneurs know this, but practically all people who sometimes had to arrange something at any government office. The office worker behind the counter will refer them to a provision of the law that they have not heard of until then and whose paragraphs they must follow. Because the multi-volume complete edition of the Collection of Laws is not available to everyone at home and moreover it rarely contains truly complete and up-to-date changes of the laws, ao sole traders and the public rely on internet searches.
But even after many years of digitisation the state has not been able to make its own laws clearly available on the web. Exactly the opposite. Probably the best opportunity to search the legislation on the Public Administration Portal was recently cancelled by the Ministry of the Interior without substitution.
The market gap is thus filled by the private company AION CS and its project Zákony pro lidi (Laws for People) which operates on the website of the same name. „The company AION CS was founded quite a long time ago, in 1995. Nevertheless, we can say in a way we are kind of an eternal startup. We like starting new things,“ says Pavel Gardavský, CEO of Aion CS. „We try to make sure that everything we do makes sense. And that means meeting the three conditions: We must enjoy it. We have to earn money. It must help the world, at least a little bit. And actually, I have to add a fourth condition – we want to be good at it,“ Pavel Gardavský enumerates.
Only basic experience
Eight years ago, it was for these reasons that they set up a portal to help people to navigate the confusing jungle of laws. At that time, they had no experience with legislation. „We learnt legal informatics and legal information systems on the hoof. On projects for our clients and on what we liked and disliked about other legal systems, especially on those from abroad. First we made simpler sites with a display of laws, then more complex. We were gathering experience, capital and courage. We also found the business of an angel and so we were able to embark on something of our own and bigger,“ describes Pavel Gardavský on the making of the portal.
According to him, there was a technological vision at the beginning of Laws for People. „To put together a display of legal rules from thousands of small pieces in a database as fast as if a single document was displayed. This would then allow for various selections, personalisation and customisations of what is displayed to the client. Laws for People thus arose as a proof of concept (ie the transfer of technology into practical use) of such a solution,“ continues Pavel Gardavský.
According to him, the most difficult thing in the beginning was to put together the data, ie to digitise all the laws and structure them in a form that was not available anywhere. „A string of man-years full of hard and difficult work to plan is behind this data preparation. However, we have managed it and we confidently believe that in terms of content accuracy as well as overall applicability, Laws for People are better than any other legal information system in the Czech Republic, even of a well-known name,“ compares Pavel Gardavský. The company is currently completing a new version of the portal, which will bring a number of new features.
They replace the failure of the state
The authors of the portal also confirm that the interest in their services is largely based on the inability of the state to cover this area. „The thing is that the laws are made by the state. According to the rule ‘ignorance of the law does not excuse’, it should also communicate it to us, its clients, ie the citizens and companies that pay for it, in such way that we know‚ of what ignorance will not be excused. But the state does not do it. Respectively, it does, but not in a user-friendly form. More precisely, the state will not provide you with the current wording of the law relevant to the present, and if you need it, you have to look elsewhere,“ states Pavel Gardavský.
„So we took this task, that is, to mediate the current wording of the laws to the people, for a few years with Laws for People, over for the state. At least until the state improves it,“ adds Pavel Gardavský with a smile.
The authors could be more than satisfied with the final form of the portal. „It worked surprisingly well and it was easy to use. Visitors and later clients grew at an unexpected pace. Up to current, roughly, half a million monthly visitors, who will see 2 million articles on about 1 million visits. And every year all these numbers grow by about a quarter. It’s an interesting feeling to know that we have at least tried to serve the Laws for People in the previous month with approximately every twentieth person we meet,“ says Pavel Gardavský.
Two thirds, ie 20 to 25 thousand visitors a day, are returning users. „So they are clients of our service. They use the Laws for People somehow for their work or hobbies – from legal professionals who appreciate the availability of regulations in seconds, to students, to government employees. For some we often and for other we sometimes replace the mentioned missing service of the state,“ Pavel Gardavský compares.
The remaining third are people who need to solve their immediate problem – with execution, pensions, water fees, inheritance and many other things. „It is sad that the Laws for People can solve only a few of their acute problems. The laws are simply complicated and difficult for a layman to know. These are often complex situations in which people turn to us for advice, and we suffer a lot from the fact that we can not advise,“ continues Pavel Gardavský.
They also succeeded with the idea in Slovakia
The competition of this project consists mainly of legal information systems from well-known names whose revenues are orders of magnitude bigger. „But it is changing, slowly, in our favor. The paradox is that many of our users buy these renowned systems but they use our Laws for People. And the bosses of companies providing those renowned legal systems are no exception,“ describes Pavel Gardavský.
The company currently has 18 employees, of which 5 are lawyers and 10 developers. „However, we have more projects we are working on. Basically it is always in some way related to Laws for People. In actual fact, without Laws for People, we wouldn’t have been chosen by our clients to solve these projects,“ adds Pavel Gardavský.
The company was also able to implement a successful concept in neighbouring Slovakia. Czech www.zakonyprolidi.cz has a Slovak franchise in the form of the portal www.zakonypreludi.sk. „We were also in negotiations regarding franchises with other potentially interesting partners, but they did not reach a real cooperation. We highly praise the cooperation with the Slovak publishing house Poradca podnikateľa for which we are the chosen provider of software development services for the legal information system epi.sk and other related products. The collectively created products have had great business success on the Slovak legal information market,“ appreciates Pavel Gardavský.
Although the Laws for People take advantage of the state’s missing offers, it doesn’t mean that they will collapse once the shortage has been remedied by the authorities. The year 2020, when ministerial officials promised to release the repeatedly postponed electronic version of the Collection of Laws, is not perceived by the private project with apprehension. „We are very much looking forward to the (official) eSbírka (eCollection). The parameters of the project should also include the provision of legally binding regulations in data form. As soon as it happens, we will adapt to these data inputs. It will save us a lot of work and we will be able to focus on other superstructures. We have a lot of ideas and we can’t wait to implement them,“ plans Pavel Gardavský.
The Government Electronic Collection of Laws will not jeopardise the project
Even the expected state investment of half a billion is not assessed negatively. „The half-billion cost of the eCollection looks awful at first glance. At second glance, however, we can realise that part of this project is also the ‚computerisation of legislative process‘ called eLegislation which should result in a better, more understandable, clearer and more flexible to change law. And for that, as citizens of the Czech Republic, we would be very happy. If this works out, let it cost a billion, two or even more. It will certainly be more cost-effective than for a number of other state projects, which each of us can name from our head,“ notes Pavel Gardavský.
Electronic tools provided by the state are often user-uncomfortable, slow and difficult. What is the cause of this according to Pavel Gardavský? „It is probably impossible to say that there is a fundamental mistake somewhere, which if the state eliminates in the process of building its information systems, so then everything will be great. We also know a lot of great people in the state administration who are top professionals in their fields with a big push to ‚do things better‘. Rather, it is that the state is a large ocean liner which is difficult to manoeuver with various delays, meanwhile services like Laws for People are small sailing boats which are easily turned so they make the best use of resources and provide the best services,“ compares Pavel Gardavský.
This exact difference gives the private project great prospects in the future as well, according to Pavel. „We will continue to provide people with exactly the service they need at the moment an into the future. Accurate and personalised solutions to specific problems instead of‚ here you have the law and find what you need in it‘. And in a form for people, that easily, instantly, usable. Natural language processing and artificial intelligence technologies are a long way off and it’s necessary to start using them. This is the vision that fascinates us, and that’s where we would like to proceed with the Laws for People,“ plans Pavel Gardavský.