A new UK Government-backed scheme, organised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Nesta, is planning to award £50,000 ($65,000) grants to applicants that can create ‘direct-to-user products’ that will increase access to justice for consumers and SMEs. Of these, one will be chosen for an additional £50,000 grant to further their product development.
The project, called the Legal Access Challenge, is another sign of how the UK Government is supporting legal innovation. While the grants may not be huge, they at least will help to encourage people to explore this area. And, it’s fair to say, the majority of legal tech is focused on the world of commercial law and serving large corporates, so this has to be welcomed.
Recently the Government also handed out several million pounds in grants via Innovate UK to a range of legal tech companies, law firms and universities developing new applications.
The Legal Access Challenge will be open to all, and the organisers say: ‘[We] welcome applications from a diverse mix of entities, including legal tech startups, law firms, alternative legal providers, advice sector organisations and teams based at law schools. Individuals, and teams who aren’t legally constituted, are also welcome to apply.’
The project launches officially on 30 May in London, with the first grants awarded in September this year. The additional cash will be given to a finalist in April 2020.
Also, people from outside the UK can apply – so that means you, readers from around the world! – but it has to be applicable to a legal problem in the UK. The group will also not take equity, nor will they seek to own your IP.
As noted the grants are relatively small, but this seems to be in keeping with what the organisers say is the plan of welcoming very early stage ideas – in fact ideas that are still just very much ideas. I.e. they are not expecting you to have a perfect, totally market-tested product with a thousand users. They want POCs and wireframe prototypes.
‘The Challenge is seeking early and proof-of-concept stage solutions. You may not have started building your solution, or you may have a working prototype ready for testing. Your application could be for a completely new concept, or for a significant update to an existing solution such as adding new functionality. You may or may not have your first beta users.
‘If this is the first legal technology solution your team is working on, that’s fine. If your team has already brought another legal tech solution to market, that’s also fine, provided the solution you submit to the Challenge is at an early or proof-of-concept stage,’ the organisers conclude.
But why do this…? Any reader of this site knows there is a massive A2J gap in the world – and in the UK – but, this is what the organisers say:
‘A legal services market in which only one in three individuals – and one in ten small businesses – with a legal problem get expert advice isn’t working as well as it should be. In sector after sector digital technology has made life easier for customers, giving them more choice and control. In legal services though, technology has made less of an impact.’
And that’s hard to disagree with.
For more information check out the website here. As noted, it hasn’t launched fully yet, and applications will be possible closer to the launch in a few weeks.
The launch event details are here – 30 May, London.