The judging panel for the Legal Access Challenge, run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Nesta, the innovation group, have chosen eight access to justice (A2J) legal tech applications as finalists out of 117 entrants. Each will receive an initial award of £50,000 ($62,000) to help them develop their ideas.
The SRA is the regulatory body for solicitors in England & Wales. It maintains an oversight role that in many other countries would be handled by state or national Bar organisations. This is separate from the Law Society, which is the representative body, or in effect the ‘union’ for solicitors.
The Legal Access Challenge has sought to encourage A2J legal tech that can contribute to improving SMEs’ and the public’s engagement with legal services. The premise it has worked on – and which has been well-proven (see survey data below) – is that legal services are inherently expensive and are not economically viable for many people, nor easy to access.
Can technology, such as the applications below, really make an impact on the huge systemic problems all societies face when it comes to A2J? That remains to be seen, but it’s got to be a step in the right direction. In such circumstances we perhaps have to say: every little helps.
The winning solutions include an application that allows people with similar legal claims to pool them together and make a single claim (i.e. group litigation), thereby enabling cost sharing; a chatbot to help people with learning disabilities access early legal help; and a one-stop-shop for tackling problems faced online and for holding tech companies to account.
Research for Nesta found that almost 60% of people in England and Wales think the legal system is ‘not set up for ordinary people’.
It also found that: ‘43% of small business owners and self-employed people believe that legal advice is reserved for big businesses or those that can afford it.’
When half a country believes legal services are not for them, that seems to indicate a serious issue, perhaps even what Artificial Lawyer would argue is a deficit in the democratic status of a nation. That said, the UK is not alone here. Research in the US and elsewhere shows a very similar pattern of exclusion and alienation, primarily created by the legal sector’s hardwired cost structure.
‘Legal services should be for everyone’ – Anna Bradley, SRA Chair
Mencap, the finalist behind the shortlisted chatbot, welcomed the opportunity to participate in the competition.
Kari Gerstheimer, Mencap information director, said the organisation, which works to improve the lives of over a million people with a learning disability and their families, is ‘overwhelmed with requests for help from people who are being denied access to social care and welfare benefits.’
‘Mencap’s legal chatbot would revolutionise the way people with a learning disability can access justice,’ she added.
While Georgina Hollis of Glow by Duo Ventures, (see team photo above), the finalist behind the group litigation scheme, said: ‘The challenge is a great initiative and we hope that together, with the other finalists and partners, we can collectively drive change and improve access to justice for individuals and SMEs.’
In addition to encouraging innovation in legal services for small firms and individuals, the Legal Access Challenge aims to ‘develop learning to inform the SRA’s regulatory approach to innovation‘ said the organisers.
Anna Bradley, SRA Chair and also chair of the judging panel, said: ‘Legal services should be for everyone, not just the minority who currently use them. Technology could be a real game changer.’
In addition to the funding, the finalists will work with the SRA and Nesta Challenges, the competition’s co-host, to develop their products and bring them to fruition over the next six months.
Two of the finalists will go on to be named winners of the Legal Access Challenge in March 2020, receiving a further £50,000 each to invest in their product, bringing the total prize fund to £500,000.
Chris Gorst, Head of Better Markets, Nesta Challenges, said: ‘We’re looking forward to working closely with the finalists announced today to make their concepts a reality for the benefit of people and small businesses across the country.
‘The Legal Access Challenge demonstrates the impact policymakers and regulators can have with proactive approaches to innovation where markets aren’t delivering the outcomes we expect from them.’
The full list of finalists:
- Formily –Created by two family lawyers who grew frustrated with the time consuming and complicated way in which litigants must currently put together their financial disclosure during divorce proceedings. They realised there must be a way to use technology to make this process less time consuming and costly.
- Glow by Duo Ventures – Enabling individuals and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to efficiently take legal action against organisations in the form of Group Litigation Orders, a legal mechanism allowing groups of common individual claims to be treated as one, enabling collective bargaining power and cost sharing amongst claimants.
- Litigation Friend by Solomonic – A platform to assist employees and SMEs who are involved in employment tribunal claims to make more informed, data-backed decisions. Solomonic will use AI to analyse thousands of previous employment tribunal judgements and package the information into the “Litigation Friend” platform.
- Mencap – A legal chatbot for people with learning disabilities that will deliver early legal help and advice around community care and welfare benefits, directly to people that need it most.
- MyDigitalRights by Doteveryone and Resolver – An accessible one-stop-shop to help people tackle problems they face online and hold tech companies to account.
- RCJ Advice – Enabling women and children to get legal help to protect themselves from violence, gain court-orders, access legal aid and navigate court-processes, as well as allowing the frontline workers who assist them to be confident using legal remedies.
- Resolve Disputes Online (RDO) – A dispute resolution technology provider which will be developing online negotiation and mediation tools for UK consumers and businesses to allow rapid, convenient and cost-effective online dispute resolution.
- TakeNote app by Organise – An app for documenting harassment, discrimination and bullying in the workplace. The app lets users log time-stamped emails, diary entries, photos or voice entries, then helps them download a legal friendly case file that they can take to HR, lawyers, or your union rep.