With the announcement today by Swansea University and the Welsh Government of a £5.6m ($7.2m) investment in Legal Tech and Access to Justice, Artificial Lawyer caught up with Dr Chris Marshall, Director of Knowledge Economy at Swansea’s Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law, to find out more.
AL: Congratulations on the funding award. Can you tell us more about it?
Chris Marshall (CM): Sure. This Legal Innovation Lab Wales project has been in development for eighteen months or so and is backed by around £4m from the European Regional Development Fund. So, in total we have funding of £5.6m because of the additional £1.6m investment from Swansea University.
It builds on the work of our Cyber Threats Research Centre (CyTREC), which has an international reputation for its applied research on cyberterrorism and terrorists’ use of the internet, and of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Law (CIEL), which aims to address some of the challenges and opportunities arising from the impacts of technology on legal service delivery.
The funding runs to June 2023 and will be used to create an R&D hub that will help develop and deploy advances in legal technology.
AL: What is the overall aim of the project?
CM: I suppose you could summarise our ambition as being to create an environment that encourages organisations to innovate at the intersection of law and technology. This might extend to developing tools to mitigate the risk of criminals exploiting digital platforms, as well as to encouraging better use of data and technologies such as machine learning in legal services.
In this respect, we’ll be looking to maximise opportunities to support LegalTech R&D with a particular emphasis on developing products and services that make it easier for people and communities to access legal guidance and information. We hope that, in turn, this will lead to new business opportunities in the legal technology sector.
AL: What sort of facilities will you be creating?
CM: We’re developing three linked spaces: a Legal Innovation Centre where we can work with law firms and technology companies to develop new products and services, as well as to work on data and apply techniques in AI, machine learning and natural language processing; a cyber threats research suite, with data research laboratories and facilities that support collaborations with security agencies and law enforcement; and a Law Clinic where LegalTech innovations can be piloted, leading to the deployment of applications and platforms that support access to justice.
The funding also supports the appointment of a number of new researchers and a software development team who will help to translate some of the ideas into pilots and proofs of concept.
AL: Why has the Welsh Government chosen to support this initiative, do you think?
CM: Swansea University has been growing its LegalTech work for a couple of years. We launched CIEL back in 2017, held our LegalTech Wales conference and launched a UK first LLM in LegalTech in 2018, and ran our inaugural LegalTech Summer School this year. Legal Innovation Lab Wales marks the next stage in our development in this area, and we are delighted that the Welsh Government has been so supportive.
I should also add that the project’s focus on promoting the technological capabilities of the legal sector aligns closely with the remit of the European Regional Development Fund, which targets its investment towards initiatives that support economic growth. And, just last week, the Commission on Justice in Wales report identified opportunities to strengthen the legal sector in Wales, with technology seen as an important driver of innovation in legal services.
AL: When will the Lab be open for business?
CM: The physical infrastructure should all be in place by Summer 2020, though we’ll be scoping projects and developing collaborations with potential partners from early in the new year. We’ll be promoting opportunities through the project website at www.swansea.ac.uk/law/legal-innovation-lab-wales.
AL: Thank you – and we look forward to following the Lab’s progress.
Legal Tech Education – for readers interested in legal tech and innovation education, whether at a graduate or undergraduate level, including short courses, then check out Artificial Lawyer’s Legal Tech Education Guide, which is free to access and covers courses across the world, including the US, UK, Spain, Germany, Australia and more.