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Tech investment and open information can unlock justice for all

Technology has the potential to unlock justice for all, according to a new report launched by the Law Society of England and Wales. However, it is by no means a ‘silver bullet’.

Based on an assessment of 50 initiatives and qualitative interviews with more than 45 stakeholders – the report explores whether technology is the key to unlock the potential of law, justice and rights.

It concludes that, with the right support from government, technology can be the key to unlocking access to justice innovation.

“Technological solutions can help to unlock justice for those with legal needs but not the means,” Law Society of England and Wales president Simon Davis said.

“New user-focused innovations have overcome some of the traditional obstacles to access. Firms, advice clinics and in-house teams are utilising technology to serve more effectively the needs of often vulnerable clients.

“However much more support is needed for meaningful impact. This includes better coordination, information sharing and resources.

“There are still too few solutions designed specifically for this purpose – instead, the sector is over-reliant on a trickle down from the commercial legal market.”

Key findings include:

  • Significant work is being done by firms, advice clinics and in-house teams to meet legal need which is supported by technology. The government has taken positive steps through the Legal Support Advisory Group and its ministerial commitments to support new forms of technology to make justice more accessible. There is, however, much more to be done – in most cases, better data management, information sharing and co-ordination is needed.
  • The consumer-facing market is less mature than the business-to-business market on legal technology adoption. Recently, resource allocation and the need for greater efficiencies have driven demand for technological solutions.
  • Online resources are the primary means of providing information to the public. However, face-to-face remains the most popular way for delivering advice, followed by mobile apps which are often used at the start of the process.
  • Barriers to technological adoption include; widespread variation, lack of access to data, inequality of resources, duplication of products, funding and regulatory concerns.
  • Innovation is being led and used by third sector, including law centres and pro bono clinics, often working with firms and universities to provide services. This is more commonly found for disputes in housing, family, employment, debt and social welfare.

“Government must recognise that technology alone cannot provide a silver bullet: use of technology needs to be part of a wider innovation strategy, centred on the individual that needs legal help and framed by the organisation’s purpose and resources,” Simon Davis said.

“Technology-based initiatives can facilitate access to a qualified lawyer, but they cannot replace it. Since 2012 half of law centres or agencies offering free legal advice have closed, and there have been significant cuts to legal aid.

“Government should work with stakeholders to agree a joint set of principles for long-term investment. This will encourage a growth in justice innovations and their adoption within the sector – enhancing access opportunities for those who need it most.”

The report recommends government bodies, private sector and third sector organisations that offer funds for legal technology and access to justice initiatives should agree on a set of principles to encourage long-term investment in the sector. It also suggests the creation of an Open Source Platform for access to justice and technology and a comprehensive list of agreed solutions to overcome barriers and meet legal need.

UK lawtech not yet disruptive, new research shows

Lawtech in the UK has a long way to go if it is to reach its potential, the Law Society of England and Wales said as it launched new research into the development and adoption of sector-specific technology.

In its Lawtech Adoption Report, the Law Society explores the UK’s burgeoning lawtech sector and highlights key developments in this area and what this means for the legal profession and the business of law.

Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said: “A range of drivers is accelerating development and adoption of lawtech, from an escalating need for efficiency, increasing workloads and complexity of work to client pressure on costs and shorter turnaround times.

“Some of the most notable growth areas are legal analytics, legal project management, governance and compliance and contract management.

“Lawtech in the UK is largely focused on efficiencies and automation rather than on delivering ‘new types of law’. As such it is less mature than other fields of digital disruption – such as fintech, where there is more funding and regulatory alignment.”

The business-to-business legal services market is the most mature, particularly within large law firms, where AI and machine learning-driven applications are ubiquitous. Some of the more established areas include collaboration tools, document management, IP management and e-billing.

The business-to-consumer legal market seems to be lagging behind. There is most traction in those law firms that are delivering large-scale commoditised services, where automation is principally all about driving efficiencies. For instance, chatbots, DIY law, robo-lawyers and triage tools are all becoming more common with a greater focus on the consumer experience.

“Our research found that law firms face barriers to adoption of many lawtech solutions that are fundamental to the industry, such as risks around compliance, the partnership and billable hours models,” Christina Blacklaws said.

“After several years of start-up activity, the sector is now ripe for a wave of consolidation and later stage funding. Adopting and pioneering new technologies will give firms a strong competitive advantage in a rapidly evolving legal services market.”