Following the conclusion of the SRA and Nesta Legal Access Challenge, joint reports from both the SRA and Nesta have been released which highlight the lessons learned and the future next steps that will be taken to support the development of innovation. The SRA report focuses on how the lessons learned from the challenge are influencing regulation, and how this can be used to support the development and responsible adoption of legal tech. Whilst the Nesta report gives an overview of the challenge, looking at what innovations were supported, and what was learned about the wider innovation environment in the UK.
The Legal Access Challenge was a £500,000 Challenge Prize, split across early stage digital technology solutions that could directly help individuals and small medium enterprises (SMEs) better understand and resolve their legal problems. The Challenge was made possible by a grant to the SRA from the £10m Regulators’ Pioneer Fund launched by The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and administered by Innovate UK. The fund aimed to help UK regulators to develop innovation-enabling approaches to emerging technologies. The two final winners were announced in April. The winning teams were RCJ Advice for its collection of digital tools that enable survivors of domestic abuse to get legal support, and Mencap and Access Social Care for their virtual assistant which helps people to understand and exercise their social care rights.
The 18-month challenge has been seen as successful by both the SRA and Nesta, with both seeing potential for legal technology to improve legal access. The reports conclude that the SRA’s regulation is not a barrier to innovation, but that many find it difficult navigating overlapping regulatory regimes across, for example, legal services, financial services and information management. The Challenge also showed that innovation in public-facing legal technology is mainly coming from unregulated organisations.
The scale and diversity of interest in the Challenge – with 117 applications – resulted in the Regulators Pioneer Fund providing an additional £250,000 of funding.
Feedback on the Challenge from the eight finalists showed:
- seven had seen the development of their solution accelerated
- seven had been introduced to new and useful contacts, with five building new partnerships
- six had support that they otherwise would not have been able to access.
The SRA report sets out its next steps, including producing guidance to help innovators understand its rules, the requirements of overlapping regimes and how they can design products that enable regulated law firms to interact with them. It will also continue to work closely with other regulators and build networks. This includes being part of recently announced Lawtech Sandbox developed by Tech Nation.
Anna Bradley, SRA Chair and Chair of the Challenge judging panel said:
“Too many individuals and small businesses struggle to access expert help when they need it. This can be the difference between someone losing their job, home or family; or a business succeeding or failing.”
I believe tech will be a game-changer for access to legal support. Covid-19 has brought into even sharper focus the importance of digital solutions. However, it’s clear that the adoption of technology has been slow when it comes to public facing legal services.
The Challenge showed the range of ideas out there, and the potential for it to help people in vulnerable situations. I was pleased that our own regulation is not seen as a barrier to the development of tech in the legal sector but we want to do more to support innovators to navigate what can be complex and overlapping regulation.”