SRA legal access challenge, reports and next steps

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.”

See the SRA’s full report on the challenge.

See Nesta’s full report on the challenge. 

 

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Law Society of Hong Kong launches law tech fund

In light of the ongoing uncertainty and the potential for change in how court hearings may be undertaken in the future, the Law Society of Hong Kong has lobbied for assistance to be provided to practitioners who may not have access to the technological tools required to conduct remote hearings or transactions.

On 8 April, the Government announced the proposed establishment of a LAWTECH Fund (“LTF”). On 18 April, the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council approved reserving HK$35 million for the LTF to assist law firms and barristers’ chambers with five or fewer practising lawyers to procure or upgrade their information technology systems and arrange relevant lawtech training for their staff.

See the full information on the fund.

Read more about the webinars.

 

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Canadian Bar Association launches programme to demystify tech

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) has opened registration for a series of lectures on digital literacy in the law. The aim is to equip legal practitioners with the digital skills to ensure that both their and their clients’ personal information is being properly handled and secured in a digital environment. The programme has been launched in light of the increase in the use of innovative technologies in law firms, as well as the increasing likelihood of virtual courtrooms and hearings.

Topics covered by the sessions will include

  • Protection of technology and the risks of downplaying cybersecurity
  • cyber resilience in lawyers and law firms
  • digital authentication

Read the Bar Association’s announcement on the programme.

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LSB podcast on how education might adapt to technology

In its latest episode of the ‘Talking Tech’ podcast, the LSB interviews Dr Adam Wyner, Associate Professor of Law and Computer Science at Swansea University. The podcast focuses on how education and regulation might change to ensure legal professionals are better equipped to deal with and meet the challenges posed by a new tech-focused environment, as well as how these individuals can start to drive technological innovation.

Listen to the LSB podcast (42 minutes long)  and download the accompanying paper as a PDF.

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LSB publishes collection of articles on lawtech and regulation

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has published a collection of 11 focused on lawtech and regulation as part of its ongoing work in the area. The collection, entitled ‘Perspectives on Lawtech and Regulation’ includes contributions from Chris Handford, Director of Regulatory Policy at the SRA, discussing the regulatory challenges of lawtech; Mariette Hughes, Head Ombudsman at the Legal Ombudsman, discussing the use of big-data in decision making and Sir Geoffery Vos, Chancellor of the High Court discussing regulatory barriers of innovation.

The publication follows on from a series of papers and podcasts produced by the LSB last year, which included work from Alison Hook, discussing international approaches to regulating legal technology; Professor Roger Brownsword, discussing regulatory lessons from medicine and finance; Professor Noel Semple, discussing technological innovation and the Legal Services Act; and Dr Anna Donovan, on the regulation of blockchain.

The LSB has also announced that it plans to establish an expert reference group, made up of technology experts, practitioners and regulators, allowing individuals and regulators to share ideas and knowledge and engage with regulatory issues around technology collectively.

Matthew Hill, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board has said:  “One of the Legal Services Board’s roles is to help foster a regulatory climate that supports innovation and increases access to legal services for everyone who needs them while maintaining high standards. The impact of COVID-19 has brought into even sharper focus the vital role that technology can play in keeping the wheels of justice turning. We want to remove barriers to innovation, and we encourage regulators to explore how we can use technology to reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society.”

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Law Society of Scotland and Information Commissioner’s Office collaboration on legal tech

A collaboration between the Law Society of Scotland and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is set to provide a boost to the legal tech sector in Scotland, through assistance in developing technology-based solutions to GDPR issues.

The Law Society of Scotland has signed a memorandum of understanding with the ICO which allows it to act as a gateway to the ICO’s innovation hub in Cheshire, which is working in partnership with technology innovators on ‘Data Protection by design’. The project aims to help companies engineer technology designed to ensure GDPR compliance from the outset and provides bespoke guidance from the ICO.

Paul Mosson, Law Society of Scotland Executive Director of Member Services and Engagement, said: “This is a very positive step for us. The shared aims of the MOU will enable closer working between the Law Society, our members and the ICO, allowing us to take a more collaborative approach and exchange information to support our growing legal tech community.”

To read more click here.

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Digital Justice: Technology and the Internet of Disputes (Introduction)

Abstract

Improving access to justice has been an ongoing but frustrating goal of our society. The theme of this book is that we have new technological tools to resolve disputes and new tools to prevent disputes. Alternative dispute resolution, namely, mediation and arbitration, brought dispute resolution out of court. Digital Justice introduces the reader to Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) and processes that are bringing dispute resolution to cyberspace, where those who would never look to a court for assistance can find help via a smartphone. This book focuses particular attention on five areas — e-commerce, healthcare, social media, labor, and courts — that have seen great innovation as well as large volumes of disputes. Conflict is a by-product of innovation and we undoubtedly need new laws and regulations. But that is not enough. We will never have enough courts or judges. We also need new dispute resolution processes and, equally important, new ways to avoid disputes, something that has been neglected by those seeking to improve access to justice in the past.

Citation
Katsh, Ethan and RABINOVICH-EINY, Orna, Digital Justice: Technology and the Internet of Disputes (Introduction) (2017). Oxford University Press.

Available from the SSRN site.

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BRAK sets up new committee on legal tech

The 7th Statues Assembly, “the parliament of the legal profession” of the Bundesrechtsanwaltskammer (BRAK) held its inaugural meeting on November 4th 2019. Through a clear majority, the assembly voted to not only retain all previously established committees but also to set up a new 7th committee on legal technology.

For more information about the new committee, see the article on the BRAK site (in German).

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Professions and Expertise: How Machine Learning and Blockchain are Redesigning the Landscape of Professional Knowledge and Organisation

Abstract

Machine learning has entered the world of the professions with differential impacts. Engineering, architecture, and medicine are early and enthusiastic adopters. Other professions, especially law, are late and in some cases reluctant adopters. And in the wider society automation will have huge impacts on the nature of work and society. This paper examines the effects of artificial intelligence and blockchain on professions and their knowledge bases. We start by examining the nature of expertise in general and then how it functions in law. Using examples from law, such as Gulati and Scott’s analysis of how lawyers create (or don’t create) legal agreements, we show that even non-routine and complex legal work is potentially amenable to automation. However, professions are different because they include both indeterminate and technical elements that make pure automation difficult to achieve. We go on to consider the future prospects of AI and blockchain on professions and hypothesise that as the technologies mature they will incorporate more human work through neural networks and blockchain applications such as the DAO. For law, and the legal profession, the role of lawyer as trusted advisor will again emerge as the central point of value.

Citation
Flood, John A. and Robb, Lachlan, Professions and Expertise: How Machine Learning and Blockchain are Redesigning the Landscape of Professional Knowledge and Organisation (August 9, 2018). Griffith University Law School Research Paper No. 18-20.

Available from the SSRN site.

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