Member Article

Eight finalists awarded £50,000 each to narrow the legal gap with tech

Eight finalists have secured £50,000 each in funding to develop technological solutions to broaden access to legal services in England and Wales. Solutions include a tool to aid group litigation, AI technology that supports employees during disputes with their employer, and a one-stop-shop to help consumers exercise their digital rights and access systems of redress when online services fail them.

Run in partnership by Nesta Challenges and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Legal Access Challenge aims to make legal support more accessible and affordable for individuals and small businesses through new technology. The Challenge attracted 117 high-quality applications from a diverse range of teams.

The Challenge and associated projects and research supporting the wider programme, have been made possible by a grant from the £10m Regulators’ Pioneer Fund launched by The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and administered by Innovate UK.

Business and Industry Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “This government-funded Challenge will kickstart innovation in our legal sector, supporting firms to bring new products and services to the legal advice market that have the potential to change people’s lives for the better.

“From providing legal advice for people with learning disabilities through chatbots, to an app that can document bullying in the workplace, I look forward to the creative solutions these successful contestants will develop thanks to our Regulators’ Pioneer Fund.”

According to previous research commissioned as part of the Challenge, six in ten (58%) people in England and Wales think the legal system is not set up for ordinary people, whilst 43% of small businesses owners and self-employed people believe that legal advice is reserved for big businesses or those that can afford it.

Innovators were challenged to propose technological solutions to this ‘legal gap’ which sees vulnerable people and small and medium businesses trying to solve legal problems without the help they need. From the 117 entries received the judging panel selected the eight most promising concepts to move on to the final round. Each team has been awarded £50,000 to develop their legal access innovation over the next six months.

The finalists are:

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.

The finalists will work with Nesta Challenges and the SRA to develop their products and bring them to fruition over the next six months. This will include support from the SRA on regulatory implications and consumer testing. In addition, finalists will receive one-to-one pro bono legal advice from Hogan Lovells International LLP, support from the Regulators’ Business Innovation Privacy Hub within the Information Commissioner’s Office for guidance on privacy and data protection issues and opportunities to engage with HM Courts & Tribunals Service

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.

Anna Bradley, SRA chair and chair of the Legal Access Challenge judging panel said: “With 117 entries and so many excellent ideas, we had a tough job. Many more could have made the cut, but the standard of the eight winners was exceptional.

“We have a great mix of winners, using tech in different ways, and offering solutions that will benefit people in very different situations. People in their personal and working lives, some of the most vulnerable - victims of domestic violence and those with learning disabilities - as well as small business.

“Legal services should be for everyone, not just the minority who currently use them. Technology could be a real game changer. We will be working closely with all the winners to support their work, and make sure our regulatory approach is up to the new questions technology will pose.”

Chris Gorst, Head of Better Markets, Nesta Challenges said: “Too many people and small businesses struggle to access legal services in England and Wales when they need them. We believe technology can contribute to fixing this. From the range of proposals submitted to the Legal Access Challenge the UK’s innovators clearly agree. 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.”

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Andrew McKay .

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