A Solicitors Regulation Authority-backed search for bright ideas to widen access to justice with technology has attracted more than 85 expressions of interest, the regulator revealed today. The Legal Access Challenge plans to make grants adding up to £250,000, funded by Whitehall. The deadline for applications is 11 August. 

Grants will support 'the most promising new ideas that use technology to help more people access legal services when they need them,' the SRA said. 'Up to four' finalists will be selected to receive a £50,000 ‘development grant’ while one will receive a further £50,000 'prize award'. Expresssions of interest have come from entrepreneurs, legal professionals, technologies, law schools and charities. 

Participants must allow the SRA to disseminate knowledge gained through the challenge 'to encourage the broader adoption of technology within the legal sector, for example through guidance, regulatory toolkits and reports'.  

The scheme is run jointly with Nesta Challenges, an innovation foundation originally set up to dispense National Lottery money. 

A judging panel announced today includes campaigners for access to justice as well as law tech innovators and a representative of the courts service. The members are: Anna Bradley, SRA chair (judging panel chair); Juliet Oliver, SRA general counsel; Karl Chapman, strategic adviser, EY Riverview Law; Julie Bishop, director, Law Centres Network; Sidonie Kingsmill, customer director, HM Courts and Tribunal Service; Roger Smith, solicitor, academic and writer, and Matthew Briggs, founder of the Law Superstore. 

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Bradley: 'We want challenge to move things on and open up legal services.'

Bradley said: 'We want the challenge to move things on and open up legal services. This is about much more than simply offering funding to those with good ideas. We know that innovators need support and networks to turn their ideas into reality, so we are creating those networks for them. It’s all part of building the momentum that will further encourage innovation in legal services.'