A 'sandbox' to test innovative legal service offerings based on new technology is due to go live in a test version this year, the government funded LawtechUK initiative announced today as it named the contractors for its two major projects. 

PA Consulting will design the Lawtech Sandbox while a consortium including University of Oxford researchers will work on an online dispute resolution platform for small and medium-sized businesses.

LawTech UK is a collaboration between the industry body Tech Nation, the government-sponsored Lawtech Delivery Panel and the Ministry of Justice, which has allocated £2m to the work. Today's announcement follows a competitive bidding exercise announced in June. 

The sandbox will allow firms and other providers to test new service ideas in a controlled environment without having to go through the hoops of full regulatory proposal. The aim is to accelerate the development of new and advanced methods of legal services delivery, LawtechUK said. It will be based on a sandbox set up by PA Consulting for the Financial Conduct Authority in 2016, which has enabled fintech businesses to test concepts such as digital currencies and 'robo advice'.

Today's announcement said that PA will draw on that experience, as well as its work on sandboxes for the Civil Aviation Authority and Information Commissioner's Office. 

An 'alpha' version of the sandbox will be tested by the end of this year, and the learnings will be incorporated into an 'open beta' to go live in 2021, a spokesperson said. 

In the second project, a consortium of researchers from the University of Oxford, working with Oxford Computer Consultants, disputes resolution service ResolveDisputesOnline and smart contracts specialist Jur will carry out the feasibility study and develop a proof of concept for the SME Dispute Resolution Platform. The study will 'establish user needs, and the appropriate mechanisms for resolution and enforcement, with the aim of providing a technology-enabled environment that offers small to medium-sized enterprises an alternative, elective method to resolve late payments and help address the £11.6bn paid in litigation fees and the £50bn in late payments arising each year,' the announcement stated.

Dr Mimi Zou of St Hugh's College, Oxford University, said: 'Our consortium is a diverse and interdisciplinary team of industry and academic experts in ODR and innovation in government digital services. Our vision is to develop forward-thinking human-centred solutions that UK SMEs and other stakeholders can rely on to resolve disputes easily and efficiently.'