An online dispute resolution forum for small businesses is among the projects to receive £2m in government backing in the latest initiative to nurture ‘lawtech’. The Ministry of Justice-backed LawTechUK Vision announced today will also develop a ‘sandbox’ to help test new ideas for transforming the legal sector through digital technologies. 

LawTech UK is a collaboration between the industry body Tech Nation, the government-sponsored Lawtech Delivery Panel and the Ministry of Justice. 'Covid-19 is bringing urgency to the task of restructuring the delivery of legal services and systems worldwide,' Jenifer Swallow, programme director at Tech Nation, said. 'Through the LawtechUK work programme we have announced today, we will bring practical support and advancement to enable this, helping the UK legal sector lead this global transformation.’

Four initial projects were announced: a ‘UK SME Dispute Resolution Platform’; the Lawtech Sandbox, a lawtech online hub and a guidance and training centre. 

The sandbox is inspired by the FCA’s Regulatory Sandbox, set up in 2016 and credited with nurturing the booming fintech sector. The Lawtech Sandbox will bring together technologists, the legal and business community and public bodies, to test innovations coming to market. It will work with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, Legal Services Board, Information Commissioner’s Office and the Ministry of Justice, LawTech UK said. The initiative announced a call-out for a technical delivery partner. 

Justice minister Lord Keen of Elie QC said:  'The LawTech Sandbox is an important next step in delivering cutting-edge technology and furthering our reputation as a globally trusted destination for legal practice.'

The SME Dispute Resolution Platform initiative will 'explore building a technology-enabled online platform offering SMEs an alternative, elective method to resolve late payments and address the £11.6bn paid in litigation fees and the £50bn in late payments arising each year'. It is unclear how this will sit alongside the existing online court programme. 

Anna Bradley, SRA chair, said: 'Currently too many small businesses struggle to get expert legal help – fewer than one in four get professional advice when they need it. That can be the difference between a successful or failing business. Technology could be a game changer.'

Overall the programme will draw on the £2 million announced by the Ministry of Justice last year to support the growth of lawtech.

Christina Blacklaws, immediate past president of the Law Society and chair of the Lawtech Delivery Panel, said: 'The exciting and broad range of projects we are launching today as LawtechUK will help place technology at the heart of a new era of legal services. We look forward to further extending our membership within the lawtech community, and to collaborating across the sector to ensure global leadership in legal services for years to come.'