The internet offers the possibility of keeping alive the drive to provide access to justice for all in society, according to veteran legal campaigner Roger Smith.
But Smith, the former director of Justice and a Gazette columnist, stressed that while the future of legal advice must be ‘digitally led’, it must not be ‘digital alone’.
Speaking at the publication of the report Face to face legal services and their alternatives – global lessons from the digital revolution, co-authored by Alan Paterson, law professor at the University of Strathclyde, Smith said the reduction in legal aid has lead to a crisis in provision of legal services. But he said technology, if used appropriately can mitigate that and help ensure wide access to legal advice and to justice.
Smith stressed there will always be a section of the population who are unable to access online services or for whom it would not be appropriate, so face-to-face services will always need to be retained.
However, he said, the fact the some people cannot use online information, should not stop the development of online initiatives.
The report examines the growth of the digital provision of legal advice in England and Wales, from the signposting to services and general advice offered by Co-operative Legal Services to document assembly packages from Epoch, Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom and the services provided by virtual law firms such as Scott-Moncrieff & Co.
The report highlights the legal advice site ‘Rechtwijzer’ (roadmap to justice) developed by the Dutch Legal Aid Board, calling it a ‘game changer’. Rechtwijzer provides an interactive guide to help users to find their way towards solving a conflict, guiding them step by step along all legal aspects of the case.
The site currently covers housing, employment, family, consumer and administrative law, but new applications will be added to include divorce and parenthood plan and online mediation.
Also speaking at last night's event, legal futurologist professor Richard Susskind said: ‘For too long the debate has been about how we offer traditional legal services, with very little discussion of how they might be delivered differently.’
Predicting ‘substantial changes’, Susskind said the economic climate means that the ‘money has run out’, forcing lawyers to think how to do things differently.
‘Offering greater access to justice has to be through a combination of online initiatives such as online legal services and dispute resolution.’