A surge of interest in technology-based approaches to improving access to justice is causing a duplication of effort, the Law Society says today. In a report of research on technology, access to justice and the rule of law, Chancery Lane concludes that while technology is no 'silver bullet', its potential benefits outweigh the challenges.

An assessment of 50 initiatives found a range of technologies, including websites to mobile apps to videoconferencing in use to support access to justice. However despite an increase in efforts over the past year, these still represent only a very small part of the wider 'law tech' sector. 

Meanwhile barriers to wider take-up included 'widespread confusion, variation and fragmentation'. The report warns that duplication of innovations and the fragmentation of their application illustrates the need 'to frame innovation around shared solutions to shared problem statements'.

The Society calls on government bodies, private sector and third sector organisations offering funds for legal technology and access to justice initiatives to agree on a set of principles to encourage long-term investment in the sector through co-ordination and collaboration. For this, a long term approach is essential. 

The government should recognise that any technology-based initiative aiming to promote access to justice will be successful only if users are able to access legal advice directly from a qualified lawyer.

Society president Simon Davis said: New user-focused innovations have overcome some of the traditional obstacles to access. Firms, advice clinics and in-house teams are utilising technology to serve more effectively the needs of often vulnerable clients.

'However much more support is needed for meaningful impact. This includes better coordination, information sharing and resources. There are still too few solutions designed specifically for this purpose - instead, the sector is over-reliant on a trickle down from the commercial legal market.'