The Solicitors Regulation Authority is considering applying for more government money to support technological innovation following what it says is the success of its 18-month Legal Acccess Challenge prize competition. The regulator and its partner, the technology innovation foundation Nesta Challenges today publish final reports into the scheme, which received a total of £900,000 in government funding.
According to the reports, the challenge, which distributed £500,000 to technology-led projects to improve access to justice, has bolstered the SRA's and Nesta Challenges’ view that legal technology can help people to more easily access legal services. The competition attracted 117 applications and made awards to eight finalists. The overall winners were RCJ Advice for its collection of digital tools that enable survivors of domestic abuse to get legal support, and Mencap and Access Social Care for their virtual assistant which helps people to understand and exercise their social care rights.
The SRA said: 'The challenge has strengthened our view that there is significant potential for technology to transform the legal market.' It is considering an application for the second round of the Regulators Pioneer Fund, which funded the challenge.
According to today's reports, the challenge showed that innovation in public-facing legal technology is coming mainly from unregulated organisations. However Nesta concluded that SRA regulation is not a 'hard barrier' to innovation. Rather, would-be innovators find it difficult to navigate overlapping regulatory regimes across legal services, financial services and data protection.
Small business and individual users of digital legal services expect such support to be free or to be charged at a modest fee, the report finds, saying this is 'key information for innovators, who are exploring models ranging from subscription services to freemium models'.
The SRA's next steps to promote innovation include drawing up guidance to help innovators understand its rules and the requirements of overlapping regimes. It will also continue to work closely with other regulators and build networks. This includes being part of lawtech 'sandbox' being developed under the LawTechUK programme.
Anna Bradley, SRA chair, said: 'I believe tech will be a game-changer for access to legal support. Covid-19 has bought into even sharper focus the importance of digital solutions. However, it’s clear that the adoption of technology has been slow when it comes to public facing legal services.
'The insights from the challenge will stand us in good stead as we look ahead to encouraging the growth of legal technology in future.'