Having contributed to the Legal Services Board’s ‘Perspectives’ paper earlier this year, CILEx Regulation’s Felix Brown reflects on whether the lessons learned are still relevant in a post-pandemic legal sector.
Earlier this year, the Legal Services Board published a collection of papers entitled, ‘Perspectives on LawTech and Regulation’, asking some of the key leaders and influencers in the legal services sector to offer their perspectives on the following question:
How can legal services regulation support responsible technological innovation that improves access to justice?
Having been afforded the opportunity to contribute to this collection, I decided to highlight three important considerations that I believe are key to unlocking the potential of a more just, technology-enabled legal sector.
- Firstly, I examined the issue of perceptions of regulation, and how these in themselves may serve to stifle innovative potential.
- Second, I reiterated the need to strike a balance between maintaining the rights and protections of consumers against the benefits of allowing novel and emerging technologies into the market.
- Finally, I looked at the role of the future legal services practitioner in light of CILEx Regulation’s proposed education standards, examining how both technological and emotional competencies will be increasingly vital to diminishing the access to justice gap in the future.
The views submitted to this collection represent a valuable offering of perspectives from across the legal services sector, including insights from the judiciary, regulators, lawtech providers and many others.
Several key conclusions were drawn across the submissions:
- Consumers of legal services should be placed at the forefront of regulatory thinking, and this should be balanced against the pursuit of technological uptake.
- Regulatory clarity on the subject of emerging technologies could serve to inject certainty into the wider legal ecosystem.
- The emergence of AI will present major legal and ethical issues for the legal sector.
- The access to justice gap remains a major issue, and more could be done to lessen the information asymmetry that serves to widen this gap.
- Technology has a role to play in enabling access to justice, however it is important that it is not considered as a standalone ‘silver bullet’ that will right all wrongs in the sector.
The perspectives paper was a great measure of sector attitudes toward technology and regulation, and allowed many contributors a platform to voice their concerns regarding access to justice. It is important to note however, that these papers were written before the coronavirus pandemic began, and released on the eve of stricter lockdown measures being implemented across the UK.
Impact of COVID-19
COVID-19 has irrevocably transformed the ways in which professionals of all sectors interact with technology. Willingly or not, the legal sector is no exception, having been catapulted into what had only recently felt like a distant future; remote courts, video witnessing and electronic signatures have all become commonplace, and legions of law firms have begun to showcase their arsenal of AI-enabled solutions and twenty-four hour chatbots.
Despite such developments being vastly accelerated and near universal, the issues highlighted in the paper continue to persist, and the lessons contained therein remain pertinent. So while the sector scrambles to embrace the full potential of legal technology, the access to justice gap endures.
Access to Justice – next steps?
Perhaps surprisingly, much of the solution to improving access to justice remains the same. Stakeholders within legal services need to collaborate in order to pool knowledge and seek out actionable stress points across the public, private and third sectors. In turn, this would allow for a more coordinated effort in promoting public legal education. This would place the consumer at the forefront of sector thinking, abating any remaining negative perceptions. The areas that could most benefit from an injection of technology and innovation, both during and following the pandemic, could then be more easily identified.
Collaboration, innovation, and education remain essential to promoting the sustained and responsible uptake of technology in the sector, and a keen regulatory eye is necessary to ensure that these advancements continue to protect those most vulnerable in our society.