Barrister’s witness statement transcription tool trained in legal English

Walker: Witness statements automatically transcribed

The first transcription tool specifically designed for witness statements has been launched this summer, after the artificial intelligence (AI) which lies behind it was trained to cope with legal language such as “my learned friend”.

Sophie Walker, director of JUST: Access, said the tool was already being used by two large City firms, one of them in the magic circle, before going on general release next month.

Ms Walker, a barrister specialising in family and immigration law at One Pump Court, said a phrase like ‘my learned friend’ could be interpreted by transcription tools as ‘my learn it friend’ or ‘my learnt friend’.

“The AI is trying to make sense of the word patterns. If you’re using words in a different way, it thinks you’ve made a mistake.”

Ms Walker said she set up JUST: Access in 2016, when working as a legal aid lawyer and frustrated by “how difficult and expensive it was” to get hold of transcripts.

The company provides transcription services to a wide range of industries. It is a social enterprise, meaning that its mission – to improve access to legal information and remove barriers to access to justice – is “baked into” its articles of association and must be kept in mind every time an important decision is made.

But it could not be run on a not-for-profit basis because technology was expensive and venture capital was needed to develop it, Ms Walker said.

JUST: Access, based in Leeds, raised £300,000 in funding last summer from Mercia Equity Finance, part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund.

Further funds of almost £300,000 arrived in December 2021 from Innovate UK and it is this money which has been used to provide the witness statement tool with specific training for use by litigators.

She said a further funding round was under way, which would close in October, to raise another £750,000 for the business – half of which had already been committed.

Ms Walker said advances in technology, particularly the development of ‘large language modules’, made it possible for tools to be trained to cope with a specific type of language with a smaller quantity of data.

She said changes to the practice directions in the Business & Property Courts meant that both witnesses and lawyers must sign to say the statement was in the witness’s ‘own words’, reinforcing the importance of accuracy.

“We wanted to create a solution that goes straight from an audio recording to a transcript to a witness statement.”

Ms Walker said the tool enabled witness statements to be taken by video conference and automatically transcribed to text.

Statements still need editing, which can either be done by the client or the team of editors at JUST: Legal, who are mainly law graduates doing legal or Bar practice courses.

Ms Walker added that transcription technology had uses “beyond what people normally thought about”, for example by making it easier for lawyers with dyslexia to create notes.

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