City firm called in to advise on Legal Access Challenge

Gorst: Challenge will demonstrate what technology can do

The innovation division of City law firm Ashurst has been appointed as technical adviser to the Legal Access Challenge, which aims to support and accelerate ideas to use technology to improve access to justice.

The challenge is the centrepiece of an 18-month programme being run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) with innovation foundation Nesta and £700,000 of government money .

Four finalists with proposals that will directly help consumers and/or small businesses will each receive a no-strings development grant of £50,000 in the autumn, and go on to pitch their idea to judges in spring 2020, with one winner receiving a further £50,000.

They will also receive bespoke support and organisers hope to build up a community around the use of technology to support access to justice and legal services.

As technical assessment supplier to Nesta, the Ashurst Advance team – comprising lawyers, legal technologists and IT specialists – will support the judges by reviewing the top applications for technological feasibility and team capability.

Tara Waters, co-CEO of Ashurst Digital Ventures – the in-house development arm of Ashurst Advance – said: “With eight in ten respondents [in Nesta research] stating that access to legal guidance and advice needs to be improved, this remains a key challenge for the industry.

“The Legal Access Challenge provides a fantastic opportunity to identify promising new digital solutions to address this.”

Chris Gorst, head of better markets at Nesta Challenges, added: “For too many people, legal support and advice seems out of reach. Technology is not a panacea, but in many areas of our lives it has transformed the choice, convenience and quality available to us, and this could be true in legal services too.

“The Legal Access Challenge will demonstrate what technology can do and bring these new solutions to market. We are delighted to be working with Ashurst Advance on this Challenge and believe their expertise will be invaluable during the judging process.”

The SRA said earlier this month that there have been more than 85 expressions of interest in applying for funding, including from entrepreneurs, legal professionals, technologists, law schools and charities. The closing date is 11 August.

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