Lawtech sandbox pilot sparks collaboration ambitions

Swallow: Lawtech will stop being something special in time

There needs to be greater collaboration between lawyers, tech designers, coders and software developers, an event to mark the end of the first phase of the government-backed lawtech sandbox pilot heard last night.

It also heard calls for more data sharing between regulators, firms and lawtech pioneers.

Five startups graduated from the three-month pilot organised by the Tech Nation initiative – a ‘safe space’ test-bed for products involving legal tech innovators, clients and regulatory bodies – after being chosen to join last December.

Answering a question on the changes they would advise to realise the full potential of technology in the legal space, panellist Amy McConnell, head of legal operations at Vodafone Business, said she wanted technology that fitted on top of existing software used by businesses, such as Microsoft documents.

Sandbox steering board member Sophia Adams Bhatti, head of strategy and policy at Simmons Wavelength – the legal engineering business acquired by City law firm Simmons & Simmons in 2019 – highlighted the need for greater collaboration between tech innovators and lawyers in order to come up with really “user-centric design principles”.

Rather than just new tools to improve efficiency, Victoria Birch, a partner at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, urged innovators to look for actions to grow the sector, to “open up opportunities for new types of services and products we could offer our clients… Helping us grow as a profession potentially into different areas and broadening our horizons in giving us different opportunities to generate revenue”.

The forum host, Jenifer Swallow, chief executive of LawTech UK, which is part of Tech Nation and backed by the Ministry of Justice, looked ahead to the point where the conversation was just about legal services and not lawtech at all, because technology would be so embedded and standardised in the products used by lawyers.

She added that the legal industry should open up data-sharing in the way banking and financial services had done so.

The five ‘early-stage scale-ups’ involved in the Tech Nation sandbox pilot – some of which were renamed after joining – were Amplifi, which simplifies technical legal information; Legal Schema, an open source universal vocabulary for structuring data in contracts and other documents; ClauseMatch, which looks to transform regulation into a digital machine-readable form using artificial intelligence (AI); Deriskly, a risk-avoidance tool; and Legal Utopia, an intelligent legal diagnostic platform.

Tech Nation described the pilot as being “designed to fast track transformative ideas, products and services that address the legal needs of businesses and society.… To test, build and push the boundaries… with lawtech and demonstrate what transformation looks like in the legal sector in practical ways”.

A total of 65 start-ups applied. Tech Nation is considering next steps in the pilot and will continue to work with the five participants.

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