LawtechUK works with advice charity to reduce unmet need

Blacklaws: Huge opportunity for start-ups to make a difference

LawtechUK is working with leading legal advice website Advicenow as part of its new goal to reduce unmet legal need, it has emerged.

Christina Blacklaws, chair of LawtechUK’s panel of advisers, said she believed tech firms were “tantalisingly close” to finding solutions which improved access to justice.

Ms Blacklaws, a former Law Society president, said the panel of advisers – which includes Master of the Rolls Sir Geoffrey Vos and Professor Richard Susskind – had been “really keen” to extend LawtechUK’s remit to unmet legal need.

Public legal education charity Law for Life runs the Advicenow website, which provides step-by-step, practical guides for people who cannot afford a solicitor in areas such as benefits, housing, family law, employment, immigration and crime.

Law for Life applied for a grant of £120,000 a year from the government’s Improving Outcomes Through Legal Support programme for Advicenow, but as we reported in July it was rejected, leading to an emergency appeal for funds.

Ms Blacklaws said Advicenow was part of LawtechUK’s Bridge programme, which brings legal tech start-ups together with established legal services or advice providers, including charities.

She said that, among other things, the project would look at whether some of the Advicenow guidance could be automated “to help individuals who are already accessing this support”.

LawtechUK was in discussions with “quite a few” charities or third-sector organisations on other projects, which could feature in the next round of the Bridge programme, which, like all LawtechUK programmes, is free.

The solicitor said charities could also be involved in LawtechUK’s mentoring programme, alongside law firms and establish tech companies, and mentor startups. It is currently full and new mentors are urgently required.

A third programme, the Builder programme, which helps startups move from ideas to minimum viable products (MVPs), was already under way, and applications would soon be invited for the Scaler programme, which helps startups take their MVP “to the next level”.

Ms Blacklaws said there was a “huge opportunity” for start-ups to “make a difference” in reducing unmet need for consumers and small businesses.

“Can we convene, educate and support those players who will have the answers in the immediate future? To me, we are tantalisingly close.”

She said LawtechUK had a lot of start-ups that were “purely commercial” and aimed at supplying services to businesses.

“Now we have the chance to focus on a different sector within legal and in society, and that is a great challenge to have, particularly when generative AI is in the mix.

“Large commercial law firms could be helping to work out solutions to the problems. This could be transformative for society. Everyone in the legal services industry has a part to play.”

Global tech community Legal Geek and Edinburgh-based incubator CodeBase won a £3m contract from the Ministry of Justice to run the new phase of LawtechUK from April this year, after the previous host, Tech Nation, closed.

Along with its free programmes, LawtechUK holds one-day events to highlight what the legal tech world is doing in each region. There will be events next month in Manchester and Belfast, and in January next year in Bristol.

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