The government-funded Legal Access Challenge  has received more than 85 expressions of interests in applying for funding, including from entrepreneurs, legal professionals, technologists, law schools and charities, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said yesterday.
The challenge is the centrepiece of an 18-month programme being run by the SRA with innovation foundation Nesta and £700,000 of government money  to support and accelerate ideas to use technology to improve access to justice.
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, noting that most investment in lawtech to date has been at the commercial law end of the market.
A ‘Legal Access Challenge Slack group’  has been set up, which is already supporting 80 members, to connect and collaborate online.
More than 500 people have attended events in London, Birmingham and Leeds promoting the challenge, and offering people the chance to get involved.
The judging panel for the challenge has also been announced:
- Anna Bradley, SRA chair (judging panel chair);
- Juliet Oliver, SRA general counsel and executive director, case direction
- Karl Chapman, strategic advisor, EY Riverview Law, and non-executive director, Kim Technologies;
- Julie Bishop, director, Law Centres Network;
- Sidonie Kingsmill, customer director, HM Courts and Tribunal Service;
- Roger Smith, solicitor, academic and writer on legal technology; and
- Matthew Briggs, founder and former chief executive of the Law Superstore.
Ms Bradley said: “We want the challenge to move things on and open up legal services. This is about much more than simply offering funding to those with good ideas.
“We know that innovators need support and networks to turn their ideas into reality, so we are creating those networks for them. It’s all part of building the momentum that will further encourage innovation in legal services.
“Whether you’re a charity with a good idea or a tech firm looking to partner with a legal expert, I’d encourage you to get involved.”
Chris Gorst, head of better markets at Nesta Challenges, added: “From the interest we’ve already seen in the Legal Access Challenge, it’s clear just how much appetite there is to bring innovation to legal services for consumers and small businesses.
“The UK has every opportunity to lead the way here, just as it has with fintech innovation over the past decade. The innovation ecosystem for consumer legal services is still at an early stage and we want the challenge to help kickstart its development.”
The closing date for entries to the competition is 11 August.