Legal Access Challenge finalists revealed

Citizens Advice: RCJ Bureau wins backing

A chatbot for people with learning disabilities, tools to help women protect themselves from domestic violence, and data-supported advice on employment disputes are among the eight finalists of the Legal Access Challenge.

Picked from 117 entries, they will each receive £50,000 in funding to develop their ideas over the next six months, with the two winners receiving a further £50,000 each next March.

The challenge, run in partnership by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Nesta Challenges with government money, aims to broaden access to legal help for individuals and small businesses through technology.

Earlier this month, the government provided an extra £250,000 for the challenge to double the number of finalists in and winners of the competition. The extra money from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s regulators pioneer fund took the total awarded to the SRA and Nesta to £950,000. Nesta is receiving £300,000 of the funding.

The finalists will receive SRA help on the regulatory implications and consumer testing of their products.

In addition, they will receive pro bono legal advice from City giant Hogan Lovells, support from the regulators’ business innovation privacy hub within the Information Commissioner’s Office for guidance on privacy and data protection issues, and opportunities to engage with HM Courts & Tribunals Service

The SRA said the challenge would also inform its regulatory approach to innovation and help the market provide technological solutions safely and ethically, as well as supporting collaboration between innovators and better understanding the barriers to bringing ideas to market.

Anna Bradley, SRA chair and chair of the judging panel, said: “We have a great mix of winners, using tech in different ways, and offering solutions that will benefit people in very different situations: people in their personal and working lives, some of the most vulnerable – victims of domestic violence and those with learning difficulties – as well as small business.

“Legal services should be for everyone, not just the minority who currently use them. Technology could be a real game changer. We will be working closely with all the winners to support their work, and make sure our regulatory approach is up to the new questions technology will pose.”

The finalists are:

Created by two family lawyers, it aims to simplify the time-consuming and complicated way in which litigants must currently put together their financial disclosure during divorce proceedings.

Co-founder Alex Wooley said: “The award will allow us to radically improve the technology behind our solution. It will make Formily available even more easily to litigants-in-person, and will allow individuals to get targeted, cost-effective legal advice on their case without paying a penny more than they need to.

“The chance to develop Formily and its novel approach to the interaction between litigants, their evidence, their lawyers and the courts with the support and guidance of the SRA, HMCTS and Nesta is one that we thought we couldn’t miss.

“The award will also allow us to roll out the Formily model to a suite of other family law documents that litigants currently must do battle with in order to resolve their finances on divorce.

“By the end of the challenge, we hope that Formily will be doing what legal tech does best – using easy-to-understand questions to let people fit their circumstances into complex, obscure legal processes, so that everyone can access the courts and make their case.”

This product aims to simplify the process of bringing individuals and SMEs together for group litigation orders.

Georgina Hollis, co-founder of Duo Ventures, the company behind Glow, said its aim was “to redress the balance between organisations and individuals, by simplifying the litigation process and empowering victims to unite and be a powerful force. The platform will also give solicitors the tools they need to effectively manage cases and hold those at fault to account”.

Litigation Friend
This is a platform to assist employees and SMEs who are involved in employment tribunal claims to make more informed, data-backed decisions. Designed by litigation analytics company Solomonic, it will use artificial intelligence to analyse thousands of employment tribunal judgments and package the information into a SaaS (software as a service) platform.

Tara Grossman, development director at Solomonic, said the platform would answer questions such as ‘What are my chances of success?’, ‘What damages are likely to be awarded?’, ‘Should I try to settle?’, ‘How has my judge decided cases like mine before?’, and ‘How long will it take for my case to be heard?’.

The aim is have built the first sub-module – on unfair dismissal – by the end of March 2020.

Ms Grossman added: “Ultimately, we expect it will make for more rational decision-making in the context of employment litigation. This should lead to more settlements, and a reduction in costs and stress and will allow the parties to focus on more constructive activities.”

Following a successful launch, Solomonic plans to expand into other areas of law which have a “significant impact” on the lives of large numbers of people, probably starting with family law.

The well-known charity is building a chatbot for people with learning disabilities that will deliver early legal help and advice around community care and welfare benefits. Using IBM Watson technology, it will be accessible, free to users and available 24/7.

Kari Gerstheimer, director of information and advice, said 1.5m people in the UK have a learning disability and the chatbot would “revolutionise” the way they and their families could access justice. “We are overwhelmed with requests for help from people who are being denied access to social care and welfare benefits… With the Legal Access Challenge funding, we will be able to develop our chatbot further, improving and refining the user experience.

“In addition to this vital financial boost, the challenge will enable us to develop new partnerships and learn from other legal and technology organisations. This will inform and ultimately enhance the advice and support provided directly to people who need it, making a tangible difference in their lives.”

This is an “accessible one-stop-shop to help people tackle problems they face online and hold tech companies to account”, created by Doteveryone – a think tank that champions responsible technology for a fairer future – and online complaints tool Resolver.

Hannah Kitcher, communications manager at Doteveryone, said: “Our research shows people struggle to navigate digital services with complex T&Cs and opaque complaints processes. Our service will empower people to understand their rights and seek redress when things go wrong.”

RCJ Advice
RCJ Advice is the Citizens Advice service operating in the Royal Courts of Justice and Central London Family Court.

The funding will help it embed and further develop several solutions it has devised to ensure women facing abuse are safe, including CourtNav, the online application to complete a non-molestation order, and be linked with a legal aid solicitor; a referral app for police where they can safely share details of women who have experienced domestic abuse with RCJ Advice’s FLOWS (Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors) team; and an online discussion forum for front-line workers that “creates a safe peer-supported space”.

Alison Lamb, chief executive of RCJ Advice, said: “We approached the Legal Access Challenge as it is vital we get these tools out to women experiencing abuse and the practitioners working with them.

“We want to ensure women experiencing domestic abuse access the protection afforded by legal aid and representation and that our technological developments widen access to legal advice.”

Resolve Disputes Online
This is a dispute resolution technology provider which will be developing online negotiation and mediation tools for UK consumers and businesses to allow for online dispute resolution.

Co-founder Joe Al-Khayat, a barrister and mediator, said: “We are very much aligned to the UN’s sustainability goal to improve global access to justice and already we provide our technology to governments and private mediation centres in jurisdictions such the USA, Canada, Singapore, Thailand and Australia.

“As a team of UK lawyers, we are thrilled to be able to help our home jurisdiction innovate and ease the pain points of disputes for consumers and businesses in England and Wales.”

“From April next year, consumers and businesses in England and Wales will be able to resolve disputes from the comfort of their office or home in a rapid and more cost-effective way using our technology.”

This is an app for documenting harassment, discrimination and bullying in the workplace. It lets users log time-stamped emails, diary entries, photos or voice entries, then helps them download a legal friendly case file that they can take to HR, lawyers, or union.

It was built by Organise, which calls itself the UK’s first workplace digital campaigning platform and gives people “the tools, network and confidence they need to improve their lives at work, all free at the point of use. Our 70,000 strong community is all about spotting shared problems at work, then teaming up to fix them”.

Nat Whalley, executive director of Organise, said the funds would be use to improve the app. “Gathering evidence is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to holding companies to account,” she said.

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