Legal regulators secure government cash for innovation projects

Wellington: Compelling research proposal

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Costs Lawyer Standards Board (CLSB) have both won grants from the government’s Regulators Pioneer Fund to run projects encouraging innovation.

The SRA aims to help connect those using new legal technologies with those who need their services, while the CLSB is exploring how costs lawyers could “bring about downward pressure on the cost of legal services”.

The latest round of support from the fund was open to regulators and local authorities to apply for grants of up to £200,000 for projects that would help create a UK regulatory environment that encourages business innovation and growth.

Projects would run for at least six months and end by 31 March 2022. It received 41 applications and approved 21, investing £3.7m in total.

The SRA project is targeted at the “major barriers” faced by those who want to deliver legal help through technology and how they can bridge the access to justice gap.

Following on from the £750,000 grant in a previous round to fund its Legal Access Challenge, the SRA has received a grant of £167,856.

It is working with Swansea and West of England universities, the Information Commissioner’s Office, the West of England Combined Authority and legal advice centre University House to deliver the project.

Communities around Swansea and Bristol will be engaged to test new developments.

The first part of the project will involve researching what innovations are available and how they connect with those in need of them. The partnership will explore the feasibility of developing these innovations for wider use.

The SRA will then showcase these connections to other interested parties so that they can be replicated across the country.

SRA chair Anna Bradley said: “This project will focus on working with local partners and communities to identify innovative services that can increase access to legal services.

“We know this is hugely important because the majority of people and small businesses don’t seek legal help either because of concerns about affordability, or simple lack of confidence and familiarity with the legal sector.”

Supporting the adoption of legal technology and other innovation that help to meet legal needs is one of the three priorities in the SRA’s corporate strategy.

The CLSB has been awarded £58,000 for a research project exploring whether, if regulation or legislation were different, costs lawyers could help reduce the cost of legal services.

It will look at the types of services both regulated and unregulated advisers specialising in costs might be involved in, such as finding the right price for legal services before buying, resolving disputes about the price of legal services after buying, and obtaining the best advice on controlling costs when that advice is bought via another lawyer.

The research will ask how advisers specialising in costs “might drive services in a way that exerts a downward pressure on the costs of legal services”, and whether any regulatory or legislative change relevant to costs lawyers remove barriers to capturing this benefit or even greater benefits.

Kate Wellington, chief executive of the CLSB, said: “We asked ourselves some hard questions about what we should be doing to make sure consumers, businesses and the wider society fully benefit from the unique skills of Costs Lawyers.

“The result was a compelling research proposal that secured funding even up against stiff competition from much bigger regulators.”

Claire Green, chair of the Association of Costs Lawyers, commented: “The role of the costs lawyer has changed significantly in recent years, with the shift to budgeting developing project management and other skills.

“Our members are now playing a far greater role in the delivery of legal services and we hope that this project will show how they can support the public and help solicitors operate in a more cost-effective manner.”

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