Legal start-up using IBM Watson to improve access to justice wins financial backing

Start-up: new approach to transcription

A legal tech start-up has won funding from the country’s leading social tech funder to help develop its speech-to-text tool, which also uses IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence (AI) system, so that it can be used in courts.

Just: Transcription, a not-for-profit social enterprise, is a digital service that aims to improve access to justice by making transcriptions free or cheap and quick to access. It can also be used for legal meetings, phone calls and so on.

It will be free to the likes of people who are exempt from court fees and eligible for legal aid.

It said Nominet Trust’s support “will take us to the next level and allow us to launch our product to the vulnerable litigants, advisers and lawyers who need it”.

Incorporating AI means that by the time of its full launch, the system will have read every single piece of legislation, case law and available transcript, and allows it to learn the law as it is made.

In addition to producing transcriptions, the system gathers and analyses data from each trial so that it can offer new insight into what is happening in the courts, to aid transparency and identify opportunities for improvement and innovation for courts, advice centres and legal services. It will be run on open data principles.

Nominet Trust – which has put up £25,000 in backing over the next year – said that by erasing the current problems with transcription, Just: Translation “has the power to promote a fairer justice system”.

The plan is to bid for a contract to provide court transcription services the next time the Ministry of Justice put them out to tender.

The service has grown out of problems experienced by the Centre for Criminal Appeals, a charity turned law firm that works on miscarriages of justice.

The centre has identified access to recordings of court proceedings and transcripts as one of the pillars of its ‘Open Justice’ charter. This seeks to increase accountability by opening up access to information.

One of Just: Transcription’s founders is Sophie Walker, director of the centre until last summer.

“Court transcriptions are currently produced by private companies who control the information, the cost and the accessibility,” the company said.

“We are working to capitalise on the Ministry of Justice’s nascent openness to digital technology to ensure in the future services enfranchise everyone, including the most disadvantaged.”

Just: is one of eight companies being backed by the Nominet Trust in the latest round of its seed funding programme, which gives entrepreneurial organisations early-stage investment to develop innovative projects harnessing the power of the internet and digital technologies to deliver significant social change.

Last summer, Just: Transcription received £20,000 in funding from the Legal Education Foundation.

Rachael Mpashi-Marx, director of Just: said: “We are thrilled to be part of Nominet Trust’s social tech seed programme. Their specialist knowledge and support is exactly what we need at this stage in our development. This service has so much potential to open up the justice system and reduce the numbers of people who are currently struggling to access justice.”

Nominet Trust director Vicki Hearn added: “Not many people realise just how difficult and expensive it can be to get a transcription of court proceedings. That’s why we’re funding this smart new voice-to-text technology which makes transcriptions affordable and accessible to vulnerable people and those currently at an economic disadvantage.

“The service also provides the kind of transparency that will drive improvements in the court system. We’re thrilled to support this project, which should help more people get justice.”

The trust’s social tech seed programme has supported 40 organisations through six cohorts to date, including Open Bionics, who use 3D body scanning and printing technology to create bionic hands that are lightweight, take five days to fit and cost just £2,000, and, an online platform harnessing blockchain technology to make charitable giving transparent.

Meanwhile, Nextlaw Labs, the business accelerator launched by global law firm Dentons, has named AI-powered expertise finding platform, ProFinda, as its latest investment.

“The difficulty of matching the best subject matter expert with clients’ needs is a longstanding pain point in all professional services but specifically in the legal industry.” said Dan Jansen, CEO, Nextlaw Labs. “ProFinda has developed a solution to this problem that is faster and smarter than any other, and we believe the applications for this technology in a law firm environment are tremendous.”

ProFinda’s AI engine builds an entire map of all the skills, knowledge, connections and expertise available across a company, providing a single view of an organisation’s talent pool. It then enables employees, through matching algorithms, to find the right experts or put together the right teams for projects and clients in real time.

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