SRA wins £700k government grant to support firms using AI

Philip: Encouraging new ways of delivering legal services

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has won a £700,000 award from the government to support and accelerate the ideas of law firms and others to improve access to justice using artificial intelligence (AI).

It is one of 15 regulators awarded £10m from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s regulators pioneer fund.

The SRA is working in partnership with Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre; Nesta is a charitable foundation dedicated to promoting innovation.

The new ‘SRA Innovate Testbed’ will be an open innovation competition “to seek out and accelerate ethical AI-powered legal services”.

The vision for the challenge is to position the UK as the world leader in regulatory innovation for legal services.

It will be open to law firms, tech companies, civil society organisations, universities, academics and any other innovators looking to collaborate to bring to the market AI and automated services for small businesses and consumers, where they can have “a transformative impact”.

In a joint statement, the SRA and Nesta said: “Continued advances in AI promise to transform the legal services industry. Investment in AI-powered services is accelerating, both within law firms and in the high growth legal tech sector.

“These developments could help tackle the longstanding problem of limited access to justice, but in practice investment is overwhelmingly focussed on commercial law use cases where returns are perceived to be most promising.”

There will be an initial six month research and development phase that will identify the “optimal design” of the support to be made available to the testbed innovators.

This will be followed by a recruitment campaign to source six cutting-edge AI-powered lawtech innovations.

The winners will then be able to test their services underpinned by financial support and “deep engagement” with the SRA.

SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: “Smart use of technology could help tackle the problem that far too many people struggle to access expert legal advice.

“It will help us further build on our work to encourage new ways of delivering legal services, benefiting both the public and small business.”

The aims of the project are to:

  • Map the state of play of deployment of AI in legal services to identify areas where AI holds particular promise to widen access to justice;
  • Identify the barriers – technical, regulatory and financial – to the emergence of AI-powered services that could widen access to justice;
  • Accelerate advances in specific access to justice situations that demonstrate the potential for progress;
  • Build a community with a shared interest in tackling this challenge; and
  • Use what is learned to adapt the regulatory approach as necessary to make it easier for solicitors and law firms to adopt AI-driven innovations safely

Chris Gorst, head of better markets at Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, said: “Our team works with innovators and public authorities with the aim of creating radically better products and services in regulated mass markets – such as the legal services sector.

“The UK is a world-leader in legal services but most people still cannot access reliable legal information or services when they need them.

“AI is set to transform the sector, so how can we ensure the benefits are widely spread? How do we enable AI to deliver on its promise in legal services while ensuring it is safe and responsible?

“Engaging with innovators will enable the SRA to accelerate these innovations by removing barriers and we will incentivise the innovators so their ideas become a reality.”

Another winner was the Intellectual Property Office, which will use its award for AI solutions that modernise the process of filing for intellectual property rights, for example by using AI-powered preliminary searches for applicants filing for patents, trade marks and designs as part of the online filing process.

Other winning projects included nearly £700,000 to Ofcom for a project using blockchain technology to improve UK telephone number management, and up to £1m for the Civil Aviation Authority to support a project that includes a ‘regulatory lab’, bringing together relevant bodies to unblock legislative and regulatory barriers to innovations like flying taxis

Business secretary Greg Clark said: “We are building a business environment in which Britain’s dreamers, developers and disruptors can continue to thrive.

“These projects will further strengthen our regulatory system and ensure that it keeps pace with the innovation and technological advances needed to power our economy now and in the future.”

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