Start-up aims to help NFP sector identify legal nature of problems

Matcham: tool will reduce advice agency congestion

A law graduate will next year launch an artificial intelligence-backed (AI) product that uses natural language processing (NLP) to help not-for-profit agencies identify precisely the legal nature of a problem, potentially cutting out time-consuming confusion.

The technology is slated to be applied to an ambitious raft of further automated applications, including crowdfunding, group litigation, and for-profit business intelligence.

An announcement on a Legal Utopia ‘legal technology education programme’ is also due very shortly. No further information is available at this time on what it might entail.

Fraser Matcham, a serial entrepreneur and recent University of Westminster student, founded the Legal Utopia lawtech start-up to enhance access to justice and reduce congestion in identifying an appropriate provider of free legal advice and representation.

The company was an early member of the Barclays-backed legal incubator, the Eagle Lab, in partnership with the Law Society.

In April 2018, Legal Utopia joined a consortium with Westminster Law School and Westminster University’s computer science and engineering department, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

The so-called ‘legal problem engine’ will be given at cost to the free advice sector. According to the Legal Utopia website, it “enables non-profit legal services providers to provide an online, autonomous and trustworthy legal diagnosis to consumers’ issues or disputes from natural expression”.

The product is due to launch in the middle of next year, closely followed by a crowdfunding platform using a machine-learning algorithm. The website said it “enables consumers to identify their legal problem ‘complexity grade’ to establish their crowdfund target”.

Not long afterwards, Legal Utopia aims to launch a group litigation product which it says uses an “[AI] algorithm to discover and present group litigation opportunities and onboard claimants via an intuitive marketplace in the UK, USA, and Australia”.

Early in 2020, the company promises a business intelligence offering, which it said would “provide comprehensive and previously untold comparative analysis of UK legal consumers demands… [enabling] law firms to apply a new level of consumer understanding to their marketing approach”.

In the first product, using NLP the user provides a written description of their problem, although Mr Matcham told Legal Futures a voice-only version was possible.

He gave the example of an employment law issue: “Say you are an individual who was fired. You don’t particularly know why; it was spur of the moment but now you’re out of a job.

“You can essentially go onto our platform, express the fact that you’ve lost your job, you don’t know why you’ve lost your job, but you have a contract in place with your employer and you need help.

“We would diagnose that issue. So its legal nature is employment law and unfair dismissal and then we would refer you to a service that provides employment law advice.

He described the work of inputting information about law centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux across the nation as “quite an extensive project”.

Explaining the technology behind it, he said: “In relation to the searching itself we use a series of [NLP-based] rhythms.

“I can’t say which specific type we use, but essentially a well-trained piece of NLP, which is further informed by Q&A.

“The Q&A is standard… but we home in on specific questions that help inform our NLP engine.”

He agreed the AI did not deal with the problem of ‘advice deserts’ or a shortage of free legal services: “We are not creating it as some sort of cure. However what we do recognise is that there is a huge problem with congestion amongst those charities and organisations where, if an individual has a problem… their first order of business is to ring up every centre across the board…

“Even when you get to those organisations the problem isn’t resolved because the proper advice may not be available on that specific issue and you then get a repeat footfall from that individual, which then further puts constraint on resources.

“[This product] is able to remove that huge congestion placed on those organisations.”

Mr Matcham said he had already spoken to CABx and intended to speak to the law centres network in 2019.

He stressed the crowdfunding option would only be available to those not eligible for legal aid and Legal Utopia would take a commission based on the successful raising of funds.

Describing it, he said: “It’s split into two separate channels. Donations where there is a legal cause, for which an individual would like to raise funds for legal advice or the litigation process to bring that cause to court, or investment.

“The investments channel is slightly different in the sense that it has to be a case of merits, which we would assess ourselves as a company beforehand, including a prediction of success rate and costs.

“Only after that stage, when we’ve been able to acquire the relevant information, would we then make it available for public investment.

The profit-making business intelligence platform would charge “a set RRP” for its reports, Mr Matcham said.

The company hopes to run a ‘briefing event’ on the business intelligence product in spring 2020.

Mr Matcham described himself as “an entrepreneur and consultant with a fascination for technology and an intellect for legal service delivery”.

He said he had no plans to train to practise law. He said he had other ventures and part-time work.

Ventures include RegChain, a compliance consultancy using a chatbot platform, which claims to enable SMEs to “to conduct a comprehensive and customised automated compliance audit of their business”.

Last year, when a law student, Mr Matcham set up a McKenzie Friends Marketplace where litigants-in-person could hire law students as McKenzie Friends, drawing fire from lawyers.

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