Technology and Access to Justice
In September, The Law Society published its ‘Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law’ report. The report outlines the findings of their research into technology and its ability to improve access to justice. Based on an assessment of 50 initiatives, qualitative interviews and an academic literature review, it concluded that legal technology is not the ‘silver bullet’ to making the justice and legal system more accessible.
Access to timely and affordable legal advice has become increasingly difficult. The introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), partnered with local authority funding cuts has led to a significant reduction in legal aid and free advice law centres. Legal technology is widely considered to have the potential to alleviate the problem by increasing efficiency in relation to practice management and frontline services, which can speed up processes and reduce client costs.
The report found that the barriers to technology adoption in the justice and legal sector are significant, however, the benefits of technology outweigh the challenges. The Law Society identifies barriers such as a lack of trust in technology, and a high standard of regulatory compliance that negate the efficiencies created by the adoption of legal technology. In addition, there is a limited range of products available for non-commercial purposes, and these products are expensive. Therefore, smaller firms which offer the most affordable access to justice are less likely to reap the rewards of widespread adoption.
A large proportion of the innovation, development and adoption of legal technology is taking place in commercial firms. These firms can afford to invest in the technology and have clients more willing and capable of using the technology. Adopting technology such as cloud solution software can enhance efficiency and cut costs for those firms that can afford them.
In contrast, life in a law centre or low-income practice is already very different. An inability to invest in new legal technology means that many of these firms still partake in time-consuming processing and practice management. The Law Society advises that organisations begin to develop their own innovation blueprints centred on the person needing legal advice, based around the organisation’s principles and resources. While they are unlikely to offer multi-disciplinary services, small-scale improvements to efficiency can be achieved through the use of technology.
The Law Society calls on government bodies, private sector and third sector organisations offering funds for legal tech and access to justice initiatives to agree on a set of principles to encourage long-term investment in the sector through co-ordination and collaboration.
The report also recommends that the government should recognise that technology based initiatives aimed at promoting access to justice will only be successful if users can understand and access the legal advice directly from a qualified lawyer. The Law Society advises that the public and private sectors should share information on the adoption and application of legal technology. The Law Society is set to provide the initial forum for this collaboration.