Technology has the potential to democratise the law, but up until now, access to technology was the realm of large law firms. With cuts to legal aid, the government is now keen to help smaller firms use technology to help plug the gap between the cost of legal services and the access to them.
Legal access challenge
The Legal Access Challenge is a programme jointly administered by Nesta Challenges in partnership with the Solicitors Regulation Authority to help more people access legal support through digital technology. It was set to help improve access to justice for all by looking at:
- How far can tech go in making legal support accessible and affordable to everybody? Is tech going to transform how people experience legal services?
- What barriers are holding back innovation in tech that directly helps people to resolve their legal problems?
- Who should play what part in encouraging a new generation of digital legal services?
I started my career working for a large corporate law firm, then later moved to legal aid. The work I was able to do with legal aid inspired me but government cuts made it very difficult to work in legal aid. I eventually set up my own firm to continue that work, without the pressure of government cuts.
What I’ve seen during this journey is that the difference between the large corporate law firms and the small legal aid law firms is not a difference of skill and expertise but is, instead, a difference of means. The large law firms have the resources and the staff to provide the type of individualised service that many of our clients need, especially with immigration law.
Technology closes the gap
I first became aware of automation technology when I set up my own firm in 2015. When I started, I replicated what I had already experienced as much as possible. However, I realised fairly quickly that there was a simpler and easier way to do things. I set up my firm, Ansar, to provide a high-quality, personal service to my clients and I discovered that technology helps me do that in a cost-effective way.
As I remember, legal aid did not use automation when I worked in that field. Many lawyers felt that technology was not right for their clients. They saw automation as an impersonal service but I see it as the opposite. Clients pay for the personal attention we can provide. Automation gives me the time to provide that service.
Technology increases the access to legal services despite cuts in legal aid and the stagnation of people’s wages even as government fees for immigration services continue to rise.
Government fees are a fixed cost. This leaves less to pay for legal costs. We can’t bargain with the government so we had to find a way to provide vital services
I can do more with less, more simply. With workflow automation I can establish a procedure to follow for a large customer base. With document automation I can automate the common actions and spend my time on the activities and service that needs to be more personalised to each individual case and each individual client.
I went into this business to practice law and was surprised by how much non-legal work lawyers do. Using technology enables me to practice law instead of doing all the other stuff.