Announcing the winners of the Legal Access Challenge
Nesta Challenges is pleased to announce that the two winners of the Legal Access Challenge, run in partnership with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, are RCJ Advice and Mencap & Access Social Care.
The Legal Access Challenge sought innovative digital technology solutions that directly help individuals and SMEs to better understand and resolve their legal problems, with eight finalist teams undergoing a six month development period. RCJ Advice were awarded for their collection of tools that enable survivors of domestic abuse to get legal help and Mencap & Access Social Care for their chatbot, which helps people to understand and exercise their social care rights. The winners will each receive a £50,000 final prize.
Why was the Legal Access Challenge needed?
At present, too many people and small businesses struggle to access or afford legal help when they need it. Consumer research carried out for the Legal Access Challenge in England and Wales showed that 58% of respondents believe the legal system is not set up for ordinary people, with the vast majority wanting it to be easier for people to access legal support. The legal services market lags behind other sectors in embracing digital technologies and adopting the kinds of innovation that have transformed and enhanced other parts of the economy. While there are increasing resources going into lawtech, much of this is focused on commercial law and large corporate use cases. Direct to consumer lawtech solutions promise to make legal services accessible and affordable to far greater numbers of people, and it is these types of solutions that the Legal Access Challenge has sought to promote.
The role of lawtech in responding to COVID-19
The need for innovation in service delivery and adoption of digital technology has become increasingly urgent in recent weeks as providers across the legal services sector are having to adapt their services in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Providers have had to move to remote service delivery whilst also responding to increased need from those impacted by the current situation, on issues such as employment and housing. A particular challenge will be designing services that are accessible to the most vulnerable, including those who are digitally excluded or less digitally competent, and the integration of digital service provision with personal support will likely be important. Innovations such as those developed by all of the Legal Access Challenge finalists have an important role to play in responding to these challenges.
The two winning teams have been selected from a group of eight finalists all developing technology solutions to help people get affordable and accessible support to better resolve their legal problems. All the finalists received an initial £50,000 development grant in September 2019, after which the teams were provided with expert support from the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Nesta Challenges, as well as a range of partners, including the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Hogan Lovells, the Law Society and the Engine Room, to develop their solutions.
CourtNav and FLOWS by RCJ Advice and Rights of Women
Support to help domestic abuse survivors through innovative platforms that effectively integrate technology with human advice and support. CourtNav collects evidence for a non-molestation order application and links female and male survivors in England and Wales with an accredited domestic abuse legal aid solicitor. A referral app for frontline workers (such as police officers or refuge staff) refers people at risk to the legal help they need. Meanwhile, FLOWS (Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors) specifically empowers women survivors to easily find clear information and local legal support as well as offering a secure webchat app that women can use quickly and discreetly. The FLOWS Discussion Forum also enables practitioners to share advice with peers via a secure platform.
The Chatbot, developed by Mencap and Access Social Care
A legal information service for the hundreds of thousands with social care needs, the chatbot uses IBM Watson technology to provide free, accessible legal information, particularly for those who are experiencing challenges accessing care. The chatbot enables Access and Mencap to more effectively meet demand for advice by using technology to complement the human expertise of their advisors, allowing them to answer more queries and help more people. Using artificial intelligence, it learns from interactions as people use it, including legal caseworkers and care managers who have been involved in the testing. It helps people understand their rights and access justice, as well as allowing lawyers and advisers to allocate more time to the most complex cases. The chatbot can also be hosted on the websites of other advice organisations to reach even more people.
Alison Lamb, Chief Executive of RCJ Advice & Citizens Advice Islington said: “Being named a Legal Access Challenge winner by the SRA and Nesta Challenges is so motivational and is a credit to all the frontline practitioners we work with. Having digital tools like CourtNav is vital, with technology like it needed more now than ever while people are unable to access face-to-face support and courts are having to move to remote delivery.”
Kari Gerstheimer, CEO and Founder, Access Social Care said: “We’re delighted to have won the Legal Access Challenge. It is brilliant that the chatbot has been incubated by Mencap and IBM. To increase the impact of the tool we aim to get the chatbot working across other websites so that more people with social care needs can know their rights and other organisations can manage the increased demand for advice, particularly in these challenging times. It would be great to hear from other organisations interested in collaborating with us. I’m so proud of the team and so grateful to Mencap and IBM for having incubated the project and getting it this far.”
For more information please visit https://legalaccesschallenge.org/