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Hannah Gannagé-Stewart

Deputy Editor, Solicitors Journal

Is it possible to Monzo law?

Is it possible to Monzo law?


We returned to the pros and cons of legal technology in the June/July issue, as the industry continues to wrestle with the critical balance between automation and personal legal provision.

We returned to the pros and cons of legal technology in the June/July issue, as the industry continues to wrestle with the critical balance between automation and personal legal provision.

There is no doubt that for many individuals legal services are not only financially out of reach but also conceptually distant. Research shows that the public are, on the whole, far more likely to google their legal concerns than consult a professional.

This is partly because they fear the high fees that they anticipate are attached to legal advice but also because they don’t know where to turn, how to select a trustworthy professional and how to make informed decisions about their needs.

July's cover feature focuses on the ways in which legal technology might bridge this gap. Is it possible that investment in consumer facing technology could shift the way that normal people engage with legal services?

That is certainly the objective of the Legal Access Challenge, which has received more than 85 expressions of interests from potential legal tech innovators in the month since it was launched.

It is promising to see the Solicitors Regulation Authority adding tech to its consumer-focused revamp of the sector, but is the profession ready to assimilate a Monzo-like approach to law?

Monzo styles itself ‘the bank of the future’ and has undoubtedly – along with a raft of similar offerings – revolutionised the way millennials and generation z understand banking.

Its creators witnessed the fallout from the credit crunch and sought to create an alternative to the old guard, which had been exposed as greedy, dishonest and dangerously institutionalised.

There are no local branches, the accounts function entirely through a smartphone app and the bank’s bright coral-coloured debit card has an almost cult following among the younger generation.

It is a triumph of branding as much as of service provision. Being quite thoroughly digitised in my banking habits these days, I learnt only recently that Monzo limits the amount of cash that can be deposited each year because, frankly, who really relies on cash these days anyway?

The truth is, there are people that rely on cash. The limitations to such an app do exclude some users. Spotting my Monzo card the other week, a shopkeeper crossly told me she has cancelled hers after learning she could not pay unlimited cash into the account.

As she is paid in cash, not being able to deposit all her wages into the bank was useless. For some, modern forms of legal services will no doubt cause similar problems. Not everyone has the same access to the internet and smartphones; not everyone finds the same appeal in accessing services that way. But many do, or will, when they learn an alternative exists. Modernising legal provision must never inadvertently exclude people but if it can open new doors, it has to be worth exploring.

Alan Larkin said in his column last month: “Speak to anyone involved in applying tech to legal problems and processes and they will admit: law is complicated. Simply overlaying a consumer-friendly interface won’t cut it.”

He is right of course; technology cannot replace the skilled human role a lawyer has to play but it may establish the initial connection needed to give more people access to the right human.

Personally, I believe that the legal profession is sitting on a vast amount of untapped potential that something akin to the Monzo approach could realise.

Technology is not a panacea, but it may be the catalyst for an evolution that we have all felt coming for a long time but never quite seems to arrive.

Hannah Gannagé-Stewart is managing editor at Solicitors Journal