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Hannah Gannagé-Stewart

Deputy Editor, Solicitors Journal

Legal Access Challenge winners revealed

Legal Access Challenge winners revealed


Technology platforms, designed by RCJ Advice and Mencap and Access Social Care, have won £50,000 each as finalists in the Nesta Legal Access Challenge

Technology platforms, designed by RCJ Advice and Mencap and Access Social Care, have won £50,000 each as finalists in the Nesta Legal Access Challenge.

The Legal Access Challenge was launched, with funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s £10m Regulators’ Pioneer Fund, to address a perceived ‘gap’ in legal provision in England and Wales after 58% of people reported they believed the legal system does not cater to ordinary people.

Run in partnership between Nesta Challenges and the Solicitors Regulation Authority the challenge sought to broaden access to legal advice for vulnerable people, individuals and small businesses.

The winners, announced today (9 April), were picked from a group of eight finalists, each of which were awarded £50,000 in September 2019 to develop their tech solutions in the hope of being awarded a further £50,000 of investment.

CourtNav and FLOWS, were created by RCJ Advice and Rights of Women, and help domestic abuse survivors make contact with face-to-face legal 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) then 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 second winning entry was developed by Mencap and Access Social Care with pro-bono support from IBM. It is a legal information service for people with social care needs. The chatbot uses IBM Watson artificial intelligence (AI) technology to provide free, accessible legal information, particularly for those who are experiencing challenges accessing care.

The chatbot 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. 

Access Social Care CEO and founder Kari Gerstheimer said: “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.”

Meanwhile, 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.”

SRA chair and chair of the Legal Access Challenge judging panel Anna Bradley (pictured) added: “FLOWS from RCJ Advice and the chatbot from Mencap exemplify the innovative spirit we wanted the Legal Access Challenge to support and encourage. Both solutions stood out for so clearly understanding the needs of their users and their potential for broadening access to justice for vulnerable people.”

In total £500,000 has been awarded in prizes since September, with participants given expert support from the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Nesta, as well as a range of partners, including the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Hogan Lovells and the Law Society, to develop their solutions.

Later in the Spring, the SRA and Nesta Challenges will be publishing a report of findings during the Legal Access Challenge. This will include insights and learnings about the legal market, regulatory barriers and emerging issues around lawtech, and how the Legal Access Challenge has aided collaboration among innovators as well as regulators, policymakers and key stakeholders.

The eight finalists were:

  • Formily – Created by two family lawyers who grew frustrated with the time consuming and complicated way in which litigants must currently put together their financial disclosure during divorce proceedings. They realised there must be a way to use technology to make this process less time consuming and costly. 
  • Glow by Duo Ventures – Enabling individuals and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to efficiently take legal action against organisations in the form of Group Litigation Orders, a legal mechanism allowing groups of common individual claims to be treated as one, enabling collective bargaining power and cost sharing amongst claimants.
  • Litigation Friend by Solomonic - A platform to assist employees and SMEs who are involved in employment tribunal claims to make more informed, data-backed decisions. Solomonic uses AI to analyse thousands of previous employment tribunal judgements and package the information into the “Litigation Friend” platform.
  • Mencap – A legal chatbot for people with learning disabilities that will deliver early legal help and advice around community care and welfare benefits, directly to people that need it most.
  • MyDigitalRights by Doteveryone and Resolver - An accessible one-stop-shop to help people tackle problems they face online and hold tech companies to account.
  • RCJ Advice - Enabling women and children to get legal help to protect themselves from violence, gain court-orders, access legal aid and navigate court-processes, as well as allowing the frontline workers who assist them to be confident using legal remedies.
  • Resolve Disputes Online (RDO) – A dispute resolution technology provider developing online negotiation and mediation tools for UK consumers and businesses to allow rapid, convenient and cost-effective online dispute resolution. 
  • TakeNote app by Organise – An app for documenting harassment, discrimination and bullying in the workplace. The app lets users log time-stamped emails, diary entries, photos or voice entries, then helps them download a legal friendly case file that they can take to HR, lawyers, or your union rep.