To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Pro Bono Week 2021, Legal News Wales looked to explore a new piece of research, led by the Solicitors Regulation Authority that aims to investigate and create technological resources that help improve access to legal advice for local communities.
Our event, hosted during Pro Bono Week on 3 November 2021, focused on the part of the research that is being delivered here in Wales.
Our editor, Emma Waddingham, invited those leading the project alongside the SRA in Wales: the Swansea Law Clinic, (based in the Hilary Rodham School of Law at Swansea University) and the Legal Innovation Lab Wales (LILW), to see why and how the work of a free legal advice clinic in Wales is being used as the basis to measure the use of LawTech and innovation in the legal sector, to enhance and enable access to justice.
We were also joined by Mick Antoniw MS, the Counsel General for Wales and Minister for the Constitution who helped us mark the celebrations of Pro Bono in Wales during this very special week.
Missed out? Watch the event recording
We’ve shared the full recording of the event below – which will be of interest and relevant to legal professionals, those working in Legal Aid, practitioners offering Pro Bono legal support and any legal advice clinic or charity in Wales and beyond.
In September 2021, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced it had appointed Swansea Law Clinic and the LILW as the Welsh partners for research after the regulator was awarded funding through the UK government’s Regulators Pioneer Fund (RPF).
The award of £167,856 from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will be used to create a new network where regulators, expert research institutions and local government can work together to improve legal access within local communities. They aim to do this by supporting, testing and promoting new and emerging legal technology.
Through this project, the researchers aim to better understand how technology can address the challenges encountered by under-represented and vulnerable communities in accessing legal advice – specifically in the Swansea Bay area, a region supported by Swansea Law Clinic.
Our event: what we covered
- Insight on the six-month project: why Pro Bono has taken centre stage in the research
- The scope of the research: the communities involved, the free legal advice they might receive and he current challenges
- The challenges facing law centres, Pro Bono providers and those signposting the general public
- Current observations & reflections of the project to date
- Hope for the impact of the project on how LawTech could further support the provision of Pro Bono and accessible legal services in Wales and in England
- Thoughts on sustainability: how to avoid losing any project gains
- How the legal profession in Wales, charities, local authorities and legal advice centres can get involved and add value – as well as derive value
- Mick Antoniw MS, Counsel General for Wales & Minister for the Constitution
- Stefano Barazza, Academic Lead at the Legal Innovation Lab Wales (profile)
- Professor Richard Owen, Hilary Rodham School of Law, Swansea University (profile)
- Liz Withers, Head of Welsh Affairs, the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Chaired by: Emma Waddingham, Editor, Legal News Wales & member of the Reaching Justice Wales committee.
Watch the event here
We’ve shared the full recording of the event below, including the welcome from the Counsel General for Wales, below.
We’ve picked out some of the responses raised by the audience and invite you to share your thoughts for us to feed back to the project leads.
We’ve included speaker contact details and signposting to useful Pro Bono initiatives below. We’ve also shared the links to updates from Pro Bono Week 2021, allowing you to catch up on the 100+ events taking place across the UK from 1-5 November.
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Opening address from Mick Antoniw MS, Counsel General for Wales & Minister for the Constitution
Part 3: Panel session & Q&A
Identifying the problem
At the top of the research agenda is to define a handful of challenges – or problems – for the research leads to tackle. Speaking at the event, Liz Withers, Head of Welsh Affairs at the SRA, explained that the project aims to whittle this list of challenges down to one. This is due to the short six-month timescale of the project and the need to stay realistic about outcomes.
The technological solution also needs to be affordable, easy to maintain and relatively easy to adopt, if it’s to add value to legal advice centres in Wales, said Professor Richard Owen, Head of Swansea University Law Clinic.
He acknowledged the need to be mindful of a number of factors that will make or break the long-term value of the tech created in the project. Firstly, digital poverty, secondly – and often overlooked – digital exclusion issues in Wales – where connectivity, rather than a lack of funds prevents accessing legal services digitally, and thirdly: sustainability of the solution. Is it fit for purpose for and affordable / manageable for use by (in this instance) the free legal advice sector in Wales.
Reassuringly, there are a number of technological solutions ready to be adapted, developed, tested and applied, said Stefano Barazza, Academic Lead at the Legal Innovation Lab Wales. The Lab has a number of designers, project managers and researchers who are preparing themselves for action, once a suitable problem has been proposed.
A time for piloting the tech has been included in the project which is due to end in March 2022 – perfectly timed for the second Legal News Wales St David’s Day events for the legal sector in Wales. We aim to invite our speakers back to update us on the research and, importantly, which challenge they choose to tackle, the solution and how they hope to future-proof the technology, as well as any benefits for the wider legal sector in Wales.
Our St David’s Day events, hosted on 1 March 2021, included a session with the LILW and others, which can be found here.
What do you think?
We asked the audience – and we’d like to ask you too: what are the delivery challenges for legal advice centres & professionals offering pro bono legal services in Wales?
We also asked if there was a piece of technology or a process you think would help address that challenge.
To take part in this pulse survey (three short questions), please click on the relevant link below.
- If you’re a legal advice clinic, centre or charity in Wales, click here to take part.
- If you’re a legal profession / organisation in Wales offering Pro Bono support, click here to take part.
Plug in & stay connected
Legal News Wales aims to collaborate and open opportunities for collaboration in the legal sector in Wales – which very often includes relationships professional services, charities and third sector organisations, the public sector, government departments and representative bodies.
If you’d like to contact our speakers, to explore how the research might help you, to offer support and engagement – especially with the work of the Solicitors Regulation Authority in Wales and with regards to innovation in the legal sector, you can find their contact details below.
We have also added some links to events and resources mentioned in the video, above, and signposting to useful Pro Bono Initiatives and Groups.
- Liz Withers, Head of Welsh Affairs, Solicitors Regulation Authority
- Stefano Barazza, Academic Lead, Legal Innovation Lab Wales
- Lynne Squires, Development Director, Access to Justice Foundation
- To understand how Pro Bono Costs Orders work and how the Foundation can help you, how they add value to those offering free legal advice in Wales and many other ways your organisation can benefit from the work of the Foundation in Wales and that of Reaching Justice Wales, please connect with Lynne on Linkedin, here.
1. Pro Bono Week 2021
To book onto or catch up on all the fantastic events hosted across the UK for the 20th anniversary Pro Boo Week (1-5 November 2021), be sure to:
- Follow and use the official hashtags on social media: #ProBonoWeek and #WeDoProBono
- Visit the Pro Bono Week website: probonoweek.org.uk
- Check out the top 20 inspiring case studies for 20 years of Pro Bono, here.
- For information on Pro Bono networks and volunteering in any part of the UK, click here.
2. LawWorks – the solicitors pro bono charity
LawWorks (and its Welsh counterpart, LawWorks Cymru) is a fantastic resource for solicitors seeking further information on or development in pro bono activity.
It works with law clinics, law firms, solicitors, students and others to provide skills, relationships, knowledge and resources for pro bono activity.
For more information, including links to Pro Bono Connect and free legal answers, click here and click on ‘get involved’ in the sub menu.
Advocate is a charity that finds free legal assistance from volunteer barristers, making it possible for barristers to balance a dedicated practice with making a significant contribution to the community.
It matches members of the public who need free legal help with barristers who are willing to donate their time and expertise in deserving cases for those who are unable to obtain legal aid and cannot afford to pay.
For more information, visit weareadvocate.org.uk
4. Event catch up: SRA Innovation: making business ideas a reality
Catch up on the two panel sessions hosted by the SRA at Techniquest, Cardiff in October 2021, on LawTech and customer experience. The second panel discussion includes Nathan Vidini, Founder of the UK’s ‘first not-for-profit law firm’, AltraLaw, who discarded fee earner targets when creating the business, replacing them with annual pro bono targets and paid voluntary leave.
Click here to watch.
5. SRA Business Plan 2021-2022
To view the SRA’s Business Plan and Budget (November 2021 – October 2022), which includes its plan for Wales, click here.
5. Event catch up: Meeting the post-pandemic expectations of communities
Hear how law firms & professional services in Wales are benefitting from a deep commitment to the communities they serve – helping to attract & retain clients & talented professionals – including an investment in Pro Bono.
Click here to watch.