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The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has won a further grant from the latest round of Regulators Pioneer Fund (RPF) to help connect those using new legal technologies with those who need their services, with one of the project partners based in Swansea.

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.

Swansea Law Clinic, based within the Hilary Rodham School of Law at Swansea University, and the Legal Innovation Lab Wales (LILW), also part of the university’s law school, are the Welsh partners for the project. The University of the West of England and the West of England Combined Authority are the project partners in England.

Stefano Barazza, Academic Lead at the LILW, explained that as the Law Clinic supports the communities in the Swansea Bay area, this is where the project will focus. He said:

“Through this project, we aim to better understand how technology can address the challenges encountered by under-represented and vulnerable communities in accessing legal advice.”

He explained that the work of the Law Clinic, led by Professor Richard Owen, chair of the Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee, provides ‘an invaluable starting point to map the legal needs of such communities and to evaluate the impact of technology on access to justice in the Swansea Bay area’, with the help of the researchers at The Legal Innovation Lab Wales.

Barazza added:

“The collaboration with our partners in Bristol, the SRA and the ICO will allow us to inform future regulation at the intersections of tech and access to justice, making sure the Welsh perspective is at the core of such policy interventions.

“The Lab will also identify the key technological advancements needed to improve access to justice, with a view to involving the Welsh legal community in their future design, prototyping and deployment.

While more information on the scope of the project in Wales is yet to be released, Legal News Wales is pleased to say it is organising an online event with the Welsh partners, to hear more about the project, during Pro Bono Week 2021 (1-5 November).

Project phase 1

The SRA explained that the first part of the project will involve researching what innovations are available and how they connect with those in need of them.

The partnership will explore the feasibility of developing these innovations for wider use.

The SRA will then showcase these connections to other interested parties so that they can be replicated across the country.

Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA Board, said:

“We’re delighted to have been given a further grant from the Regulators Pioneer Fund. Our 2020 Legal Access Challenge was a success, awarding £500,000 to developing legal technology solutions, and this is a welcome opportunity to do more to support people to find the legal help they need.

“This project will focus on working with local partners and communities to identify innovative services that can increase access to legal services.”

She added: “We know this is hugely important because the majority of people and small businesses don’t seek legal help either because of concerns about affordability, or simple lack of confidence and familiarity with the legal sector. This work is, particularly timely in the context of the pandemic and the lasting impact it will have on communities, the economy and our readiness to use tech to solve problems.”

Business Minister Lord Callanan said:

“Good regulation should spur entrepreneurship, not stand in its way, and this project will help keep the UK at the cutting-edge of innovation.

“This project could pave the way for exciting developments in the sector, bringing benefits to British businesses and consumers alike.”

Barazza added:

“We’ll engage with local communities, law firms and local authorities to ensure everyone has a chance to contribute their views to our work.”

“We’re delighted the community of Swansea will benefit from this project which, we hope, will lay the foundations for how we can use technology in the legal sector to improve access to justice for communities across England and Wales. We are keen to help Wales pioneer the use of legal technology to improve access to legal services for all.”

UWE will run a similar project in the South West of England to compare and contrast legal need, innovative solutions and any new technological solutions.

The project has been made possible by a grant from the £3.7 million RPF. The SRA’s award is one of 21 projects being run by 16 organisations or partnerships. It will run from October 2021 to March 2022. The SRA previously secured a £750,000 grant from the RPF to fund the 2019/20 Legal Access Challenge, which was a competition for developing tech solutions.

The SRA’s current Corporate Strategy has three priorities, the second of which is to support the adoption of legal technology and other innovation that helps to meet the needs of the public, business community, regulated entities and the economy.

The announcement from BEIS can be found here.

The Legal Innovation Lab Wales has been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and Swansea University.