Technology and access to justice: benefits of overcoming barriers outweigh the challenges says Law Society

September 16, 2019

The Law Society has published a report on Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law. In summary, the report’s findings are that there are significant barriers to adopting technology in the justice and legal sector. However, the benefits of technology outweigh the challenges. There is best practice across the legal and justice sectors on innovative uses of technology which enhance access to justice.

The Law Society conducted research to explore whether technology is the key to improve access to law, justice and rights. Based on an assessment of various initiatives, qualitative interviews, and an academic literature review, the Law Society found that, while it has a role, technology is no silver bullet for making the justice and legal system more accessible.

The report states that making legal services and the justice system accessible to all is a pillar of the rule of law and the cornerstone of the legal profession, which strives for excellence by providing advice of the highest quality that is affordable. The researchers found that there is a shared determination in the sector for solicitors to be a trusted source of information and advice for all clients, including the most vulnerable. The sector is not shying away from embracing technology and that it was encouraging to see firms and organisations of different sizes trying new and diverse technologies, learning lessons from their use and purpose. Although the barriers to technology adoption in the justice and legal sector are significant, the benefits of overcoming them will outweigh the challenges.

The sector also recognised that on occasions face to face advice is irreplaceable for certain types of clients or cases – technology can aid this process, but it is not a substitute. Its use should be coupled with better data management, information sharing and coordination in the sector. Knowing who is developing what, and for what purpose, is an essential step to help the voiceless who are not able to access justice.

A blueprint for innovation is needed to put technology into context and give it direction. This blueprint should put the person with legal needs at the centre and framed by a combination of changes in mindset, process, product and service empowerment. 

The Law Society’s key recommendations are as follows:

  • Acknowledging that technology is not, on its own, a silver bullet. To achieve its potential, it is important that a blueprint for innovation is developed. This blueprint should be centred on the person with legal needs and framed by the principles and resources of the organisation.
  • The UK government should recognise that any technology-based initiative aiming to promote access to justice will only be successful if users are ultimately able to understand and access legal advice directly from a qualified lawyer who can help them resolve their problems.
  • The advice sector and private practices should share information on the adoption and application of legal technology within their organisations, as well as any evaluation of these projects. The Law Society of England and Wales will provide an initial forum to facilitate the sharing of information and, in collaboration with the advice sector and private practices, create and develop a preliminary depository for the information.
  • Government bodies, private sector and third sector organisations offering funds for legal technology and access to justice initiatives should agree on a set of principles to encourage long-term investment in the sector through coordination and collaboration.

The Law Society hopes that the report helps to set the wheels into motion and makes an important contribution to the debate. The report states that with increased support from the UK government, and the right processes from lawyers and the third sector, technology can be the key to unlocking access to justice innovation.