Latest work & Updates
Updated 17 May 2022
Innovation in technology is highly collaborative, and we're pleased to detail our current work.
The organisation Tech Nation have announced seven funding initiatives that you might find of interest.
Focusing on our SRA Innovate offering, highlights from the Technology and Innovation in Legal Services report, and the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund access-to-justice project, the event reflected the exciting hub that Leeds has become for Legaltech. It was well attended and featured speakers from the Leeds Law Society, a panel of Legaltech startups and Leeds City Council who are committed to supporting the industry.
The event was recorded on YouTube and can be viewed here.
The focus of the event was on smart legal contracts: pieces of computer code that can automatically perform transactions when certain conditions are met, using a distributed ledger platform.
Herbert Smith Freehills have also produced a short video detailing how smart contracts work.
Smart legal contracts offer an exciting level of automation in contract development. Indeed, some of the predicted savings mentioned at the event – and even GDP improvements – were quite bold. The Law Commission have already concluded a study to show compatibility with English Law, while LawTechUK have also published a report on the capability and opportunity of smart legal contracts.
The SRA are continuing to support LawTechUK's sandbox programme as part of the Regulatory Response Unit and look forward to supporting research in this space.
More than 40 law firms, tech startups and legal service organisations joined our recent meeting with the government department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEISto discuss questions around skills, funding and awareness to support adoption of technology in the legal sector.
Key issues discussed included:
- The definition of lawtech, and whether it should cover both the back office software that helps run a law firm through to more advanced, AI-driven tools for contract production or document discovery, for example.
- Whether smaller firms are facing the greatest barriers to adopting technology and, as they are the ones from whom most members of the public seek advice, is there a case for greater help?
- Questions were asked about reserved legal activities and the activities of lawyers day-to-day, depending on the sector of law practised, the challenge of developing technology skills will be different in different sectors.
- Technology is moving so fast that it is very difficult for firms to make informed choices. Firms need solutions to give them what they need now but also help future-proof. It would help if technology providers worked together to provide more open data on what options are available.
- Some thought lawtech is too firm-focused, with scant focus on provision for clients. This may be overcome by conducting very quick, low-cost proof-of-concepts to understand requirements more clearly, demonstrate benefits and think about clients to all groups more readily.
- BEIS is working with British Standards Institution and others to implement a joint action plan that unlocks the role standards can play in supporting innovation. They were keen to hear from real-life business experience in that space.
- We heard from a private practice that had successfully secured its own funding from Innovate UK to develop its own solution for the market. They had recently been in touch with SRA Innovate for regulatory support; we would warmly welcome others to do the same.
The meeting was invaluable to the SRA to help us validate our planned activities in lawtech this year. We will be working with BEIS to devise follow-up events with this group to respond to the challenges raised. If you would like to attend the next session, please get in touch.
Hear what our expert panel had to say about key issues relating to how law firms can adopt new technology, while still remaining complainant with our rules and regulations.
Included in issues discussed are:
How can I ensure technology is suitable for my practice and as good as it claims or the way I understand it?
The panel felt that trust is a barrier to the adoption of tech, which means that lawyers and consumers both need time, exposure to become more comfortable with it. More cutting-edge technology should have a combination of tech with human oversight ensure the correct level of quality and output.
The SRA do not endorse particular products or solutions, but we ask that people get in touch via SRA Innovate to discuss any concerns or barriers in adopting new technology.
How do I know if the tech I purchase will work for my practice and how do I avoid wasted costs in purchasing bad tech?
The panel recommended that buyers should focus on the outcome you wish to achieve with using tech, then undertake a trial or at the very least a demonstration of your chosen product. Buyers should check if the tech solution is right for your organisation. The business change and training element of tech adoption is also important; check that the solution does everything your supplier says it should and does it really well.
The SRA can bring law firms and innovators together to deliver real-world proof-of-concepts or trials to demonstrate benefit, de-risk solutions and link innovators and law firms to sources of government funding such as the ‘Help to Grow’ scheme, Smart Grants for innovation and tech development, and services provided by the British Business Bank.
How do can I make product choices which are compliant within the SRA framework?
Panellists commented that currently, there is no standardised approach. However, there are practical steps you can take. Compliance with ISO 27001 Information Technology, Security techniques, and Information Security requirements.
The ICO informed us that you can check if a vendor has paid a fee to register at the ICO as part of the Data Protection (Charges and Information) Regulations 2018 for every organisation that processes personal information.
We have provided some tips on our SRA Innovate pages to help firms on compliance issues.
Transparency for consumers is important. Will the SRA provide a badge for approved tech?
The SRA does not commercially endorse particular products. The panel recognised that it can be difficult for smaller law firms to find time to carry out extra checks and this can be a barrier in the adoption of tech. Currently, the SRA are working on a project involving consumer segmentation within the legal services market. This will help us to understand if certain consumer segments or areas of law stand out as potential tech hotspots.
In the closing remarks, the SRA encouraged communication with the Innovate team where we can offer support in adoption of tech, share best practices, and offer feedback. Moreover, the SRA can coordinate across other organisations who may be able to further assist with your query building trust in the tech you are looking to adopt.
In July 2021, we published our 'Innovation in Legal Services' report with Oxford University.
The research found that revealed that while the majority of law firms were making increasing use of day-to-day technology, the development of bespoke legal technology was largely focused on advances which would benefit larger corporate clients.
Meanwhile issues such as the availability of funding, scalability and a potential skills gap are the biggest potential barrier to game changing long term developments.
We recently ran two SRA Innovate events in both Liverpool and Cardiff. With more than 100 attendees from local law firms attending across both sites.
We explored two common themes at each event: making your business fit for the future and how consumers choose and use legal services. We also heard great best practice examples from within our sector.
The discussions were rich and included a great deal of audience participation. Key takeaways were:
- Think about what innovation means to you. It’s not solely about technology or making more money; behaviour, outcomes, supporting and developing your staff and efficiency are the main considerations
- Start small and look at the top 10-15 issues in your business. Get the most motivated in your team to look at these and give them the time to explore it
A Collaboration workstream: to develop a framework of high-level principles as a common platform to respond to innovators making contact from other jurisdictions.
A Communication workstream: to structure the discussion into topic areas or areas of activity to draw out examples of good practice and case studies that highlights how to encourage a conducive environment for innovators to operate in.
A Consumer-focused workstream: to work with our data protection and privacy regulator, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), to highlight potential data issues and then work through any different approaches to dealing with them. Where possible, we will seek input from other agencies within the Agile Nations group to highlight the range of ways these might be addressed.
Read more on our Agile Nations programme.