Civil society groups take SRA’s top legal technology prizes



Groups developing software to help survivors of domestic abuse navigate the court system and to answer legal questions about people needing social care were today named as the winners of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s government-backed technology competition. 

Citizens Advice service RCJ Advice with Rights of Women and Access Social Care, a spinoff from Mencap, will each receive an additional £50,000 to continue development, on top of £50,000 already awarded to them and six other finalists, in the Legal Access Challenge run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and technology foundation Nesta Challenges. The intiative is funded with £700,000 from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’ Regulators Pioneer Fund. 

CourtNav from RCJ Advice and Rights of Women 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. FLOWS (Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors) empowers women to easily find clear information and local legal support as well as offering a secure webchat app. The FLOWS discussion forum also enables practitioners to share advice with peers via a secure platform.

Alison Lamb, chief executive of RCJ Advice, said that the £50,000 prize would enable the system to be extended to the public more quickly – a need made more urgent by the Covid-19 crisis.

Chatbot, developed by Mencap and Access Social Care with pro-bono support from computer giant IBM, harnesses IBM Watson machine-learning technology to generate online answers to legal questions. It has so far been applied within a ‘protected group’ of advisers. Kari Gerstheimer, founder of Access Social Care, said the prize money would help the development of a public-facing product within 12 months, which could potentially be shared with other advice services. ‘Hopefully within three years we can become a centre of excellence across the legal advice sector,’ she said. 

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SRA chair Anna Bradley, who chaired the judging panel, said: ‘Too many people struggle to get legal help when they need it and I think there is a huge opportunity for technology to revolutionise the way people use legal services. The events of recent weeks have shown the powerful impact that technology can have in supporting the public in difficult times.’

Overall, the competition attracted 117 entries: 66 from commercial companies, 24 from individuals, 13 from charitable organisations, seven from social enterprises and six from higher education institutions. 



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