“As with comedy, timing is everything. In circumstances where within a matter of weeks, if not days, law firms have embraced ways of working that previously were entirely impossible and impractical, then there is a real opportunity to promote the take up of technology to support their people and processes.” Stuart Whittle, business services and innovation director, Weightmans. 

The legal sector has widely welcomed a new initiative between Tech Nation, the Lawtech Delivery Panel and the Ministry of Justice, to support digital transformation, including the launch of a LawTech Sandbox. 

LawTechUK, which has been facilitated by investment from the UK Government last year of £2million, will focus on increasing awareness and understanding of lawtech and fostering transformative innovation for the legal sector. 

The initiative includes the LawTech Sandbox, an SME Dispute Resolution platform, an online hub and training centre, and guidance and tool kits. 

The Sandbox is inspired by the FCA’s Regulatory Sandbox, which was set up in 2016 to support innovative UK financial services firms delivering in the interests of consumers. It has been widely attributed as playing a key role in the growth of the fintech sector.  

With the COVID-19 crisis accelerating the need for change and digitisation of the legal industry, The Sandbox will bring together technologists, the legal and business community, and public bodies, to support more innovative legal technology coming to market.  

It will be delivered in collaboration with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, Legal Services Board, Information Commissioner’s Office, the Ministry of Justice and others.  

Whilst the pace of technology adoption in the legal sector has been slow to date, investment in UK lawtech tripled in the last two years, with starts ups and scale ups in UK lawtech now attracting a total of £290 million in investment and employing nearly 4,500 people.  

Stuart Whittle, business services and innovation director at Weightmans told Legal IT Insider: “As with comedy, timing is everything. In circumstances where within a matter of weeks, if not days, law firms have embraced ways of working that previously were entirely impossible and impractical, then there is a real opportunity to promote the take up of technology to support their people and processes.”  

What’s interesting if not surprising is that innovation in technology is now being seen as a potential post COVID-19 saviour. Asked for her thoughts on the launch of LawTechUK Dana Denis-Smith, founder and CEO of Obelisk told Legal IT Insider: “This is great news and certainly in this age of disruption, it’s a great reminder that tech can come to the rescue and really embed innovation.” 

She adds: “As a female founder, obviously I hope that the community that takes part will be diverse – both in terms of supplier diversity (SMEs not just the usual Big firms) but also from a pure D&I perspective with gender/ BAME.” And says: “It shows that it was felt we needed a more coordinated effort to drive and embed innovation so it’s a great endorsement that more not less innovation is needed as we enter the second decade of deregulation in the UK legal market. For those of us advocating for change – from new delivery models, new ways of thinking about where and how people work and how to reimagine a profession that hasn’t really worked for everyone – consumers and professionals alike – it is certainly a great start for a wider conversation and an opportunity.” 

This echoes comments made in a Law Society press release in which president Simon Davis said: “Innovation in technology is a key driver of productivity growth in the legal sector. The adoption of new technologies could boost the sector up from 1.3% per year to 2.7% per year – and every £1 spent on legal services supports nearly £1.50 in spending across the entire UK economy. 

“This move will provide a huge boost to innovation by enabling start-ups and law firms to test propositions without falling into regulatory breach. 

LawTech director Chris Grant said: “The Legal industry has struggled with the adoption of technology, and has been somewhat resistant to change. Recent events have brought about a shift, firms are having to try new approaches and think about how to do things differently but there are still hurdles to overcome. The introduction of the Lawtech Sandbox is a huge leap over one of these hurdles; along with new levels of collaboration across the ecosystem this gives an opportunity to turbo-charge the industry and bring about real change.” 

New platforms 

The new SME dispute resolution platform will offer an alternative, elective method to resolve late payments and address the £11.6bn paid in litigation fees and the £50bn in late payments currently arising each year. 

Plans also include building the Lawtech Online Hub and Training Centre, an online environment with free digital courses on legal technology and open access data on the lawtech sector, and releasing a series of Lawtech toolkits addressing areas of legal uncertainty or challenges around new technologies, including on any matters arising in the Lawtech Sandbox. 

Dr Anna Donovan, Vice Dean (Innovation) for the Faculty of Laws, University College London, said: “Knowledge is at the core of what we do and fundamental to the collaboration, curiosity and confidence that is necessary to support the digital transformation of the market. Now, more than ever, it is critical that the whole sector has access to reliable and multi-disciplinary education and training. The Lawtech Online Hub and Training Centre will meet this need by offering a single-source of authoritative information, providing substantive and skills-based training that can be accessed remotely and for free by the whole sector.” 

LawtechUK is also launching a search for a technical delivery partner for the Lawtech Sandbox. Interested parties can find more information here. Plans will be confirmed over the coming months, as the Lawtech Sandbox pilot is established.  

Additionally, applications have opened giving the opportunity to join the Lawtech Delivery Panel, to support the work of LawtechUK. Of particular interest are technologists and leaders in the field of lawtech, passionate about advancing the legal sector through technology, for the benefit of all.  

Further comments and quotes: 

Christina Blacklaws, Chair of the Lawtech Delivery Panel, the industry-led lawtech forum 

“The exciting and broad range of projects we are launching today as LawtechUK will help place technology at the heart of a new era of legal services. Our panel members represent industry, business, academia, regulators and government, to serve that aim. We look forward to further extending our membership within the lawtech community, and to collaborating across the sector to ensure global leadership in legal services for years to come.” 

Gerard Grech, Chief Executive, Tech Nation 

“The UK has a world-leading legal sector. Businesses are operating within a challenging environment and need the leadership of the legal sector more than ever. The tech community can help us meet the challenges and embrace the opportunities we face. We at Tech Nation are committed to supporting the growth of lawtech and the digital transformation of the legal sector, through the targeted work programme announced today.” 

Jenifer Swallow, LawtechUK Director, Tech Nation 

“Covid-19 is bringing urgency to the task of restructuring the delivery of legal services and systems worldwide. Through the LawtechUK work programme we have announced today, we will bring practical support and advancement to enable this, helping the UK legal sector lead this global transformation.” 

Peter Hunn, Founder, Clause & Accord Project

“The work of the Lawtech Delivery Panel has demonstrated that the UK is at the very forefront of the advancement of legal technology. As the positive reception to ‘remote courts’ and the UKJT Legal Statement on Cryptoassets and Smart Contracts has recently shown; creating an environment in which these technologies can be safely developed and iterated upon is critical to their development and adoption. Initiatives like these are incredibly exciting as they expedite the inevitable intersection between law and technology.”