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Now or Never – Put Our Region on the LegalTech Map!

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Article by Dagmar Steffens

First Meet Up

The first ever Bristol+BathLegalTech Meet Up took place at Simmons & Simmons’ offices on 25 June 2019. Thank you to the over 80 attendees who turned up and contributed, and especially to our four spotlight speakers:

  • Sarah Phillimore from St John’s Chambers talking about Tech4Good in Family proceedings.
  • Dr Paul Matthews from UWE talking about a project producing an algorithm as a solution to a specific law firm’s challenge, by a process of design thinking.
  • Owain Morgan from Simmons & Simmons talking about particular challenges in his real estate practice, and tech solutions to it.
  • Sian Webb from Gapsquare talking about the gender pay gap in Law and technical support for tackling it.

We set out a vision for BBLT: to establish itself as an effective community that enables the region fully to participate in the opportunities that are arising from technological innovation within the legal services sector, be it the Business of Law or Administration of Justice. Bristol and Bath’s legal services need to be represented and put on the map nationally and internationally. This is in order to participate fully, funding, talent and productivity wise. Others are organising themselves, we need to do that, too!

Proposed Themes for Comment and Feedback
At the meet up, my co-chair Chris Bull and I presented four proposed BBLT themes, requesting comments and feedback from the community. This request remains open! Here are the themes suggested:

Theme 1 – Events
Through facilitating and participating in a range of different types of events, BBLT could support the developing regional legal tech community. BBLT could run or contribute to for example themed meet-ups, a series of speaker events, and conferences.
BBLT is already planning to present at Bristol Technology Showcase in November, and hopefully speak at Legal Geek in London in October. It could also send rapporteurs to relevant events, representing our region, and bringing back useful reports and stories to the community?

Theme 2 – Learning and Development
The objective here would be to enable and support businesses and organisations, and their future talent.
BBLT could collectively develop and deliver a shared learning programme of high quality, affordable skills practice and knowledge development around innovation, design thinking, project management, coding, business analytics, tech skills etc. Tech training support for law firms and organisations is high on the agenda. There are some grassroot activities in this field already, and BBLT could aim to collaborate, share and exchange knowledge and resources, and collectively define demand, gaps in the offer and required resource.
BBLT could identify, connect with and support future talent. It could arrange for interaction with students in HE and FE through inter-disciplinary innovation and technology focussed placements, student consultancy services, mentoring and other initiatives. The aim would be to foster inclusive talent development of skills, enterprise and employability.

Theme 3 – Knowledge Creation, Exchange and Application
BBLT could explore options to develop a catalyst vehicle, maybe an incubator/accelerator, to stimulate joint development between the regional legal and technology sectors. The London models of individual firms’ own ventures (for example Slaughter and May, or Allen & Overy) may not be entirely transferable or suitable, collaboration and pooling of resources is more likely to be key here?

BBLT could build opportunities for regional teams to form and partake in inter-disciplinary knowledge exchange and research. This may include collaborations between higher education institutions and the legal and tech sectors to access support and funding (for example through Innovate UK; Nesta; Industrial Strategy challenges; KTPs). A few funding calls are open right now, for example the Legal Access Challenge, or the Strengths in Places Fund, and some firms are already working towards KTPs in partnership with UWE.

BBLT could help identify and explore specific, practice area based challenges, and help ideas and solutions to be developed to prototype stage and beyond. Productisation support and solution driven design processes could be facilitated. The bigger picture is also important. Addressing individual challenges with individual solutions is useful, but BBLT could afford space to step back, horizon scan and clarify approaches.
BBLT could connect with design thinkers, service and product designers, creative technologists, business analysts, organisational experts and digital creatives to explore how the Law can become more accessible and legible to its users, and how lawyers can acquire and apply design (thinking) skills to empathise fully, identify and solve problems and communicate clearer, with technology as a significant enabler. BBLT could also focus on legal services business models in the region, and how to evolve them in order to grow the regional capability to benefit from innovation.

Theme 4 – LegalTech4Good, Ethics and Policy
The region is strong in charitable/pro bono work. However, this is not the only relevance of using tech for good in Law. The region is a major court center, and hopes to grow its capabilities further in this respect. Delivery of justice is under pressure in many areas including civil matters, family, employment and welfare law, and criminal justice to name a few. Many are already working to alleviate that pressure, especially on vulnerable or ill-equipped users of the court system or of public administrative procedures. BBLT could facilitate the development of technical and other innovative approaches to improve and support access to justice, both pro bono and business based.

BBLT could also bring together legal services providers and clients, citizens and consumers where possible, to debate and consider ethical (including D&I) and governance challenges of legal tech practice, deployment and innovation, and to seek to influence policy makers and legislators from the regional perspective.

As you might have spotted, we have just returned from a meeting with Lord Keen, discussing the regional legal tech landscape in the South West with him and senior MoJ civil servants from legal services teams, including the MoJ’s Head of Legal Services Innovation and the Head of UK Legal Services Policy, Legal Innovation & Stakeholder Relations. We established significant synergistic potential with some of the MoJ’s priorities, exchanged views and identified potential points for collaboration.

Darren Jones MP; Dagmar Steffens/Chris Bull, BBLT; Nick Lee, Bristol Law Society at House of Lords to meet Lord Keen/MoJ

achievable, even partly, if BBLT becomes a community. This needs hands-on, sustained and powerful involvement from you. Proactive participation and leadership, not only reaction to invitations or encouragement. BBLT is currently down to a handful of individuals wanting to do, rather than just talk. There are no funds allocated, no hours set aside, no ideas set in stone, no paths determined. BBLT needs to evolve into a truly collaborative, shared and supported effort, and fast.
Over the next 12 months, individuals, firms, organisations and businesses need to show they are willing and able to turn their clear enthusiasm and interest into concrete and sustained actions, collaborations and support. If you want to get involved, please do contact us – LinkedIn and Twitter DM are currently the best ways of making yourself known. We can do some limited stuff for you, but the greatest benefits will arise from direct involvement by you, early on. Do not ask what your country can do ….. etc etc …. Think about the themes above – where should the focus be, and how can you lead or support that focus, hands on?

BBLT will soon determine its governance structure, making sure that the support it requires to succeed is designed into it. If you have any insights or proposals in this respect, please also let us know.