Etic Lab are pleased to finally be able to announce our Innovate UK funded project in collaboration with our partners Lawworks, RCJ and Islington Citizens Advice and The Court Based Personal Support Unit. It is a collaboration borne out of discussions that began last Summer and turned into a bid for the Innovate call for support in research and development of AI and Big Data techniques for Legal Services, Insurance and Accountancy.

Advice agencies, support providers, clearing houses and public legal education providers all exist to help people when they need support to solve their legal problems. However, accessing this network of support is complicated. For many citizens, if they are unable to access the services that can provide them with timely and comprehensive advice or effective representation, they are left without a clear understanding of their legal matter or their options. This often results in the situation getting worse.

For the volunteers and staff who provide the support, there is an urgent need to explore this complex network of interlocking and overlapping services. For these service providers, knowing where the client has been before, what advice they’ve received, whether they have acted on that advice, what assistance other agencies can provide, whether the other agencies have capacity and the justice outcomes of the clients they help is crucial.

Despite the efforts of a number of commercial enterprises developing relatively focused applications and the widespread introduction of a variety of client management software systems, no products or services have been developed that can effectively collate this crucial data. In order to advise clients on which service provider they might need to access, where they are, when it is best to do so and importantly how much that service might cost; a system is required which can provide an overview of the complex network for any clients and all of the different advisors. This project is designed to test the feasibility of creating such a resource and adding functionality by deriving from the transaction data created, a picture of what can be done and ultimately what has best served particular client groups. Above all the project is intended to help volunteers and staff provide support that is intelligent and responsive.

This project seeks to create a more intelligent and responsive infrastructure leveraging a rich variety of actors, their diverse competencies and mission statements. Seeking not to overcome the differences and distance between these actors, but to leverage this as a strength, this project has the potential to truly make the task of providing timely, comprehensive and correct advice easier as it leverages data, experience and understanding to prototype services and technologies that do not make decisions, but to support clients/advisers to make the right decisions together – wherever and whenever a client makes contact in the ecosystem.

Issues around privacy, transparency and bias in systems will be addressed by creating a workflow that represents these values in action. We seek to support working across a range of agencies with disparate missions and capabilities, rather than addressing a discrete ‘problem’ in that space. We do not seek to delegate functionality to an application/AI but to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the service(s) that already exist by using the technology. The LawAccess website offered by the NSW government is a very good example of what can be achieved in this area. Our project aims to improve on this by contextualising resources such as guidance, training, model documents etc. in terms of the pathway(s) that will best serve a specific client. The self help model inherent in the NSW website assumes that people know what they don’t know; that they can plan with knowledge of what works best for people in their circumstances and with the priorities they start with. The affordable access community are well aware that peoples’ priorities evolve and that individual circumstances must be taken into account in creating, planning and executing a strategy.

The goal is to provide a more realistic model of what is required than the current information deficit concept that underpins so many applications and digital services in the legal arena.

We hope that this project will have significance beyond contributing to the success of the immediate collaborators and will have positive impact for the thousands of citizens seeking to access affordable legal services. Further, in developing a solution that creates a partnership with and provides support for individuals in need, we aim for this project to serve a model for Data and AI technologies that move beyond the black-box model and associated transparency, bias and complacency problems we have observed in the sector’s early efforts.

As we have repeatedly stressed, our success over the next 21 months will be driven by the extent to which we can work collaboratively with service providers and those with experience of working in and with the sector, including service users. If you represent any of these and wish to get involved, please don’t hesitate to get involved. We eagerly look forward to getting started!