I was privileged to be asked back to UCL Faculty of Law again this year to address LLM students and, via streaming, the excellent Law Without Walls initiative around the world. On this occasion, the subject under discussion was 'Access to Justice and Innovation'.
The idea was to explore whether innovative technology could alleviate hardships caused by eroding access to justice primarily caused by withdrawal of public funding, but also by the high cost barriers to privately paying clients. Preparation for the evening brought it home to me just how far our proud accessibility to justice, dating back to the introduction of legal advice and assistance in 1949, has fallen.
In those early years, around 80% of the public were eligible for legal aid, falling to 40% by 1973 and plummeting to 28% in 2008. Whilst I could point to government initiatives on mainland Europe, such as the Dutch Rechtwijzer online portal to help divorcing and separating people, I could not do the same for the UK.
There was also a lack of privately created online solutions to demonstrate, so I used my own RTR service to explain the benefits of automated expert systems and the true AI solutions that they can breed. I have no doubt that these systems will be prevalent in the global legal market within a few years.
I received some great questions from the floor and from as far afield as the USA and China, with a ready recognition of the benefits and challenges that the technology brings. So too, a realisation that the careers that these young people will follow in the law may not be in traditional roles, but could well be as the legal engineers envisaged by Professor Richard Susskind.
In addition to engaging in social questions about the perversity of diminishing access to justice in a civilised society and the imperative to ensure that those without easy access to technology for economic, social or educational reasons, I faced searching questions about commerciality, white labelling, direct access to the Bar and the importance of design.
I must thank Professor Richard Moorhead at UCL for his kind invitation to speak at UCL and I hope that those in attendance physically and virtually felt in some small way as enthused as I was by their presence. The event and question and answer session can be viewed here and here.