Innovation and the Big Mo

Political campaigns, and the journalists that surround them, love to talk of the big Mo. Momentum. Legal aid’s very own Jeremy Corbyn lookalike, Roger Smith,* has prayed in aid the idea that innovation momentum is on the up (follow his blog here, it is terrific). And so it is. I would agree.  He develops the theme in his latest report for the Legal Education Foundation. I have been having a read, and thought I would give you my quick thoughts – partly to distract me from mocking some of the quotes and statistics in this week’s other offering of similar ilk from the Law Society (which mocking aside, has some things to commend it: read it here).

The trouble seems to be that for all that the innovation world is awash with ideas, and stories, and hopes; when it comes to access to justice, the innovation world is not delivering. There are stories, many of which quickly become quite familiar,  but there are no real success stories yet and very little data. There are nearly men, and promising new kids on the blocks but none have so far delivered at anything that looks like scale. Rechtwijzer – for all that I totally agree it is inspiringly designed by marvellous folks at HiiL – has been in the paradigm-busting new hope for a while now category and perhaps needs to show us that it is delivering the transformation it has promised.

This lesson is written, I think, carefully and quietly throughout Roger’s report. It is one reason why it will repay careful reading. He camouflages some of his concerns in a necessary and genuine optimism but from his report I take these as some of the key difficulties for innovation in access to justice:

  • A lack of leadership and resources (especially in the UK where it contrasts poorly with parts of the Netherlands, Canada and Australia) – governments and universities, amongst others, have failed to step up to this challenge;
  • The growing (need for?) likelihood of, and threats posed by compulsion into online dispute resolution models.
  • The lack of performance standards and objective evaluations of innovation. This is one reason why stories is often all we have to go on, and why we should be sceptical that innovation is delivering (yet) in A2J terms, and often elsewhere.
  • And the apparently trenchant (I sometimes think somewhat exaggerated but still very serious) problems of the digital divide. This is mission critical. Great systems have to interface with less great humans. Roger’s section on chatbots vs websites is important: he likes the websites because he can read and judge them. Chatbots – well who knows whether they work – but he can see people will use them.

Anyway, Roger’s report. Read it. And the Law Society’s too (check out the case study on Hodge Jones and Allen for instance). And notice the absence of data, and the quality of the data that does exist, and the hopes, and wonder at what might be realised but also how.


*To be fair, Roger’s beard aside, he doesn’t really look that much like Jezza, but it is Friday, and I thought it would be funny.

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