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‘Tech poses a massive opportunity for access to justice,’ but will we see it actualised?

One founding chief executive of a community legal service discusses how technology can play a transformative role in boosting access to justice and talks about the difficulties of bringing legal tech into the community legal sector.

user iconJess Feyder 18 May 2023 Big Law
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Noel Lim, founding chief executive of Anika Legal, spoke to Lawyers Weekly on the topic.

How legal tech can transform access to justice

“Tech and AI can be used for legal service efficiency across all parts of service delivery,” explained Mr Lim.


“AI can streamline everything from intake to drafting to coming up with legal strategy.

“The client interfaces with basic tech they already know how to use, whilst on the back end, technology is increasing the efficiency of the service.

“That means there are more resources to go back into the bank, and back into the service.”

“That’s a massive win for access to justice,” stated Mr Lim.

“Only about 10 per cent of community legal needs get met, while the other 90 per cent don’t get help because there are not enough resources.

“There’s so much demand, and we’re not even close to meeting it.

“Tech poses a massive opportunity for access to justice, the problem is so severe, and these technologies pose a way to meaningfully tackle it, and move the dial on something that has been a huge problem for a long time.”

“When you have technology, especially something like generative AI, which poses an exponentially growing solution to the problem, that’s really exciting.

“The improvements that we can see are possible.

“Whether AI is used to meaningfully address access to justice is another question entirely,” stated Mr Lim.

Mr Lim spoke more about how tech could be used in an access-to-justice context.

“We might enable new business models, which would enable access to justice,” he said.

Mr Lim discussed how Anika Legal uses technology to boost access to justice.

Anika Legal runs student programs and provides free legal services. Their lawyers are supported by law students enrolled in practical training programs, and the programs are funded by universities that want to provide practical training to their students.

“This student model isn’t new,” noted Mr Lim. “However, it never really got big because students require a lot of supervision, it’s very time-consuming for supervising lawyers, and it’s not even worth it in the first place because of how many resources it takes.”

“However, when you introduce legal technology and education technology to streamline the role of the supervising lawyer and automate guidance for students so they can make the right decision on their own, you make the business model viable.

“The student programs cost less money to run than they bring in.

“Originally, this business model was making a loss, now it can break even or even be profitable because of technology,” explained Mr Lim.

“That’s enabled hundreds of thousands of dollars to come into access to justice — that’s an example of how technology can pose a really great opportunity to access to justice.”

Difficulties in bringing legal tech into CLC sector

“There are massive differences in the legal technology that the private legal sector uses versus what’s available in the access justice community legal centres (CLC) space,” noted Mr Lim.

“It takes a lot to bring in tech innovation that is reliable, measurable, and sustainably delivering impact.

“It takes time, it takes the right people, calculated risks, and sustained effort in the face of uncertainty.”

“A lot of the time, technology needs to be built for a specific user, so private sector legal technology isn’t really applicable to the CLC sector and vice versa,” Mr Lim explained.

“When it comes down to it, the differences in funding practices make a huge difference — funding practices in the CLC sector aren’t conducive to tech innovation.”

“The CLC sector is currently under-resourced — centres are having trouble retaining staff and just keeping their head above water.

“That means tech development and long-term goals are deprioritised,” he explained.

“On top of that, funding is notoriously short term, so that creates a lot of uncertainty.

“The ability to plan and execute long-term projects — and tech projects are pretty exclusively long-term projects — are hamstrung by the way funding is provided.”

“These funding practices in the CLC space mean it’s really difficult to get tech off the ground,” he said.

Mr Lim stated: “When it comes down to it, it’s just a misalignment of incentives, at the macro level.”

“For instance, in the private legal sector, if innovation is creating value for your clients, you’re able to capture that value because of the client fees you get — there’s a positive feedback loop.

“When you create tech tools that create value, you get the value, and you can do more of it.”

“It’s different in the CLC sector,” he explained. “If you create a tech innovation which creates value for clients, you don’t necessarily capture that value — you only capture it if it seems valuable to your funders.

This misalignment weakens the link between the creation of value for clients and positive reinforcement.”

“What tends to happen is you build tech, but you want to make sure it captures value, so you end up building tech for the funder rather than the end beneficiary,” explained Mr Lim.

“At the macro level, this misalignment of incentives makes it really difficult to build legal technology in the access to justice space.”