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‘Private firms are crucial for enabling community legal sector to use legal tech’

The founding chief executive of a community legal service discusses the negative implications that can come from the community legal sector lagging in tech creation, and the role the private law sector can play in enabling the solution.

user iconJess Feyder 31 May 2023 NewLaw
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Noel Lim, founding chief executive of Anika Legal, spoke to Lawyers Weekly on the topic.

Recently, Mr Lim spoke to Lawyers Weekly about the massive opportunity technology poses for boosting access to justice. He also outlined some of the barriers facing tech adoption in the CLC sector.

Negative implications of CLC lagging in legal tech creation


“The social sector is getting further left behind in terms of using technology to provide services.

“This is occurring due to reasons like funding practices and the misalignment of incentives,” he explained.

“The risk here is that we’ll continue developing better and better tools to get things done, but forget that we can use them to great effect on the most pressing social problems we face.”

“There’ll be a huge opportunity cost where we don’t start to make up ground for that 90 per cent of people who don’t get the legal help they need.

“It also means CLC staff will miss out on those critical digital skills that are needed to work elsewhere in the legal industry, so that gap will widen as well,” noted Mr Lim.

Risk-averse legal culture can stifle tech adoption

“Being trained as a lawyer makes tech innovation more difficult in many ways, especially in the CLC sector,” Mr Lim acknowledged.

“Lawyers are trained to mitigate risk, which is going to lead to a culture of risk aversion.”

“But risk is essential for innovation, so there’s a clear tension there.

“You can think of this as a misalignment of incentives on an individual level, where lawyers are not encouraged to take risks generally, so that culture is going to flow into how they utilise technology,” he said.

“Lawyers often override the people that should have more of a say in how tech is developed, like software developers, business analysts, UX designers.”

“Across private law and the CLC sector, you see technology that is developed too much by lawyers, and then it’s not appropriate for the end user,” stated Mr Lim.

Private sector crucial to the solution

Mr Lim explained: “For the CLC sector to properly leverage tech for access to justice, the solution is to build digital capability within the sector.

“This is super hard to do, very long term, and very expensive, but that is clearly the solution that we need.

“That’s the key to all of this — the very hard work of building digital capability within the CLC sector.”

“Private law firms and legal tech companies are crucial in enabling the CLC sector to use legal tech for access to justice.”

“They can help by using their tech expertise to build tech and help the CLC sector build capability.

“At the same time, there’s another equally important piece of this, which is that they must trust the CLC domain expertise,” explained Mr LIM.

“Lawyers often think they’re right,” he noted. “This is sometimes true when you have someone coming in in a consultant capacity, where they don’t listen to domain expertise clearly enough.

“When we’re designing solutions, the gold standard is to have it designed by the end user — the client with the lived experience.”

“There are two wings of the butterfly — one is that the private sector legal tech can greatly assist the CLC sector in building digital capability, but the other is that it will only be impactful if they genuinely listen and trust the CLC and their expertise in the development of that capability and all the tools,” Mr Lim noted.

“One thing, which there’s a lot more space for private firms and tech companies to do, is take larger risks and take longer-term bets on how they can assist the access to justice community with their skills and technology.”

“There’s often quite conservative support given by the private sector — because lawyers can be very risk averse. But if you limit the risk, you’re also limiting the potential reward.

“Where private law can find teams they trust with shared priorities, I think they should take some bigger and longer-term bets. It might seem riskier, but it will have a disproportionately higher, mutually beneficial reward because of it,” Mr Lim explained.

Finally, Mr Lim discussed how legal tech innovation in the CLC sector could bring benefits to the private sector.

“If you build legal tech for vulnerable communities, that will often mean it’s translatable to assist cohorts who are less vulnerable,” he explained.

“But the other way around doesn’t necessarily work. If you have a tool that helps a cohort, it may not help a more vulnerable cohort.

“CLCs help clients who may be more vulnerable than those going through the private sector, that means that a lot of the technology that would be developed in the CLC sector would be applicable to private practice.”

“There are options for law firms and legal tech companies, or even in-house legal, funding CLCs to develop tech tools which would have a massive social impact, and which they would then have the rights to a license for, and would be able to modify it and integrate it into their own practice,” explained Mr Lim.

“That’s the sort of thing which I would hope will be increasingly seen as a win-win for both private and CLC sectors.”