Digital delivery of legal services to people on low incomes 2017-8: what you need to know

The latest annual review for 2017-8 of developments in the digital delivery of legal services to people on low incomes has just been published by the Legal Education Foundation. Reading this is, of course, an essential for all in the field – just as much were the reports for the previous year , 2016 and the original report published at the end of 2014. This is short Q and A summary in which nuance has been sacrificed to readability.

Any ‘killer app’ or lead project this year?
Nope. Onetime leaders the Dutch Rechtwijzer and the Australian Nadia chatbot were terminated during the year. The Hague Institute for the Innovation in Law (HiiL), which had been a leading promoter of innovation in access to justice, has concentrated on its development work. And the year has been characterised by solid, but largely unremarkable, progress as these losses have been digested.

In what categories can we understand development?
The report uses the following:

  1. Online information, advice and referral.
  2. Interactive provision.
  3. Virtual legal practice.
  4. Crowdfunding.
  5. Online Dispute Resolution (ODR).
  6. Online education and training.
  7. Innovative reporting

These may be a bit cumbersome but they indicate the width of innovation.

What is the most important development?
In terms of likely longterm and widespread effect, it is probably the beginnings of exploring the interactive capacity of the net – as manifest in‘s website and stemming from the legacy of the Rechtwijzer. You can see interactivity beginning to spread around advice websites with, for example, Ontario’s Steps for Justice site beginning to explore the use of US A2J author software. This also illustrates the early steps to international collaboration.

Linked to this is the extension of assisted document self-assembly of which two really good examples come from England and Wales eg and They relate to interactive guidance on applying for a disability benefit, a personal independence payment. The material helps the user to compile a case for the benefit and to understand the conditions that they must meet.

What is the most depressing development?
Sorry about this, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service of England and Wales. But, the leading global contender would be its online small claims court programme which threatens to atrophy the shimmering potential of the internet into an object lesson of what happens when you combine hubris, haste, austerity and a reform programme funded by court sales.

Worst sources of hype?
Claims for:

  1. artificial intelligence;
  2. chatbots;
  3. hackathons.

In any order.

Which is not to say that each is not important and has potential.

Most interesting developments?
Two projects make innovative  and unique use of the potential of digitalisation linked to conventional services. One is Project Callisto which uses tech to combat sexual harassment on educational campuses and the other is Just Fix, currently a New York based project designed to help with housing disrepair cases. Both use the reporting capacities of digitalisation to log crucial events.

Any conclusions and recommendations?
There is a need for more:

  1. evaluation, research, international benchmarking and leadership;
  2. thinking about sustainability;
  3. approaches to counter the digital divide;
  4. monitoring.

What should I do now?

Read the full report for a bit more subtlety and feed back your thoughts.

About Roger Smith

Roger is an expert in domestic and international aspects of legal aid, human rights and access to justice. Roger is a visiting professor of law at London South Bank University and an honorary professor at the University of Kent. He is a solicitor and has been director of the Legal Action Group, JUSTICE and West Hampstead Community Law Centre as well as director of policy and legal education at the Law Society, London, and solicitor to the Child Poverty Action Group. Roger was awarded an OBE in 2009 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Law Society in October 2012

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