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Better faster happier Access to Justice (part one)... hard can it be...?



Summer’s lease may have all too short a date...,  but are we in the midst of a real opportunity to transform access to Justice (and more fundamentally the Justice that comes after the access)?

In recent weeks I’ve attended a number of events talking about innovation, collaboration and opportunity. Are we really about to realise new ways to deliver legal support to those who need it?

Having worked on a number of scoping and implementation projects in the legal/advice sector over the last few years, you might pardon me for a degree of cynicism to go with my hope. This isn’t going to be easy and it’s not going to happen tomorrow but let’s start with a potential ‘journey’.

< Issue – issue clarification – support and reassurance – validation of legal need – provision of legal expertise –

positive outcome >

So far, so simple?  But it’s not is it?

I see four components to take account of here:

  • Needs – what’s the need and what problem are we trying to solve
  • Services – what service(s) are required and how do the key components of Strategy, Technology, Data and Change enable them
  • Ways of working – what changes are needed at macro and micro level, within organisations but also pan sectors
  • Resolutions needed (the actual justice) – what are we aiming for, simple representation and advice or making the pain/injustice go away, one person at a time

   I think what we are seeking is access to justice at the right time in the right way for the client and the receipt of justice as         quickly, effectively and painlessly as possible.  Where ‘need’ meets ‘positive experience’ and ‘results’.

   To enable this, we need the right information at the right time to make the right decisions.

   And for those individuals and organisations, we also need time and capacity for us to think about what we are doing (reflect)     and allow creativity (both in thought, word and deed).

   Which leaves us with a handful of barriers to transformation:

  1. Funding – money to invest in adequate technical infrastructure, staff time and tools/platforms
  2. Tools – the right tools for the right jobs (not just new bright shiny toys which don’t quite deliver)
  3. Data – without coherent data or information, tools are pretty much redundant
  4. Understanding of tools and platforms – in a world of similar options, how do you know what to choose, how to invest and how to make it fit?
  5. Expertise – you’ve got to know how to use that fancy hammer or all your problems start to look like a nail
  6. Change capacity – this is different;  how do you have space to change if you can’t keep up with the day job?
  7. Partner working – how can we effectively collaborate so we are greater than the sum of our parts?
  8. Mindsets of individuals and organisation leaders in relation to risk, fear of change and the potential for dehumanisation.


So in this brave new world of exciting opportunity, transformative technology (if applied in the right way to the right problem) and a few quid from funders, what’s the key to making it work?

Perhaps a consortium with real purpose-driven leadership, focused around two or three explicit problem statements, led by and embedded in the Not-for- Profit sector (but with private sector and government and academic contribution) and above all, client focused; because after all it’s the client who needs the justice.

And what might be the ‘acceptance criteria’ that enables us to see progress and at least the wayposts on our journey?  Well, perhaps:

  • Tools which are useful, useable and used – too often digital developments barely tick one of those three
  • Redesign which removes inefficiencies not the ‘digitisation of services’
  • Improved ways of working, thinking and culture in both individual organisations, the not for profit advice sector and the wider legal sector
  • Clear outcome targets so we can live up to Ghandi’s ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ – perhaps articulated through an explicit theory of change
  • Delivering value (and focusing on value first)
  • Taking a lifecycle approach to value/investment compared to risk. It’s not just the upfront cost, it’s the return on investment over the five to ten years of the platform or change. All of a sudden, that six figure investment, if managed well, doesn’t seem such a shot in the dark.

Better and faster and happier access to justice as an outcome. It is possible;  but by gum it’s going to take work – vision, relationship stewardship, excellent project management and a focus on the people we want to make the world better for;  not the vested interests of technologists or individual organisations.


Can we do it? Yes we can! 

Will we do it?  Alas the jury is still out,  Your Honour.


Dr Simon Davey, Freeman