HCLC addresses the Westminster Legal Policy Forum

On Wednesday 25th January 2017, Miranda Grell, HCLC’s development officer, addressed a conference organised by the Westminster Legal Policy Forum. The conference was entitled “Legal innovation and the business of law: technology, skills and new business models“.

Miranda gave a joint presentation with Jimmy Vestbirk, the founder of Legal Geek who organised a hackathon for HCLC last year.

Miranda spoke about about the successful partnership Hackney Community Law Centre has formed with Legal Geek and the work that now being taken forward after the hackathon.

Miranda told the conference:

Over the last few years, we have become increasingly interested in better utilising tech and online methods, to deliver advice to our very challenging clients. It came out of a project that was funded by the Big Lottery that the Law Centre led. We led a consortium of other local advice providers, including the Citizens Advice Bureau, Age UK, Turkish Advice Groups, Caribbean Elderly Groups, to come together, as part of this project. It was to try and get not for profit advice providers to work together, to think about how we could become more resilient, in a climate where there is a less public funding available. Because public funding is not coming back, it’s just decreasing.

It was about us finding ways of generating new sources of income. Thinking about being more commercially minded, which is something a lot of the not-for-profit sector never had to think about. This is important to us, as a law centre, because we’re under great pressure. Our back’s to the wall, we are constantly fighting for survival, so our interest in tech was not just an add on, or something that we thought would be nice to do, we absolutely see it as fundamental to surviving. If we can do things more efficiently, we can save costs.”

Jimmy spoke about Legal Geek’s ‘Law for Good‘ programme and wider law tech developments.

Jimmy told the conference:

So how did we start? Well, I wanted to get more technologists interested in the legal space. The legal space is not necessarily the most sexy space to get technologists, when they can go straight into Facebook at £100,000 a year. No offence, I know everyone loves the legal profession, but it isn’t that sexy.

So we did the Hackathon, I really enjoyed speaking to Miranda, and the Hackney Law Centre, because they genuinely… I got a bit bored of speaking to lawyers, who were really interested in innovation, but as really a buzz word, and they were doing it for not necessarily the right reasons. Hackney Law Centre, and the Law Centres Network, really are interested in innovation to improve delivery of legal services, because they don’t have any money. They don’t have billable hours, they have to be more efficient.

So that was where the interest was borne. We’ve done two Hackathons, we’ve had over 300 coders donate their time. So they come along to campus, 24 hours, they stay up, they code, they build solutions. They paired up with lawyers, and they ended up pitching really quickly their solution, at the end of that, and being judged.

And we had some law firms entered, and Freshfields actually won our first Hackathon. They’ve gone on to build a virtual receptionist for Hackney Law Centre, which is going to roll our shortly.

Commenting on her participation in the conference, Miranda Grell said: “It was great to address the Westminster Legal Policy Forum Legal innovation and the business of law: technology, skills and new business models conference. Over the last few years, HCLC has been working with other lawyers and tech entrepreneurs to see if we can make better use of tech at the Centre. I was delighted to co-present with Jimmy Vestbirk who continues to be extremely supportive of HCLC and our work.”

Miranda and Jimmy’s session was chaired by Lord Clement-Jones.