Talking tech – Episode 1: Lessons from abroad – international approaches to regulating legal technology


Talking tech – Episode 1: Lessons from abroad – international approaches to regulating legal technology

DAVID FOWLIS: Hello I’m David Fowlis, Regulatory Policy Manager at the Legal Services Board. For this first in a planned series of podcasts I’m joined by Alison Hook, director at Hook Tangaza Consulting and formerly Director of International at the Law Society of England and Wales. Today we’ll be talking about how legal services technology is being used and regulated in jurisdictions outside England and Wales.

Very many thanks for joining us today. Before we get into detailed points, it’d be useful to understand first about how lawyers in other jurisdictions are using tech to deliver legal services, the technology they’re using, the extent of their use, and how this compares to the situation in England and Wales.

ALISON HOOK: In terms of how lawyers in other jurisdictions are using tech, I think you first of all have to remember that lawyers have slightly different functions in different jurisdictions. In some they’re very much focused on courts; in others they have a much more transactional approach and that to some extent has dictated the take-up of technology.
I think it’s also fair to say that apart from at the larger end of the spectrum, in terms of law firms, lawyers themselves are not using technology that much. In the paper that I’ve prepared for you, I’ve been looking really at two ends of the spectrum: on the one hand large law firms and on the other those who are providing technological solutions to consumer markets and the SME market.

In terms of how lawyers are actually using that tech, we first of all have to look at law firms, and if we look at law firms, we’re looking at really two kinds of main categories of how they’re using it. Predominately, their interest is in how they can use technology to improve their own internal functioning, so using it for example to replace costly human resources. They’re also using it to mine data, particularly around things like court documentation. This is particularly true in the States where e-discovery and court analytics have become a really big business. Over here the tendency has been more to focus on things like contract software, document management, document search. Those sorts of analytical tools which have increasingly started to use artificial intelligence.

There is also a tendency amongst the larger law firms to be influenced by how their clients are approaching these topics, so you tend to see amongst the law firms that serve financial sector clients that there is a greater take up than in some other parts of the spectrum of law firm activity. The other sorts of areas where you see pockets of sophisticated use of technology are in areas like personal injury, family law, or property, where it’s possible to get very large datasets and therefore you can begin to use technology in a more sophisticated way.

Then at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got law firms and more particularly new types of legal service providers who are coming into serve clients more directly and that’s where you start to see the emergence of platforms which consumers are able to use. Apart from law firms we’re also beginning to see – more particularly in the States, but slowly taking root here – more activity around the courts, where online dispute resolution and the growth of experimentation around how you can help speed up access to justice processes are beginning to be used elsewhere. Then there are some really interesting experiments going on around technologies like blockchain and public registries in all sorts of parts of the world, particularly around land registries and other types of public asset registers.

Overall, if you were looking across the sector as a whole, you would say it is not a very technologically advanced sector. However, in pockets it is getting quite sophisticated and becoming much more innovative. You can see how that could spread out given the right conditions.

DAVID FOWLIS: When you say that you’re not seeing a huge amount of technology being used across the spectrum, is it a question of law firms not having the ability to invest unless they’re a certain size or is it more a case of a conservative attitude amongst the legal profession?

ALISON HOOK: I think it is a variety of different issues, and they manifest themselves in different ways in different jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions you have the issue that law firms tend to be of a much more limited size. This is particularly true in France. It’s very difficult for a law firm to achieve any kind of size that might then allow it to begin to generate the capability and the financial resources to invest in itself.

You have other sorts of attitudes generally. The whole way in which lawyers are trained and the whole attitude of the legal sector is innately conservative. That’s not any surprise to anyone and so consequently that creates a tendency to be quite conservative about embracing new technology. You do then find that inevitably, as in any sector, there are exceptions to that, and very public exceptions where you get either law firms or individuals who become real pioneers and entrepreneurs, but on average across the sector there is a there is a sort of wait-and-see attitude amongst legal practitioners.

There are also constraints around codes of conduct in many jurisdictions. Because a lawyer cannot go into any sort of fee sharing arrangement with a non-lawyer, it makes it extremely difficult for them to do the kinds of things that are permitted here like to co-invest in a tech business. But even in some jurisdictions – in many jurisdictions in fact – to participate in the sort of lawyer-tendering platforms which are very early stage ways of increasing the accessibility and the visibility of legal services to the consumer and the SME market.

So, you’ve got conservative attitude, you have the codes of conduct aspect, and then thirdly there is the issue of data and the ability for the market to become big enough for it to actually to be viable for investment. Investment I think would be there, it would come, and there is evidence of big investment in certain pockets in the legal sector, but those pockets are ones where there is able to be a proven business model based on a very large market. For example, LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer are platforms which have achieved a certain size and are therefore able to raise capital. They’ve been able to reach that size because of the particular business model that they’ve chosen and because they are able to tap into the US market and try and go across as far as possible the bits of the US market where they don’t need to touch too much regulation. The real problem of the legal market is fragmentation which manifests itself through different legal systems, different jurisdictions, small markets, small law firms, all of that kind of thing. That also has a knock-on effect in terms of data collection. The ability to collect the datasets you would be able to train AI on, for example.

DAVID FOWLIS: Where would you say England and Wales fits in on that spectrum in terms of investment and ability to grow?

ALISON HOOK: I think that in terms of England and Wales, we’re not in a bad place. There’s a lot of technological work going on here in the legal sector. We’re probably one of a small number of jurisdictions which are in the lead on this around the world. If we look at the States; Australia; I would also give an honourable mention to Spain; and to some extent – more in terms of aspiration than actual achievement – Singapore.

If you look at US, UK, Australia, there you’ve got much of what’s really going on that’s interesting and each one of us has got a different advantage. I think the UK and to a lesser extent Australia, because they simply don’t have the size of market we have here, but they also have the advantages we have here of permitting lawyers to go into partnership with non-lawyers, lawyers to fee-share, lawyers to raise money, non-lawyers to create law firms, and the boundaries are much more porous. I think that that then sets the scene for technologists to be much less worried about where they’re hitting up against the boundaries. I think we still do have some boundaries here. Regulatory obstacles in the way of technology simply because it’s not like in another sector where you don’t have to think of it at all. You do have to think about it and you also have to think about what’s the market. There’s so little information about the market compared to, for example, areas of financial services where you can find big datasets that are around the market for mortgages or payments or foreign exchange or whatever. In terms of where we are in the UK, I think we’re in a reasonably good position, but I think that in the US there are certain advantages. Despite the regulatory obstacles in the US, they have a number of other advantages. One is simply being close to Silicon Valley. Having that engine of innovation has been hugely important. If you look at the role of Stanford University and Stanford Law School in terms of stimulating the growth of some of the real game changers in the legal tech world that gives you some idea of the role that a close association between the university sector and the legal sector can really help to generate real innovation. We’re not joined up in that way here as much. I think our universities have been very slow off the mark in terms of legal tech. It’s beginning now, but it’s very slow.

DAVID FOWLIS: Do you think it’s almost a case of technology in search of a legal application rather more than say lawyers thinking it’d be great if we had a piece of technology that would allow us to do this better?

ALISON HOOK: Yes. I think the short answer to that is yes, because if you look at where many of legal tech applications have come from, a lot of them have been technologists who’ve looked around for another challenge and they’ve said, ‘This is similar. What I’m doing might have an application in the legal sector.’ I think there is another strand which is quite interesting in terms of innovation which is if you think about, for example, the founders of LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, lawyers who are incredibly frustrated by the way things work and just decided to leave the sector and become technologists and start something. You will equally have some interesting examples of people who were technologists who had a problem that was legal or quasi-legal who thought there should be a solution to this, and they’ve gone out and created something. So, you tend to find people in those two categories.

DAVID FOWLIS: Okay, so moving on to look at consumers and the consumer experience of legal technology. What has that consumer experience of legal tech been so far, and how is it varying in different jurisdictions and from what’s happening here in England and Wales?

ALISON HOOK: In terms of consumers, I think that it’s very early days because it’s where the money is, where the market is, where the tech is going to have most impact, better growth prospects for tech firms. The focus has been very much on serving the internal workings of the law firms. So aside from a few developments, we haven’t seen that much really impact the consumer world of legal services yet. Although there are enormous possibilities. I think what we’ve seen so far has been some increase in accessibility and fixed-price options for consumers which haven’t existed before, and I think one of the things in which doing the research for this paper really struck me was the almost universality now of lawyer-search platforms and lawyer mediation platforms. Often, it’s not about really doing anything very radical initially, but about connecting people.
In terms of more sophisticated use of technology for consumers using, for example, various forms of artificial intelligence, that hasn’t really happened yet, or is happening in tiny little pockets. I think actually there’s some really interesting consumer stuff happening in France and Germany. I get the strong impression that some of those websites that exist that are there to help people deal with a problem, maybe they don’t start out thinking, ‘I need a lawyer,’ but they start out thinking, ‘I’ve got a problem with this airline and I want to get my flight ticket reimbursed.’ There are now offerings on the internet where people can get those issues much more easily solved for themselves than they could have done in the past, and the numbers taking those up in jurisdictions like France and Germany, and to some extent in the US as well, is really impressive. Sufficiently so to actually get traditional lawyers and their regulators a little bit concerned.

In terms of England and Wales, to some extent we haven’t seen as much as I would have expected to see, given that actually we probably have more tech development here. We’re more advanced in certain ways. We’re certainty more advanced in terms of some of the take-up amongst law firms, but I don’t know how exactly why. It hasn’t really taken off in the consumer market as much. Maybe it’s because we have got certain areas of law which have become quite commoditised and therefore not as expensive as perhaps, relatively speaking, they would be in France or Germany, like conveyancing or divorce or whatever. But I think from the consumers’ point of view what is interesting is the potential rather than what’s actually happened yet.

DAVID FOWLIS: Just going back to what you talked about initially here, where we’ve seen these services like ‘get your flight reimbursed,’ do you think it’s perhaps more likely that we’ll get legal services being offered, not as legal services, but as particular solutions to particular issues people have? Consumer problems or perhaps housing issues that have problems which are not just legal. Do you think it’s perhaps more likely we’ll see the innovation coming through that channel rather than lawyers saying, ‘We’re going to offer you legal services’?

ALISON HOOK: I think that would be the really exciting breakthrough actually for consumer legal services because one of the things that I think that is very easy for those in the sector to do is simply think, ‘Well, we’ll take what we do now and we’ll whack it on the internet, or we’ll automate this bit of process,’ without actually thinking from the design point of view. I think that’s where some of the concepts underlying technology, like user-centred design and user experience, when they really start to take off in the consumer legal market it will make a huge difference. One of the problems around – as the Legal Services Board’s research over the years has shown – is a lot of people don’t know they’ve got a legal problem, or they don’t classify it as a legal problem. They know they’ve got an issue, but they don’t know that it’s actually something that a lawyer could help them with, or another legal service provider.

Even if they do know that, they maybe feel like they don’t know where to find one or don’t know how to select one of the myriad different possibilities out there. ‘There’s nothing there that tells me whether this person’s better than that person, so how do I choose them?’

I think that ability to reach people through more functional websites or functional apps that lead people to help them solve particular problems or issues in the context of some aspect of their lives –a divorce, a family breakdown, or a house move – is going to make legal services much more accessible to people. I think it’s interesting that there are more websites and online services springing up in and around California, for example, that do exactly this, in that they focus on stages of people’s lives.
Now the problem that they face in somewhere like California is the boundary between the unauthorised practice of law, and the hand off to the lawyer bit is quite clunky. I think that’s where there is real potential to see the market develop in such a way that consumers can access services which don’t take the legal bit in isolation from other needs they might have. Their problems might involve financial services, therapy, some medical help. The more that legal services are permitted to operate in a multidisciplinary environment and a multifunctional environment, and law is simply something that’s embedded so that it’s almost invisible to people, the more accessible people will find it and the more legal services will be used and hopefully the more prevention there will be of problems.

DAVID FOWLIS: In E&W for example, it’s not like we don’t have some kinds of entrepreneurial law firms. If you think about certain sectors, like personal injury, you get plenty of ads for this but presumably there are other areas where it doesn’t work as well or law firms don’t go out looking for customers perhaps in the way that other businesses do.

ALISON HOOK: One of the problems for the consumer legal services market is that if you want to solve the problem of how to deliver legal services to people in a way that isn’t too expensive, then inevitably you have to look at some form of commoditisation and I think that so far here, most of the commoditisation that’s happened has happened in areas that are relatively easy to commoditise like property, or to some extent areas of family, but that then is limiting the areas which are accessible to people. That’s great for either consumers or small and medium size businesses that may want to access legal advice which basically says ‘Okay, you’re setting up a firm, you’ve got an employment dispute, you’ve got some other kind of issue, contract, whatever,’ and things come in nice little neat packages that suit the law firm or the legal service provider because they can achieve a sort of standardisation or certain degree of commoditisation. The challenge for the next stage of technology is how artificial intelligence can take us to the next level where we are actually providing a more bespoke service. So it’s less about, ‘Oh well, we can commoditise this,’ but it’s about how technology can provide people with a bespoke service but do it at a sufficiently low cost.

DAVID FOWLIS: Following on from that point about how regulation could perhaps hinder process, are you seeing that regulators are positive about the benefits of technology, or are they wary about detriment and wary about where things are going to go?

ALISON HOOK: Well, I would start by qualifying the word regulators, because if we’re looking around the world, we first have to acknowledge that there are a there are a wide spectrum of different approaches to lawyer regulation. There are many countries in which you have traditional sort of bar association. Bar council – something like that – so self-regulation or some kind of largely self-regulated professional body which controls all sorts of both regulatory and representative functions. Those kinds of regulators tend to be a little bit torn because on the one hand they are very concerned about what they perceive as their existing members, so they’re more concerned about competition coming in and undermining what they see as the gold standard of legal service provision which is a traditional thing of people getting their day in court. Then you have the more court-based regulators which covers a lot of Latin America as well as the US. There I think the attitudes of regulators are being driven, particularly in the US, by the judiciary, who are very focused on consumer issues and on litigants in person.

I think the wave of interest that they’re manifesting so far is very much around the courts and the court process and getting those improved. It will be a little time before that then feeds into those that are actually doing lawyer discipline and regulation because I think that’s a little bit of a leap. And there is also not a lot of resource in in those kind of regulators.
Then we come to the other category, which is maybe the model we have here, which you can also find to some extent in Australia, particularly in New South Wales and in Victoria. You can find a variant of it in Singapore and a variant of it in Ireland, where you’ve got more of an independent regulator who’s been set up with regulatory objectives. Although the models differ slightly, you’ll find that in those jurisdictions there is a much broader appreciation of the legal services market and the fact that lawyers are providers and there may be room for other providers. There is more emphasis on consumers in those sorts of regulatory models than in many others where you will not hear the word consumer in many jurisdictions in the context of legal services.

DAVID FOWLIS: You mentioned the fact that in a lot of jurisdictions you have the self-regulation model and the bar association model. There’s a tendency to want to have the gold standard and people’s day in court. Is that different, do you think, in the model we have here in England and Wales? That the regulators don’t look at it in quite that way. Are they looking at it more from that consumer approach?

ALISON HOOK: The model that that we have here has been in the last decade to encourage regulators to think about the ultimate goals of regulation as being primarily about improving the functioning of the market to such an extent that you actually are providing better outcomes and better access to legal services for everybody, as well as good standards. The two are not in an adversarial relationship.

It may be that if you try and set standards, you have to think about standards and the requirements that you’re imposing, and balance those out against the outcome that you’re expecting. But I think in many jurisdictions the regulatory model has increasingly moved towards this idea that somehow the more requirements that are imposed on legal services providers – so more CLE, more CPD, more insurance, more periods of qualification, higher requirements for qualification – that somehow or other that will all manifest itself in benefits to consumers.

DAVID FOWLIS: So, it might just create higher-priced lawyers?

ALISON HOOK: Yes, it just creates higher-priced lawyers

DAVID FOWLIS: And, on that, it’s probably not the greatest analogy in the world, but when you look at supermarkets, you have a range of supermarkets to hit different price points. In the UK, you have Waitrose at one end, Aldi at the other, but we don’t really see that in legal services, do we? In most markets, if there is a group of consumers that are not buying the services, someone usually creates a version of that service at a price point that those people can afford. Do you think we can have the situation here where regulation creates scenario where lawyers simply can’t create services that people can afford, so you end up with a bit of perfect being the enemy of the good in terms of consumers being able to get affordable legal services.

ALISON HOOK: I think there are is a strong element of that. I think one of the other things which makes life difficult for those that want to provide services to a consumer market is having enough information about that consumer market and having a real understanding of how it works, but secondly, I think it’s fair to say that consumers themselves are also quite conservative when it comes to legal problems. That’s where this idea of, how do you move people away from thinking that this is a legal problem to actually, ‘I’ve got a problem; law is just part of it’? People will also put off any kind of thinking about or preparing themselves for legal issues, like powers of attorney and a whole load of things you ought to really be thinking about when you have an elderly parent who is going to die at some stage. Just as there’s financial planning, there’s legal planning, but to most people, law is a distress purchase and, until we change that concept of how people think about legal services and approach it, it’s going to be difficult on the demand side as well as the supply side.

DAVID FOWLIS: Okay, we’ve talked a bit about how there’s obviously an issue with legal services being too expensive and people not being able to access them, but to what extent do you think regulators are looking at technology and thinking, ‘We could achieve a policy aim by getting technology out there’? How successfully do you think they’ve been in doing that, and are there any dangers with them trying to steer technological development from the regulator perspective as opposed to what the market, or consumers, might generate?

ALISON HOOK: First of all, I’d say it’s very early days for quite a lot of regulators. If we go back to the typology of regulators that I was talking about earlier, I think that there are marked differences in the way they have reacted. First of all I would say that those that are in the independent regulation category (i.e. they’re not owned by government and they’re not owned by the profession, but they’re steering a course that is set more objectively) – of which we count the English and Welsh regulators as well as the Australians – are beginning to focus on this really just in the last year or so.

So, the Federation of Law Societies in Canada, the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner, there are reflections going on but they’re still early days. They’re gathering information. They’re looking around at what the options are. I wouldn’t say that I’ve seen solutions actually applied. Probably around the world, the Solicitors Regulation Authority here is more in the forefront than anyone in terms of its engagement, but I don’t think anyone has yet done a kind of across the board look, real heart-searching about technology and how it might impact on codes of conduct or rules more generally. There has been a tendency to kind of say, well, if we just go more principles-based then that will work for everyone because it’s general principles. We can come back to whether that helps or not.

Then there is another clear strand amongst regulators – when I say regulators, they tend to be the professional regulators and the bar-led regulators. The bar-led regulators are much more likely – this is not a universal observation – to be negative about technology initially. Many of them, their first instinctive reaction was this is another challenge like the accountants coming into the legal sector, like the perfidious British starting their terrible alternative business structures, like law firms being listed on the stock exchange which just does not compute for them. In those sorts of jurisdictions, the initial reaction was very negative. More recently there’s been a sort of, ‘Oh, this is now permanent. This is not something which is just going to go away. It’s something which is actually beginning to pose us challenges in which actually there is a demand from within the profession to respond, so we better do something about it.’

There you’ve tended to see what I would almost call an appropriation of technology. There have been a number of places – France and Belgium – where the bars themselves have started the lawyer platforms. They’ve said, ‘Great. Okay, we will be the place where people can find legal services. We won’t allow the market to provide it.’

In terms of those kinds of jurisdictions where they’re trying to reach an accommodation, the risk for them is that what they’re doing is that they’re trying to suck technology into the existing regulatory structure, and that is going to limit the scope of what it’s going to do because the really exciting areas where technology could transform the legal sector is by how it will transform the existing model, not by making it fit.

DAVID FOWLIS: And do something different to what the current model does.

ALISON HOOK: Yes.

DAVID FOWLIS: So just briefly, obviously legal services is the only professional service area that is using technology. Is there anything that legal services regulators can learn from the experience of the medical profession and its regulators, or the financial services profession?

ALISON HOOK: Yes, I think that there is a lot in both areas, for different reasons. I think with fintech, fintech is more established than legal tech. It’s a much bigger market. It attracts much more investment. Their regulators are cooperating much more intensively around the world on fintech and how to respond to it. There is also evidence that within fintech, there is a greater tendency amongst the financial services regulators to set up user panels and consultative arrangements with new entrants

DAVID FOWLIS: Sandbox-type arrangements?

ALISON HOOK: Well not even just that but even just consulting on more widely understanding how the rules impact them, understanding how their world works and where the obstacles are to helping those services develop, which is something that perhaps is not evident in the legal sector, as we’ve mentioned. There’s a slightly less friendly approach in many countries to new entrants.

I think the other things which you mentioned – the sandbox approach, for example, that’s something which since it was first trialled here by the Financial Conduct Authority. There are examples of that springing up, different manifestations of sandboxes, but many of them have the same underlying goal which is to create a safe space to explore how you can introduce innovative services without undermining protections for consumers.

There are various approaches as to how those are being done. I think the other thing which I found quite striking is, particularly in the fintech world, the extent to which some of the regulators have taken the sandbox concept as not just being, ‘Let’s create a safe space. You come along and propose what you want to do, and we’ll see if we can work it out.’ They’ve taken the approach that, ‘We’re going to select people into our sandbox, so come along if you’ve got a proposition which fits these criteria, because what we’re trying to do is encourage more services in areas which we think are currently underserved, like access to finance.’

DAVID FOWLIS: So, again, what we were talking about earlier is trying to implement some policy aims.

ALISON HOOK: Yes. I think that’s a really important thing that both I would say fintech and, to some extent, in the health tech area, both of those are examples where there are regulatory approaches which are being much more proactive. There are exceptions, but as a general rule, the regulatory response from the legal sector has been much more passive and much more reactive.

DAVID FOWLIS: Do you think that the difference in attitude, certainly in financial services, has been just because they’re used to technology. They’re more used to dealing with computers. They’re more used to dealing with markets that have worked on an electronic basis for a long time. Is it just the idea of that sort of thing is much more embedded in their industry, perhaps?

ALISON HOOK: Possibly. That could also be said of the other area which is I think is worth the legal services sector being aware of which is on the medical devices front. I think that’s where you can see the existing regimes around the regulation of medical devices making it an awful lot easier for regulators then to segue into, ‘Now, we’re regulating medical apps. We’re regulating software as a medical device.’ That ability to make that conceptual leap was probably facilitated by the fact that
they were doing something remarkably similar before. Whereas you think about legal services – at the core in a lot of jurisdictions, lawyers are doing what they have been doing since the fifteenth century, or probably before that. Probably the Roman legal system has more in common with where we are today than perhaps what will come in the next century.

DAVID FOWLIS: Do you think there’s going to be a challenge for legal services regulators to get that technological expertise on board and be able to handle regulation of technology and understand it? Are they going to have to beef up their expertise in a way that financial regulators and medical regulators have, and is there almost a size challenge? Is it possible to be too small? Are there other issues with financial regulation? Obviously, we have the FCA in the UK. When you look at the US, is it because you have a federal-level regulator for financial regulation in the way that you maybe don’t have for legal regulation? Is there a sort of structural challenge here?

ALISON HOOK: I think size is important in this area because it’s no surprise that, to a large extent, the regulator that’s probably furthest down the road anywhere in the world is the SRA on this, because it has the size and consequently that also means it’s got a big dataset. Not necessarily a very good dataset, but you know, it’s got a big dataset. One of the things that I found interesting in terms of talking to a lot of regulators in preparation for this paper was actually, in many cases, people saying to me, ‘We’re thinking about it,’ or, ‘We’re not ready yet,’ or, ‘We’ve done a reflection,’ or, ‘We just don’t know.’
I think that there is a real lack of expertise and skills in terms of understanding technology, in understanding what it means, what it might mean, what it doesn’t mean, in the legal sector regulators.

I think there is a real opportunity for more sharing, more collaboration around the world, not just here. Even if there are regulators doing different things, what we’re talking about is establishing some sort of common understanding, some training, some terminology, some shared resource. It’s not like there are a whole load of people out there who understand technology and understand regulation who are available. Somehow or other, we’re going to have to grow.

DAVID FOWLIS: It’s a niche skill set.

ALISON HOOK: It’s a very niche skill set. We need to grow that group of people because they don’t exist right now.
DAVID FOWLIS: What lessons do you think legal services regulators here in England and Wales can learn from the experience of other jurisdictions?

ALISON HOOK: I think there are three things that I would highlight. The first is in terms of a lesson from legal regulators elsewhere in the world, and that’s to avoid being constrained by existing regulations, rules, regulations, codes of conduct, etc., and not just thinking we’ll apply the framework we’ve got. I think there is a real need for some completely blue sky, blank sheet of paper thinking.

The second is that I think there are real opportunities, real prospects around using the example of the conference of chief justices in the US. They’re judges, they don’t know very much about technology, but what they decided was that technology could be the key to something they’ve been looking for for a very long time, which is how to solve the access-to-justice problem. They more or less set a challenge across the board to every state in the US, every chief justice, to find ways in which technology could help with access to justice. We shouldn’t underestimate the galvanising approach of some sort of policy direction like that in terms of getting people going and focusing on

things. As long as it’s simply just an underlying issue that’s out there that you know you ought to do more about and you know you ought to find out more about, it never kind of bubbles up to the top of the list of things because, let’s face it, most regulators are short of resources, are short of staff, and have a lot of other more pressing issues around than something that might be going to transform the industry over decades.
The last thing I would say is a lesson to be learnt from the fintech world in particular, which is about increasing the knowledge base by learning from the industry itself. So, those that are at the cutting edge of developments. Many of them are very reluctant to come to regulators and have discussions with them. So, being more proactive and going out and searching and more friendly.

DAVID FOWLIS: This is technologists?

ALISON HOOK: This is technologists. But also looking across into other sectors to see what’s being done elsewhere and what analogies might be drawn in terms of regulatory approaches. I’m particularly enthused by the possibilities of looking at the health tech, medical devices regulation side of things.

Lastly, also learning from the fintech world in terms of things like data standards and providing the infrastructure that will help technologists then build businesses. We don’t have much data, we don’t have much data standardisation, we don’t have a lot of those kinds of automation facilitating approaches that they have got now in the financial services sector.

DAVID FOWLIS: Well, thank you very much for joining us today, Alison. It’s been extremely informative. Just to say that our next podcast will be with Professor Roger Brownsword of KCL and will be covering how professional services regulators in other sectors in England and Wales are addressing the issues of technology. Thanks for listening.