‘Hackers, hustlers and hipsters’ not enough to solve access to justice problems, argues top law prof

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A ‘killer app’ is yet to emerge

A leading law professor has argued that it will take more than so-called legal hackathons filled with tech-savvy 20-somethings to improve access to justice for those on low incomes.

Roger Smith OBE, a visiting professor of law at London South Bank University, said there is an increasing realisation that “hackers, hustlers and hipsters” are “not enough” to solve some of the “intractable problems” facing the justice system.

In his annual report on the digital delivery of legal services to people on low incomes, Smith said “business people” have tended to go their own way, largely leaving the issue of how tech can improve access to justice to be explored by others (MacBook-wielding hipsters, perhaps?) who might be better placed to adjust to “inadequate levels of clean data, uneven existing provision of services [and] significant levels of digital exclusion and woefully thin resources”.

This, according to Smith, creates three legacies — “the possible ‘trickle down’ effect of generally applicable technology, such as case management systems; and the inspiration of comparable levels of change; and more specialist developments of the hackathon.”

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For the uninitiated, the professor also provides readers with a helpful hackathon explainer — and the roles each member plays:

“They generally last between six and 48 hours with participants forming groups between two and six in size. The ‘hacker’ is someone who can code, the ‘hustler’ brings the concept together, whilst the ‘hipster’ is the designer. But it doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, hackathons are fun places to make new friends and work towards a common goal.”

Despite hackathons growing in popularity across the profession, fuelled in part by the wider lawtech trend sweeping the City, Smith said that no “killer app” or “one overwhelming innovation” has emerged. “Nevertheless, technology continues to hold both the promise and the actuality of change,” he added.

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Brian B

Delete this website



As a MacBook-wielding hipster, I will try and delete this site for you.



I appreciate this comment isn’t relevant to the article, but could Legal Cheek write an article about the prevalence of nepotism at Squires? Like for example the fact that one of their trainees is the daughter of the firm’s Brussels Managing Partner?


Who are Squires? Sounds like some a name of a betting company or a real estate firm.



Squire Patton Boggs.



I don’t see what the issue is. The firm offers 25 training contracts per annum; is it that unreasonable to imagine that someone with (presumably) an excellent understanding of the firm via her father might also have the qualifications and aptitude necessary to get one of those TCs? Who exactly is harmed as a result of her having the training contract?






Having done some graduate recruitment for my firm in the past, this is a really difficult problem.

On the one hand, the recruiter might have known who she was, thought that turning down a Managing Partner’s daughter might be a bit career limiting and decided to let her in at the expense of a better qualified candidate who would no doubt be harmed by such a decision.

However, on the other, she could have been recruited by someone who did not know her connection to the firm. However, if she had insider knowledge of its recruitment practices, knew what to expect in interviews etc then she may have appeared a rather stronger candidate than she actually was. So this could be just as problematic.

I don’t think there is much the firm can do about the latter situation other than not offering permanent employment if she does not cut it after two years. However, even then I suspect getting a training contract is probably more competitive than getting a job two years later!

However, I think looking at the micro level problem is short sighted anyway. It is patently obvious in my line of work that some graduates have had far more recourse to coaching and other help before a recruitment day and all we can do as recruiters is to try and take it into account. I certainly hope that at a macro level, state schools become better at coaching their students for professional recruitment in the future, which relies heavily upon graduate intakes rather than just one to one interviews these days.



Why is it when I post inside, truthful information about what goes on at certain firms, Legal Cheek decides to delete those comments?



Is that a serious question?

Presumably, because they have a legitimate fear of being sued…






“Come on, Mr Simpson, you’ll never pass this course if you don’t know the principle of indirect effect”
“I’ll write it on my hand”
“With all those long, foreign case names? Good luck!”


Old hack

I have no idea what this article is about.



>”A leading law professor has argued that it will take more than so-called legal hackathons filled with tech-savvy 20-somethings to improve access to justice for those on low incomes.”

Artificial intelligence can only do so much. Professional services are, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, expensive (see Baumol’s cost disease, or the Baumol effect, for why this is). The only thing likely to change this is artificial general intelligence, in other words a computer that is indistinguishable from a human. We are nowhere near this. Presently, artificial intelligence is narrowly focused on specific tasks.

Access to professional services at subsidised costs, of which legal aid is a current example, is a form of taxation and redistribution, just like the NHS and any other form of benefits. The professor is right that ‘hackathons’ and similar gimmicks are unlikely to change this. Perhaps people, and families, must simply live (or die) within their means.



But people with low incomes do not have assets to make their legal cases worth anything.


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