Legal Aid Agency going "fully digital"
Legal Aid Agency going ‘fully digital’.
Few legal institutions can have felt quite so beleaguered in recent years as the Legal Aid Agency. Cuts to the availability of Legal Aid, and a swathe of government reforms (undergoing challenge at the High Court), have made the agency a subject of concerned attention for many.
There’s cause for optimism however, if we’re to listen to the agency’s finance and performance director Catherine Little. Speaking at the Law Society’s annual legal aid conference last week, Little has declared that the Legal Aid Agency is all set to become ‘wholly digital’ within the next 18 months.
Much as this summons up a pleasingly sci-fi image of an agency staffed entirely by bots communicating in binary, it of course refers to ensuring all its processes are carried out digitally, rather than via cumbersome traditional (analogue?) methods.
Already she estimated that up to two-thirds of transactions within the agency are completed and processed digitally. Looking ahead, the agency is designing and implementing an offline variant of its client and case management system. This is intended to ensure that practitioners are able to access the system via personal devices when not connected to the agency’s network (doubtless a benefit, which is likely to increase productivity and efficiency – though there may be some practitioners wary of completely erasing the already blurred division between work and ‘life’).
But it’s not intended to be a one-size-fits-all approach: Little is keen to ensure the digitization of the agency’s practice is tailored to the needs of the client. She said, “A lot of work is done in some vulnerable sections of society, so there may be some areas where it is not right to be digital.”
Other tech innovations piloted at the agency will include a digital app allowing practitioners to submit bills online.
And it’s not just the Legal Aid Agency that’s hopping on board the digi-wagon: Mark Barrington, who leads on national defence at the CJS efficiency programme, has said that solicitors will be able to access their CJSM account via Apple and Android devices. No doubt there will be legitimate concerns regarding the confidentiality and security of sensitive data being transmitted to personal devices, but given appropriate security measures the move is likely to help develop more effective and efficient ways of working.
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