Fresh ideas for 21st century justice

We’ve identified areas where the civil justice system is failing those who need to access it most. Now, we’re working to bring new, practical ideas to the civil justice system, to help people on low incomes and small businesses solve their legal problems.
An effective civil justice system helps people to resolve disputes and realise their rights. But right now, it’s just not fit for purpose.

More and more people and small businesses cannot afford legal advice and cannot resolve their legal issues.

This can lead to loss of earnings, poor mental and physical health, unemployment, and homelessness – all of which rob people of their potential, increase pressure on public services and hold back growth.

At the same time, many small and medium-sized law firms are facing new challenges:

  • rapid digitalisation and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI)
  • cost-of-living crisis
  • changing consumer behaviours and expectations

Solicitors play a key role helping people understand and access their rights, and we want to make sure that the profession leads the conversation about how make our justice system fit for the future.

In March 2023, we kicked off a three-year project to develop solutions to some of the problems facing civil justice in England and Wales.

We’re working in collaboration with experts, small business representatives and consumer groups to propose practical changes to make the system work better for those on low incomes and small businesses.

We also work with our advisory group, who are a group of experts providing critical feedback in relation to the project.

Chair: Richard Atkinson, deputy vice president, the Law Society


  • Shruti Ajitsaria, partner and head of fuse at Allen and Overy
  • Lola Bello, Legal Services Consumer Panel
  • Edward Bird, founder and managing director, Solomonic
  • Dr. Natalie Byrom, UCL Faculty of Laws
  • David Cox, legal and compliance director, Rightmove
  • Rebecca Hilsenrath, director of external affairs, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
  • Sue James, CEO, Legal Action Group
  • Alexandra Lennox, director of growth and strategic partnerships at Orbital Witness
  • Jelena Lentzos, head of strategy and policy, Legal Services Board
  • Ashish Patel, programme head, Justice, Nuffield Foundation
  • Matthew Pennington, chair, UK Legaltech Association and director, Safe Capital
  • Neil Roberts, head of legal services, Which?
  • Phil Robertson, director of policy, Bar Council
  • Fiona Rutherford, CEO, JUSTICE
  • Sir Ernest Ryder, master of Pembroke College, Oxford and former senior president of tribunals and Lord Justice of Appeal
  • Kevin Williamson, director, Housing Ombudsman and ombudsman, Financial Ombudsman
  • Yasmin Waljee, lead of social impact practice and head of pro bono at Hogan Lovells
  • Paul Wilson, policy director, Federation of Small Businesses
  • Stuart Whittle, partner and chief Innovation and technology officer at Weightmans, and member of Legal IT Innovation Group Board

The Law Society:

  • Lucy Dennett, director of policy
  • David McNeill, director of public affairs
  • Richard Miller, head of Justice
  • Julia Pitman, project manager, 21st Century Justice
  • Michael Devlin, policy adviser, 21st Century Justice

What we’ve done so far

In October 2023, we published a Green Paper (PDF 21.3 MB), which set out our initial ideas for practical, affordable changes to our civil justice system that will increase access to justice.

We launched a consultation asking for feedback on our ideas to help shape them further.

Where we are now

In April 2024, we published an interim report (PDF 1.4 MB). It sets out the feedback we’ve received alongside further research and engagement we’ve carried out.

The report also details the work we want to do in seven key areas of civil law over the next year to narrow the justice gap for small businesses and those on low incomes:

Our plan of action includes:

  • making the case for a publicly-funded online information and guidance tool to help individuals and small businesses identify the nature of their legal issue and triage them to appropriate dispute resolution
  • commissioning new research to explore how international models of delivering civil legal aid could work in England and Wales
  • convening a cross-industry working group of insurers, solicitors and consumer groups to make legal expenses insurance work better for existing policy holders
  • refreshing support and guidance to members offering unbundled legal services, working with regulators and insurers to explore ways to reduce risk and expand insurance cover
  • promoting reform of the ombudsman sector as a key part of the dispute resolution landscape, and calling for the Ministry of Justice to take the lead on ombudsman policy
  • improving support for small businesses to resolve disputes
  • considering what is needed to protect consumers from the risks of using AI in a justice context, including case predictive analytics as well as generative AI tools

The project will also consider what protections might be needed to safeguard consumers working with the increasing amount of emerging dispute resolution providers in the pre-action space, which is currently unregulated.

Richard Atkinson, vice president of the Law Society and chair of the 21st Century Justice Advisory Group said:

“Since we launched the Green Paper last year, we have worked hard to consider the feedback we received through our consultation and undertake additional research and engagement.

“What is clear is that the COVID-19 pandemic, digitalisation and AI have driven a fundamental change in both legal services and the justice system, and in the way consumers connect and engage with them.

“Through this work we want to support our members to adapt and evolve so that they can continue to provide the legal advice people need.

“And with a general election expected this year, all political parties must urgently consider what they will do to protect and enhance a civil justice system that is the cornerstone of the rule of law, a healthy economy and a fair society.”

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