Accelerating the wheels of justice?

JUST: Access wants to get things moving for legal pros with better transcription

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Hello there,

Not that many years ago, the publication I worked for had no budget for transcription so we journalists had to do it ourselves. It was slow, boring, and turned writing up an interview into a dreaded, painful slog of a process.

Confession: I often just paid a transcriber out of my own pocket, just so I didn’t have to do it myself.

These days, thanks to the rise of high-quality auto-transcription software, my interviews for this newsletter are transcribed in real-time, leaving me to get on with the far more rewarding task of writing.

But generic business tools aren’t enough for everyone, and JUST: Access thinks there’s a big opportunity in serving markets that need real accuracy. Scroll down to find out how they do it.

– Martin

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JUST: Access wants to accelerate the wheels of justice with smarter transcripts

The automatic transcription market has boomed in recent years. I was in a group call recently where there were as many A.I. assistants transcribing and recording as there were humans talking.

But while most of us can get by with a ‘good enough’ transcription that we can modify to our needs, the legal profession wants something far more precise. 

Legal transcription is a niche speciality employing experts to listen to recordings of court proceedings and other materials to produce accurate text records.

While some generic transcription software products have a sales pitch for lawyers as one market among others, JUST: Access is a startup built around serving that specific market (and others that demand precision) with a specialist product that comes from a founder with deep domain expertise.

How it works

As with any other transcription service, audio can be uploaded and auto-transcribed. But JUST: Access uses its own language model, which founder Sophie Walker says consists of between 2 and 3 million words.

“One of the mistakes that people often make in thinking that they can take a generic, off-the-shelf speech-to-text tool and plug it into the courts or plug it into legal audio, is that lawyers speak in really weird ways. They have their own patterns, rhythms, and terminologies,” Walker explains.

“We transcribed hours and hours of court audio. And what we were able to do is to use the sorts of figures of speech and the latest NLP [natural language processing] tools to create a much more accurate tool that is honed to the legal sector.”

Like pretty much any other tool of its type, there’s speaker name tagging, timestamps, and the ability to make edits yourself. 

But for situations where legal professionals need a verbatim transcription delivered to them, JUST: Access has the option for the transcript to be checked by trained editors. Walker says JUST: Access has around 100 such editors, often law students, who understand legal terminology and the needs of the market.

How long does a human-checked transcript take to arrive?

“It depends on the audio quality, however if it takes a manual touch-typist five-to-six times the length [to] transcribe an multi-speaker audio file with timestamps, speaker allocation etc, then it will take our tech-and-editor approach around half that, so 2.5-3x the length of the file,” says Walker.  

While Walker’s background is law, JUST: Access pitches itself more widely to verticals where accuracy is paramount. These include medicine, HR, and regulation.

The story so far

Walker has a background as a lawyer, including time spent in the US working on death penalty appeals. In 2016, she was a legal aid lawyer in the UK, working on miscarriage of justice cases when the idea for JUST: Access came to her.

“I would spend months and months trying to get access to the transcript for my client's case. And as soon as it arrived, I could then quite quickly advise them on the chances of success on appeal, or how we could assist them if we were the right lawyers for them.

“But that document was really pivotal, and I was very delayed in getting it, and I just thought ‘this is ridiculous’.”

Existing speech-to-text software wasn’t good enough, with data protection policies that wouldn’t pass muster to be of use in a legal context. 

And so JUST: Access came into being, securing its first paying customer off the back of participation in Slaughter & May’s Collaborate legaltech programme. 

This was just prior to the Covid pandemic, when like many other forms of tech, legaltech got an opportunity to prove its worth.

“It finally showed law firms it was okay to use web-based software,” says Walker.

“It's mad how old fashioned they were. There was a point where we had interest from a law firm. They said ‘This is exactly what we've been looking for, but can you develop an on-premises model?’ 

“I had an interesting conversation with our CTO and he was like ‘No, why would we spend the precious dev money that we have developing an on-premises solution? This is old technology. I'm not going to do it.’ 

“And I was like, ‘we’re a startup. Every customer is worth its weight in gold. I can't believe we're gonna say no to this’. But actually he was right, because six months later Covid happened, and the world did change.”

Since then, the startup won grant funding to further develop their technology, making it easier to browse and bookmark sections of transcripts from court proceedings, which could be days in length. This tool, underpinned by generative A.I., is patent-pending and JUST: Access is starting to bring it to market now.

“The mission for me at the start of this company was ‘how can we improve access to legal information?’ I always knew that transcription and the speech-to-text tool that we developed would be part of that. But what's been really exciting about these new tools that are being developed and coming online is they transform our ability to do that and we're super excited about that.”

Including Walker, JUST: Access has a core team of five including co-founder and CTO, Vinay Kumar. While Walker lives in London, the startup is based in Leeds, which you might not realise is something of a legal hub.

“Having our head office in Leeds made sense given the great work that was being done by Leeds City Council to try to make Leeds a centre of legal technology. And we have found that actually, there's huge advantages of being based there and hiring around there, not least because people are much more approachable. 

“It normally takes me an email or two to get a meeting with someone. It’s not quite the same thing in London where it's a busier, more crowded market. And I've been really enjoying some of the partnerships that have come out of the work that Leeds City Council have been doing.”

Go deeper on JUST: Access

Much more on their investment, competition, market size, vision, and challenges:


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