Transforming the probate process

Through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), the University of Exeter and Darby & Darby modernised and transformed the legal probate process.

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Darby & Darby is an established firm of solicitors that has provided high-street legal services, including probate since the firm opened in 1983.

Probate, or the financial and legal process of dealing with a deceased person's estate, affects 250,000 families each year in England and Wales. Probate must be obtained via a Solicitor, but solicitor's fees are expensive, and the process is not well understood by the general public. 

Darby & Darby saw an opportunity to transform the probate process by creating a world-first legal IT software solution that enabled families to lead the probate process themselves, with the option to draw upon the support of an expert solicitor when needed. Darby & Darby, recognising the need for computer science expertise, partnered with the University of Exeter to bring their vision to life. This successful collaboration led to funding from Innovate UK for the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). 

During the KTP, Associate Thomas Harrison worked alongside Professor Edward Keedwell and Dr Fabrizio Costa from the University of Exeter's Computer Science department to innovate a traditional legal process by injecting AI and data expertise. The resulting system is sector-leading and has been described by the Solicitors Regulation Authority's Technology Lead as the first end-to-end consumer-facing solution they have seen.

"The path I have been on, taking an idea from a simple desire for change to a commercial reality, may never have got past the idea phase without our KTP."

Ben Darby, Managing Partner at Darby & Darby

For Darby & Darby, this has increased the scale of the support they can offer by allowing them to help more clients and also by working with clients remotely who would otherwise be unable to travel to one of the firm's Devon offices. 

Ben Darby, Managing Partner at Darby & Darby, said, "I contacted the University of Exeter after learning about KTPs at an IT conference. My initial contact with the KTP team at the University swiftly developed into engaging with academic partners, which grew into a partnership with the Computer Sciences department.  Working collaboratively and drawing on the University's experience in grant applications, we scoped and formulated a project plan. One successful funding application later, we successfully recruited our associate, and work began."

Darby & Darby are continuing to develop the software as a stand-alone service offering:  "Looking back now, four years on from my initial enquiry, I have gone on to secure further government funding to commercialise the output of our KTP alongside private investment.  We are on the verge of launching our first digital legal services solution into the market. The path I have been on, taking an idea from a simple desire for change to a commercial reality, may never have got past the idea phase without our KTP."

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