Interview | Sam Flynn (Josef)
Sam Flynn is the Co-Founder of Josef. With Josef's easy-to-use technology, you can create and launch your own legal chatbots without the need for developers. Josef's clients include top-tier commercial firms, plaintiff firms, government, in-house legal teams and community legal centres across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific. Josef was created to bridge this access to justice gap, connecting expert legal knowledge with those who need it most. That’s why Josef continues to work with community legal centres, building products that help everyday people.
Alex Case was able to poke Sam's brain on some burning questions.
What is Josef? How does it work?
Josef is a platform that enables lawyers to automate legal services and launch their own legal chatbots. It’s really easy-to-use - you just click, type, drag and drop. (Law students at Swinburne Law School recently built chatbots on the platform in just a couple of hours!) The chatbots that you build on Josef are intuitive, engaging, available anywhere and anytime and can automate the production of personalised documents, like letters and agreements.
What sort of impact has Josef had on your clients’ organisations so far?
It depends on the organisation! Josef works across the legal industry, from top-tier commercial firms to plaintiff firms to in-house legal teams to community legal centres to government. So, while CLCs are using Josef to help as many people as they can (a chatbot can speak to countless people at the same time!), top-tier commercial firms are using it to create customised solutions for their clients (which they are loving). And in-house legal teams are using it for a different purpose again - they want to create internal efficiencies by supplementing their @legal inbox or automating the production of frequently-used documents like non-disclosure agreements. Because it is a platform designed especially for lawyers to use, there’s no limit to the areas of law that legal chatbots built on Josef can deal with.
For a lot of Australians, the thought of seeking legal advice is both intimidating and cost-prohibitive. How is legal tech helping provide more people with access to justice?
This is exactly why we started Josef. Every year in Australia, 8 million people face a legal problem. Of those, only half seek any legal assistance. The stats are worse in the US and the UK. This is for a number of reasons, not least because services are inaccessible and expensive and the legal assistance sector is under-resourced.
In 2016, the founders of Josef were invited to a meeting of CLCs to figure out how we can start to bridge this huge access to justice gap using technology. Time and again, we have seen examples of digital legal assistance products succeeding in this space. We had myki fines in Melbourne in 2016 (which Sam helped to build) and DoNotPay in the UK around the same time. The challenge is simply to put these technologies in the hands of the right people. That’s why we came up with Josef.
You have previously spoken about how you believe law firms should be just as accessible as dentists and mechanics. What changes do you believe today’s firms need to make in order to improve accessibility to their services?
The changes will be many and varied. From where we’re standing, we can’t see them all yet. What we do know is that the answer will come from focusing more on the people involved in the legal industry. That includes everyone from the lawyers to the clients. Other industries have taken a human-centred design approach to their services for decades. But, for some reason, lawyers haven’t done much of this yet. I think we’re starting to see this happen now.
How important do you believe technological literacy is for today’s legal professionals?
Very! That is not to say that all lawyers need to learn to code, though. That would be like saying everyone needs to study the law. But there needs to be a base level of technological literacy which allows lawyers to understand what technology is out there and what it can do.
At a recent conference in Sydney, a number of people kept saying that “innovation does not equal technology.” On one view, this is definitely right. Innovation is much more than blockchain and chatbots.
But, on another, if legal professionals are trying to do things differently and improve the experience of the law for themselves, their employees and their clients, then it seems odd to ignore the tools that will enable them to do that in the most effective way.
What are your thoughts on current technology-focused educational opportunities for law students at Australian tertiary institutions?
This is something we’re very interested in at Josef! There are some fantastic courses out there, such as the course using Josef at Swinburne Law School. Some law schools are still catching up, but most are moving in the right direction. The best courses are those that teach the skills needed to build good legal tech, rather than just how to use legal tech. This involves teaching multi-disciplinary skills like design. If you want to read more, check out our blog post here!
How do you predict technology is going to change the legal industry over the next five years?
From what we’ve seen, we think that the legal industry is finally moving on from the “hype” phase, when people promise the world and deliver very little. We’ve seen that in the chatbot space recently as well. Two years ago everyone said that chatbots were going to replace apps and do everything! But of course they were never going to do that. Chatbots do one thing. Apps another. Blockchain another. What we’ve seen in the past is that once you move past the hype (and the ensuing disappointment), you can actually get to work and get stuff done. We think we’re almost there in the legal world, and we can’t wait to be a part of it.
What’s next for Josef?
We’re growing fast! After just a few months we’re working with clients across the legal industry - from top-tiers to CLCs - and from New York to Moonee Valley, and we’ll be heading to San Francisco later this year to meet with clients and investors. But, whatever happens, we’re not going to forget where we started: three young people with a dream to bridge the access to justice gap.
What advice would you give to current law/IT students and early career professionals interested in technology and the law?
There are so many paths to where we are. Kirill came down the tech path, being a machine learning expert and a general tech wizard. Tom came down the not-for-profit and academia path, being on the board of the AYCC and studying data analytics at Columbia University. Sam came down the legal tech path, working at NewLaw firm Hive Legal and building myki fines. We know it’s an annoying thing to hear when you’re a student, but the only advice is: do what you’re interested in. That doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and go and save the world or buy a paint brush and an easel. But it does mean that, whatever space you’re in, work towards what excites you and what you think is important. If that’s legal tech, then we’ll see you soon!
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