09 May 2019

Legalpreneurs Spotlight - The upstart startup lawyer behind Myki Fines and Josef

Published on 09 May 2019

Legal innovation completely changed the course of Sam Flynn’s career. Before jumping into legaltech, Sam was set on a straight course through the traditional legal career. Having completed his training years at Arnold Bloch Leibler, he became an Associate at the Supreme Court of Victoria. That’s when he built Myki Fines.

People want and need good legal tech

“Myki Fines was a really simple app that told people what to do if they were caught without a valid tram ticket in Melbourne,” explained Sam. “This was a civil liberties issue at the time due to technical issues with the ticketing system coupled with some very strange and unfair penalties.

People flocked to the app. Within the first month, 60,000 users were on the app despite $0 marketing spend.

“This taught me the lesson that has driven me for the past few years: people want and need good legaltech.

“This experience drove me to found Josef along with my co-founders, Tom Dreyfus and Kirill Kliavin. Our mission is to put the power of good legal tech in the hands of any lawyer, anywhere,” said Sam, now COO of Josef.

“Josef is a platform that enables lawyers to easily build legal bots. These bots can automate lawyer-client conversations, the provision of advice and the drafting of legal documents, like letters, forms and agreements. Josef now works across the world, from the US to Australia, and across the legal industry, from top-tier commercial firms like Herbert Smith Freehills to local community legal centres.”

Idleness the biggest threat

“In my mind, the bigger threat to the profession is idleness,” said Sam. “The writing is on the wall. Most people do not currently use legal services. In fact, less than half of those who face a legal problem in Australia get legal assistance. And, when they do, they’re often not happy.”

Citing a 2015 LexisNexis report, Sam said only 40% of consumers (private clients) of legal services were satisfied by the service they received.

“This is for various and well-known reasons, including a lack of transparency and accessibility. Within the legal industry, lawyers are unhappy too.”

This was reflected in ALPMA’s 2018 Salary & HR Issues Survey, with 71% of firms reporting that they struggled with staff retention.

“In the face of all of this, I find it odd that people would be more worried about change than the continuing status quo. Who does the status quo work for? I think that it doesn’t work as well as it could for business people, citizens or lawyers.”

Sam believes the opportunities offered by legal innovation are many and varied. For him, what is most important is the chance to draw attention not only to the myriad of problems facing the legal profession, but also their possible solutions.

“With Josef’s clients, we are already seeing these solutions play out,” said Sam. “Firms are able to service more clients and reach new markets. Clients love the bots built on Josef. And lawyers are able to focus on the work that really matters to them.”

Find the real problem to solve

“The tech world is notoriously bad at predicting its own future, so I tend not to speculate. A recent comprehensive analysis of the Gartner hype curve, for example, shows that nearly all of the predictions for the past 20 years were incorrect, and that hardly any of the big developments were identified in the early stages of development.”

More important than making sweeping, often inaccurate predictions, is the ability to find the real problem to solve. Founders should not ask themselves, where are we headed? Rather, they should ask, what problems do we need to fix?

“To my mind, the biggest problems are: inefficiency; a lack of transparency; a lack of accessibility; and low client and lawyer satisfaction,” said Sam.

“There are many solutions to these problems that are already available across the industry,” observed Sam. “Josef, for example, is an automation platform. Our customers automate both workflows and the production of documents. This is a huge area of interest to the legal industry because much of the work that lawyers do is repeatable and because it makes legal services more accessible and seamless for clients.”

Education is key

It is clear that lawyers see the problems facing the profession, but often do not know how to respond.

“Education is the key here. To truly transform, lawyers need to learn new ways of thinking,” said Sam. “However, I think sometimes people go too far when talking about education in legal innovation. Does a lawyer need to learn how to code? I don’t think so. The true value of a lawyer is that they understand the law and their clients. That is unlikely to change anytime soon.”

Rather than worry about teaching lawyers to code, the focus should be on teaching lawyers how to identify a problem and the right technological solution.

“In addition, lawyers need to start surrounding themselves with people who have expertise in these areas,” urged Sam. “Legal ops is a growing area of the legal industry, and lawyers should familiarise themselves with it, whether they have budget for an internal legal ops team or not.”

Skills over knowledge

Legal education has long focused on knowledge. For lawyers entering the profession, Sam encourages a focus on skills as well as knowledge.

“Prior to exams we cram our heads full of particular pieces of legislation or the ratio decidendi of a particular case. Of course, we need to know what the law is, but much more valuable is learning how to analyse and apply the law generally. This is the difference between skills and knowledge. And the value of skills over knowledge is that it is repeatable in different circumstances. In a changing industry, this will be key,” said Sam.

Pursuing passions and interests beyond the law is also vital for law students.

“We have spoken to countless law firms who are now looking for law students with skills outside of the law,” said Sam. “This includes emotional and social skills, which will allow lawyers to connect with their clients on a personal level (something that will become more and more important as the role of technology in technical work increases). The great part of this - and something I wish I had during my law degree - was that it encourages us to live our lives and to keep up our extracurricular activities! That seems to me a much healthier way of looking at education.”

The CLI brings the right people together

Sam recently attended a Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) mini sprint in Melbourne. Central to the discussion was a question: How can we fix the law firm model?

“The group comprised people from across the industry: lawyers; legal technologists; legal ops professionals; consultants,” Sam observed. “We were led in a design-thinking ‘sprint’ by Melissa Lyon from Hive Legal (and CLI Distinguished Fellow) to come up with our solutions to the law firm model.

“The solutions the teams came up with were clever and insightful (and, funnily enough, all of them said that they were ‘not a law firm’). But I think the best part of the day was bringing people together with different skills and different perspectives to solve a problem. This kind of event trains the legal industry how to move forward in the best way possible and demonstrates the value of an organisation like CLI in bringing people together to be a part of the coming change.”