Legal pop-up teaches technology, innovation and design

MLS alumnus and co-founder of Josef, Sam Flynn, reflects on MLS's first ever Law Tech Design Pop-Up.

Melbourne Law School (MLS) recently launched and ran its first ever Law Tech Design Pop-Up. The voluntary course was co-taught by MLS senior lecturer Gary Cazalet, law firm Maddocks, legal technology startup Josef and design studio Portable. Over four weeks, 90 students designed, built and launched fully functional bots that provide automated legal services, from fan-fiction copyright issues to domestic violence intervention orders. We spoke to the students and the industry leaders who participated in the program about what drew them to the pop-up.

Law tech design pop-up winning team and contributors

Back row: Sam Flynn, Simon Goodrich and Tom Dreyfus. Front row: HELP-bot team, Lindy Richardson and Gary Cazalet

Eva Carroll, student, Melbourne Law School – “I didn’t even know it was possible”

Eva Carroll is a third year Melbourne JD student and was one of the members of the winning team for HELP-bot, a domestic violence bot that automated the production of, and provided instruction and guidance about, intervention orders.

Eva signed up to the course to explore her interest in the intersection of design, law and technology, and the ways she might include them in her future career. “I didn’t even know it was possible [before the course],” she said. “I’ve learnt that there are more options available than the stereotypical day-to-day practice of lawyering…I’d love a career where I could combine these things.”

Eva describes herself as “not at all tech savvy,” but says of the course, “with Josef, I didn’t have to be. It’s really easy to use and learn.” Eva will continue working on the bot, as she believes it “will make a real difference to people who find themselves in situations of domestic violence.”

Tom Dreyfus, CEO and co-founder, Josef

Tom is the CEO and co-founder of Josef, a legal technology startup based in Melbourne. Josef is an automation platform used by some of the biggest firms and organisations around the world to automate their work, from Herbert Smith Freehills to the American Bar Association. Tom became involved in the Law Tech Design Pop-Up because “it is increasingly important that students come out of law school with an understanding of the ways tech will impact their work and the ways legal services are delivered to their clients.”

Regarding the design of the course, Tom says “I don’t think we set our expectations too high – in four weeks, we didn’t expect students to be able to achieve that much. We were really, really wrong. By the final night, the teams of students had built really powerful bots that solved real problems.” Tom’s main lesson from the evening was that these skills come naturally to the next generation of lawyers. “These students,” he said, “are more than capable of building the products and services needed for the legal industry of the 21st century.”

Lindy Richardson, partner, Maddocks – “We can deliver change efficiently”

Lindy Richardson is a partner and the Head of Innovation at Maddocks, the firm that sponsored the Law Tech Design Pop-Up. By partnering with law schools and legal tech companies, Lindy is able to broaden the firm’s exposure to innovative practices, tools and ideas. And, by facilitating students to “start thinking about these issues so that it becomes a core part of their practice of the law,” she is also preparing the next generation of Maddocks’ lawyers.

Lindy was “blown away” by the standard of the bots produced at the presentation evening. “The research, the thought, the design-thinking and the technological capabilities that were displayed last night were astounding.” The projects that impressed her most were those that didn’t try to be everything to all people, and those that demonstrated empathy with the end user – for example, a quick exit button in Eva’s domestic violence bot.

For Lindy, the lesson for the profession is that if students can do this in such a short period of time, then it shouldn’t take months and years to pull something together and bring it to market. “If we have the right resources, the right minds and the right commitment we can deliver change efficiently, in a way that aligns with the needs of our clients and the public.”

Gary Cazalet, senior lecturer, Melbourne Law School – “Learn by doing”

Gary is a senior lecturer at MLS, where he also teaches Law Apps and Advocacy. For Gary, one of the main highlights of the course was the students’ enthusiasm. “We put this completely voluntary pop-up, which would be held over four Wednesday evenings, up for enrolment on Monday. By Thursday, we had 90 people enrolled,” he said. For him, the course was a “stunning success.” This wasn’t just because the student’s bots were so well designed, but because the students formed highly effective groups to get their bots built in a very short time frame.

Gary believes that the pop-up was so popular because students understand that legal education is no longer just about textbooks and case law. They want to learn through experience and work creatively. “Central to this course is that they learned by doing – using technology – and it is critical that students leaving the Law School have an understanding of technology and the principles of human-centred design.”

Simon Goodrich, co-founder, Portable – “Lawyers’ skills are transferrable”

Simon is a co-founder of Portable, a team of designers, researchers and developers interested in responding to social need and policy failure by focusing on users. They have been working in the legal space since 2012. For Simon, it was important to be a part of the Law Tech Design Pop-Up because of Portable’s commitment to improving access to justice. “It is paramount that we work with the next generation of lawyers to push awareness and interest in this space. With this, we can continue to deliver better access to justice in Australia.”

For the students, Simon believes that it is crucial that they learn about the transferability of their skills. “Lawyers often aren’t aware that their skills are transferrable to other areas. There are surprising similarities between lawyers and software engineers, for example, using critical thinking, group work and inputting data into algorithms to determine future matters.”

Simon was similarly impressed by the calibre of the students’ bots. His highlight? “Getting people to think about making change is easier than it appears. We still need to recognise the broader structural issues in the sector, but the more we do this and the more people are provided with the opportunity to explore and showcase their ideas, the more momentum we’ll have behind the change.”

By Sam Flynn, co-founder and COO of Josef