Halfway through Legal Geek’s interview with Andrew Bailie – the youngest Legal Geek of the Week so far – proceedings are halted whilst he negotiates an “angry science student” wanting to use the room he is occupying at Edinburgh University’s library.
It’s the first and only time during the interview that Bailie’s age and life stage match expectations. Bailie is just 22 and getting kicked out of places you’re not meant to be is, well, to be expected.
But in all other regards, he seems far from the student stereotype.
Take his extra-curricular diary for starters. In his final year at Edinburgh, he has been engaged in three projects separate to his formal studies in Politics and Philosophy. He is the Director of a non-profit, student-led, consultancy called FreshSight (overseeing the delivery of 14 projects a year); has acted as a consultant at Legal Spark, a first-in-its-kind social enterprise Law Centre in Scotland; and as a volunteer consultant for Legal Geek on Law for Good.
Legal Geek puts it to him that it is very impressive to have taken all this on.
“Alternatively, you could look at me like this,” Bailie responds. “I’m 22, unemployed, with no degree”.
But as Bailie explains, he’s not the type to dedicate himself solely to one cause when there are so many causes that catch his eye, especially in the area of social change. And at present he sees LegalTech as presenting a multitude of ways for delivering social change.
“LegalTech is an amazing tool for meeting socio-economic challenges and informing sustainable business decisions. My eyes were initially opened by speaking to the team at Farewill and discovering that using technology to help write a will makes people significantly more philanthropically inclined and results in more people leaving legacy gifts for charities. That’s an interesting, unexpected affect that has come about thanks to a technological intervention to a very old and fossilised interaction between experts. That’s very exciting.
“I’m a genuinely interested outsider. I don’t have any formal legal training so when I see an interaction between technology and a person, I come at it from the perspective of the interaction not from the years and years of legal expertise.”
FreshSight takes up most of Bailie’s extra time, yet it was through Legal Spark that he first cut his teeth in the legal sector.
Legal Spark was the first law centre in Scotland to start operating as a social enterprise, and promotes access to justice whilst reinvesting its profits for social good.
Bailie adds: “It has a very exciting remit as it can be helping a single low income person fight a housing claim or it can be advocating for community rights groups. So there’s a very large spectrum there. The founder was even prepared to take on strategic litigation against the Scottish Government, supporting large third sector causes we believed in.”
This background led Andrew to Legal Geek and volunteering on a Law For Good project aimed at developing income generation strategies for law centres in London.
Bailie explains: “Law centres all throughout London are closing down at an alarming rate so we were looking at ways to make them more sustainable, without going against the crucial culture they have – they are not there to handle money or make anyone rich. They are there to make a social impact and serve the community they operate in.”
His experiences with Legal Spark and Legal Geek are now feeding back into his work at FreshSight. FreshSight unlocks value for clients who are seeking to make a larger social impact, deploying multi-disciplinary student talent, mostly from around Edinburgh, to act as consultants over the course of 8 weeks. In exchange for their time, students selected to work for FreshSight receive paid-for and subsidised training in consultancy management, a course which is accredited by the Consultancy Management Institute.
“We have a lot of lawyers joining at the minute,” says Bailie. “Their process driven approach and ability to advocate for a particular business solution goes well when we mix them with a team from computational degrees (informatics and those with the ability to handle large data sets), a philosophy student, or someone who speaks 3 languages.”
The interview slowly turns back to Bailie’s studies, and his dissertation, which is looking at the factors leading to successful sign language activism.
Part of the essay assesses the dimensions for access to justice for the deaf community, something Bailie is enormously passionate about.
“At Legal Spark I did a lot of work on how deaf people can gain access to justice particularly in civil legal areas: writing a will, selling a house, that sort of stuff. One of the things I’m really proud of is that Legal Spark were the first business to be invited on to the sign language register in Scotland which meant deaf people could use a third-party interpreter to make appointments and start legal action. That was traditionally just for public sector bodies, conducted in the same way as you would make an appointment at the hospital. The work we did allowed us to be the first business, certainly the first law centre, to be on that network.”
“Access to justice for the deaf community is an area where LegalTech has great potential to act for law for good.”
Operating at this intersection between the law, technology and business and driving social impact through it, is where Bailie wants to be after concluding his studies in July. And in this regard he has already earned himself a spot on the steering group for the Social Enterprise World Forum, happening in September in the UK.
It’s at this point that Bailie has to bring the interview to an abrupt end. The angry scientist is back. But not before making the interesting point – drawn from his studies – that he doesn’t feel the psychological element of becoming involved in a legal issue is given enough air time.
“Facing legal issues is a big momentous step for the individual and can be intimidating,” he explains. “But it’s one that everyone will have to face at some point. Within the huge legal industry that can get obscured because the process is so everyday and within the comfort zone of a high-level of expertise and training.”