A private life and dignity for a couple who have been married for 67 years; fishermen wrongly accused of drug smuggling due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time — these marginalized individuals, whose chances of accessing costly legal courts are slim, are who CrowdJustice helps. It is a crowdfunding platform which enables communities to fund legal action for social justice cases. Since launching less than two months ago, the team of lawyers and volunteers have successfully funded two cases already.
We caught up with the organization’s founder, Julia Salasky, whose CV includes working for the United Nations in negotiating international standards in tech and dispute resolution. “I think not being afraid to fail is important…you have to be comfortable with that, and maybe even a little excited by it. ”
Julia shares her tips to being a successful entrepreneur, her surprising passion for coding, and more in the interview below.
1. Where did the idea for CrowdJustice come from?
In the UK, the last governments have made it more and more expensive for people to access the courts, and more and more difficult to challenge government decisions. As a result it’s harder than ever for normal people, let alone vulnerable people, to access the courts, particularly when there’s an issue of importance but not necessarily a big financial payout at the end.
We saw that CrowdJustice could bridge that gap, by enabling communities to come together to fund access to the law where it might not otherwise be possible.
2. Tell us a bit about your background as a lawyer and the work you did for the UN, and how that helped you shape your business.
Although I was mostly doing big-ticket commercial litigation at my old law firm (Linklaters), I was able to get involved in lots of pro bono work — including a six-month secondment to a legal aid clinic, where I saw how difficult accessing the courts could be for vulnerable people. The situation now is even worse, with cuts to legal aid even putting the clinics themselves out of business.
Then I went to the UN, where I helped negotiate international standards in the field of tech and dispute resolution. But while we were doing things from a very macro, political level, I wanted to roll up my sleeves and get down to actually making something.
3. Describe a typical working day.
A day can involve anything from speaking to people who have cases, meeting lawyers or journalists who are working on issues of social justice, coming up with strategies for getting the word out, or doing a bit of coding (I’m not very good yet, but I’m learning!). We launched six weeks ago — and have already funded two cases!
4.How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on CrowdJustice?
I’m always working on CrowdJustice! I genuinely had not appreciated how starting something up takes every waking minute — there is always something more to be done.
5. What’s the most important characteristic for being an entrepreneur?
I think not being afraid to fail is important. That’s precisely the opposite mindset from the legal world that I came from, where a single mistake can be very costly. It has been a refreshing change to be able to experiment and make mistakes — and to do that aggressively, so that we don’t lose the opportunity to learn from those at the beginning. The flip side of that is that you’re always working without a net. So you have to be comfortable with that, and maybe even a little excited by it.
6. What drove you crazy when building your business?
It wasn’t an immediate realization, but I did understand pretty quickly that I couldn’t let little frustrations drive me crazy. Given the very early stage we’re at, I consider most things through the prism of “will this crazy-making thing drive success or failure”? And if the answer is “no”, it’s not worth getting worked up about.
7. What motivates you to keep going?
We’re working for people who really need access to justice, and the cases that are being crowdfunded on CrowdJustice are genuinely going to make a difference to those people and their communities.
Some of the cases we get are personally affecting. We have an 88-year-old man raising funds via the site now who is being banned by his local council nursing home from kissing his wife, who has dementia and Parkinson’s disease. With personal stories like that it’s hard not to feel that there’s always more to be done.
We’ve had an enormously positive response from people who are bringing these types of cases, but also – which has surprised me, frankly – from people from various walks of life who have reached out because they like what we’re doing and want to help us grow by lending us their expertise. It’s a pretty virtuous circle of motivation all round.
8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
We only launched six weeks ago, and things are moving very quickly, so at the moment we might be too close to the coalface for me to reflect on what we could do, or could have done differently. I’m sure in a few months I’ll be wisely shaking my head and writing notes for what to do differently next time, but that’s ok – hindsight is 20:20.
9. Do you have any habits or routines, which help you in your working life?
Lists, a good coffee, a run when I can fit it in.
10. What book are you reading, or writing now?
I love to write and just before we launched CrowdJustice I reviewed UK author Stuart Evers’ book “Your Father Sends His Love” for an online literary mag. Recently though my reading has been limited to some of the shorter New Yorker articles.
11. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?
The trend in the UK and beyond has been that normal people are being shut out of the courts, and that cases that affect people’s lives are being marginalised in favour of cases that affect people’s wallets. Our long-term goal is simple: we want to make it possible for people anywhere to use their justice system without being hampered by a lack of funding.
We’re going to get there by building a great team, understanding the needs of the people who need to access the law, and thinking laterally about how to improve what we’re doing all the time.
12. If you weren’t working on CrowdJustice, what would you be doing?
I’d love to start, or be involved in, a company that goes into inner-city schools and teaches kids to code. I know there are a lot of great organizations out there that do that, or something similar to that, but I think that’s probably one of the most constructive things we could do to improve social mobility.
13. Tell Springwise a secret…
I’m an open book! If I had a secret you would already know it.
14. How did you get your initial round of funding to get your company off the ground?
We are bootstrapping so far. We realised we could do an MVP that did the job without enormous outlay and doing it in a lean way made us focus our efforts on getting a no-frills platform up and running quickly. And it works! We have already funded two cases. Now demand is running away a little bit and we’re looking at our options for growing the team.
15. How do you feel about your journey ahead and do you have any wise words for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The best case scenario is that we can bring communities together all over the world to protect their environment and values by using the law. With a goal like that the journey can only be wildly interesting!
Wise words are two a penny. I’d ask a question instead: what’s stopping you as an aspiring entrepreneur from being an entrepreneur?
You can read more about CrowdJustice here.