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‘I knew I was in the right room with the right people’

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LAWYER Ben Darby is in his office overlooking the picturesque South Devon coast.  In his mind, he has a plan to transform the legal sector’s customer service levels by making it more consumer-focused through technology.

The plan, developed with computer science specialists at the University of Exeter, is to develop software that would automate the more mundane and repetitive tasks that consumed so much of a lawyer’s time. In turn, that time would be freed up to enable the legal experts to work on more complex and bespoke files.

The idea has legs, the government says. It has awarded Ben, managing partner at Darby & Darby Solicitors, and the university a six-figure grant to develop it based on the academic findings of the university’s experts. “Now we needed to find someone to help us build the product,” Ben said.

Ben Darby.

He turned to the online marketplace ranking website Clutch to source a list of ten software development agencies best suited to produce the idea. Conversations with each narrowed the decision down to JUXT, a boutique software development business based in Milton Keynes that specialises in designing bespoke software systems for global banks and cutting-edge start-ups.

“Most of those we spoke to flattered me with sales talk,” said Ben. “JUXT was different. They asked me about data protection, cybersecurity and the need for critical infrastructure. They understood we wanted to build a fintech solution to be adapted in the legal space. I knew I was in the right room with the right people.”

JUXT was founded in London in 2013 by its current chief executive Jon Pither and chief technology officer Malcolm Sparks. Their background was in banking and working for premium consultancies like ThoughtWorks but they grew frustrated with the growing complexity of IT systems and yearned for simplicity. They moved to JUXT HQ in Milton Keynes in 2015.


Main picture: Jon Pither (left) and Malcolm Sparks with Vlad Yatsenko (centre), co-founder and chief technology officer of global neobank and financial technology company Revolut and keynote speaker at JUXT’s XT24 Fintech Conference in Milton Keynes in May. Below: Malcolm Sparks in conversation with XT24 speakers Fran Bennett, Mark Burgess, Vlad Yatsenko and Jason Bloomberg.


“Our aim is to simplify IT,” said Malcolm. “We had been working in large institutions where IT is complex and firms come to over-rely on it. There are systems that you can build for 1% of the cost and do as much as you need them to.”

Today JUXT employs around 130 staff – 90% of them are software developers – in offices around the UK and works with mainly fintech clients including tier one investment banks, corporate banks, hedge funds and asset managers. But the firm also supports smaller firms and start-ups with new, different ideas – it worked on the launch of onthemarket.com, the alternative online property site competing against the likes of Rightmove and Zoopla.

Jon Pither.

“We are very high-tech,” said Jon. “Companies want the most modern way of doing things but the cost of technology is always rising and the way we build software is always changing. Companies turn to us because we are a boutique software company committed to finding the best approach and using the most modern tools that will provide the best solution business-wise, not just from the engineering point of view.

“JUXT is a bit different. Historically, exceptional engineers have been put in the corner – we have seen a lot of the “you can’t talk to the nerd” mentality. But today the best projects we see are either engineer-led, or at the very least engineers have a seat at the table. Companies realise that engineers have a unique understanding of the product and the business and their input is valuable.

“At JUXT, we know this, this is our DNA and we put the engineers front and centre, encouraging them to take leadership and work with the client to understand what needs to be done not only from the coding perspective but first and foremost what are the business challenges the software is expected to solve.”

With Ben Darby and the University of Exeter, that involved developing the software from being a lawyer support solution to becoming a consumer-driven solution providing better access to legal services and in which they could self-serve. “There are many self-serve solutions in banking and accounting, for example,” said Ben. “The legal sector is lagging behind.”

JUXT has built huge risk management and trading systems for global investment banks but they also partner with disruptive start-ups, such as Ben Darby’s and Artis.Works, to bring that wealth of experience to emerging technologies. “When we apply our strategy to SMBs and start-ups, we are looking for a business doing something that has never been done before. Start-ups have a vision, a unique business idea and using someone small  who has more agility and can do more around the project will deliver the right results faster”.

Ben’s knowledge identified areas of the practice bogged down in repetitive tasks. JUXT’s engineers worked on the automation of those tasks. “We are not looking to replace lawyers,” said Ben. “We are looking at a technology-driven, data-driven solution that keeps the lawyer in the loop.”

JUXT sees its future in the international market, bringing work from around the world to its office in Milton Keynes. “We are contributing to the local economy and we are keen to strengthen this relationship,” said Jon. “JUXT has gone from strength to strength but we would love to work with more clients in Milton Keynes.”

That will involve recruiting more people and JUXT is on the hunt for top graduates and others starting their careers. “That is important from a local business community point of view to nurture the next generation,” said Malcolm.

“We need to have a thriving community of developers back in our offices. Software developers are the most likely to want to work remotely but there is a real advantage to young people working in the office with our developers from a learning point of view. “People’s mental health is not helped by working from your bedroom. There is a need for work-life balance and Milton Keynes is a great place to recruit from that perspective.”

The name JUXT derives from a function in the developer language Clojure. Many projects, functions, even staff, are recognised by a four-letter code. “It helps us to refer to them very quickly by typing in rather than cutting and pasting,” said Malcolm. “It is almost an unwritten rule that all of our projects are four-letter words. Every person has a three-letter code as a username. It is unique.”

Delegates at the XT24 Fintech Conference, staged at Unity Place in Central Milton Keynes.

The need for the Darby & Darby/University of Exeter project reflects the way in which the law and modern life is changing. “Our lives take place within a legal framework every day,” said Ben. “Legal services are becoming more invasive in people’s lives, and they need legal assistance and support daily.”

JUXT’s work on developing and building the new system is playing a big part in that, he added.

“JUXT has become a trusted technology partner for someone like me who has no technological background. I have come to them with my sector knowledge and dream and they have made that into a reality.  It has been a collaboration. They have project managed with me and for me and have helped me prioritise a very large project into staged deliverables.”

For JUXT the key is delivering the best system that will give the most value to the customer while providing all the “other behind-the-scenes/ under the hood” stuff that is super-important but no one looks at: “cost of maintenance, robustness, security, ability to scale and cost of storage, load management etc,” said Jon.

“All these are just as much a part of the system requirement as getting the app site to work properly.

“Precision is very important in software development and we apply that to life. We are there to support the engineers and give them what they need to be most effective.

“We see engineers like surgeons. I would only want the most experienced and steady surgeon in the room for an operation and the staff to give the surgeon the tools they need.”

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