Hackathon WTF?

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Hackathon, like, WTF dude?

Have you ever thought a ‘hackathon’ wasn’t for you, because you’re not a hacker?

If so, then join the club. At Legal Geek, we hadn’t even attended a hackathon before holding our first one in March 2016 but we’re now BIG fans. At our last hackathon we even got a high five from the Lord Chief Justice. Yes, that was a career high to date.

So to pull back the curtain once and for all on what actually happens and who typically attends hackathons, we asked some of the most hacked-up LegalTech-types we know (and ourselves) to define WTF is a hackathon.


A hackathon brings people together to solve problems through competition. They generally last between 6 and 48 hours with participants forming groups between 2 and 6 in size. Each group typically consists of hackers, hustlers, and hipsters. The ‘hacker’ is someone who can code, the ‘hustler’ brings the concept together, whilst the ‘hipster’ is the designer. But it doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, hackathons are fun places to make new friends and work towards a common goal. 🙂

Jimmy VestbirkJimmy Vestbirk: Jimmy is the founder of Legal Geek and a hackathon aficionado. He is often a team’s ‘hustler’ when competing, although he’d really like to be the ‘hipster’. If you would like some help organising a hackathon for your business, drop Jimmy an email at [email protected] [yes it’s .co]

What do you need to bring to a legal hackathon? Take a look in Jimmy’s rucksack:

  • A 4-port plug adapter – “Power is a precious commodity at a hackathon. A must have for every competitor.”
  • Healthy snacks – “Sugar has it’s place but over 24+ hours you need to take on food that makes you feel human”
  • Laptop and charger – “Sounds obvious, but triple check you have your laptop and phone charger”
  • Iced coffee cartons – “No explanation needed!”
  • An airbed – “If the hackathon allows it, one airbed per team is a good idea to aid micro-sleep”
  • Post-It notes and Sharpies – “All important.”
  • Team Tee-shirts – “Look like a team, hack like a team.”


Myth: “A hackathon is just a bunch of hackers in a room”

Reality: It’s actually a bunch of skilled individuals that could be anything from developers, designers, policy makers, project managers, marketing professionals, and, yes, even lawyers!

Myth: “Hackathons are for crazy people that want to stay up all night coding”

Reality: Crazy coders are totally accepted and in high demand at hackathons, but you don’t need to be a) a coder or, b) the opposite of a narcoleptic.

Myth: “These things are just for students”

Translation: Hackathons are not exclusive to any one type of individual. The Global Legal Hackathon in particular, is aimed at higher skilled professionals looking to build tangible solutions for the legal industries world-wide.

Myth: “So I just show up and build something, to then pitch and win a competition?”

Reality: Sure in some cases. But, the real intent behind any decent hackathon is that teams continue to work on their solutions well beyond the hackathon, and sometimes grow them into fully established businesses and organisations.

Aileen SchultzAileen Schultz: Aileen is the Director of Network Intelligence at Integra Ledger, and the co-founder and global organiser of the Global Legal Hackathon, which is taking place from February 23-25th 2018.



A hackathon (derived from merging the words “hack” and “marathon”) is a highly transformative event when a group of coders, designers and representatives of a sector come together for a period of time (often 24 hours) to work collaboratively in teams to find technology solutions to real life issues.

Jill Howell WilliamsJill Howell Williams: Jill is an Associate Professor at The University of Law and Dean of the Moorgate Campus. In 2017, the University of Law hosted Legal Geek’s Online Courts Hackathon.



Legal engineers treat hackathons in the same way that a set of barristers or team of advocates might treat a moot court competition. They allow us to hone, experiment with, and demonstrate our professional skills – especially around rapidly identifying client pain points/problems, designing solutions around a user and building something that works. Outside of the real life client work we do, it’s hard to replicate that experience and (in a good way!) pressure – a well-run hackathon can get us some of the way there.

On top of that, they can be great for team building – especially for multidisciplinary legal engineering teams, because often the requirement to deliver something tangible beyond just an idea or a slide deck means the team really has to pull together and respect each other’s delivery skills.

Peter Lee Peter Lee: Peter is the CEO of Wavelength, a firm of legal engineers tackling inefficiencies endemic in law. He is a qualified lawyer and former Captain in the British Army.



At their best, Hackathons are an initial act of intensely social, technologically fuelled creation, the seed of new relationships between experts, upstarts, data and gut reactions. When the end goal is sufficiently compelling, every output is orientated towards true value – nobody should build for building alone!

Andrew BailieAndrew Bailie: Andrew is a Politics and Philosophy student at the University of Edinburgh. He is also the Director of Freshsight, a non-profit, student-led consultancy.

Legal Geek is an ace organiser of hackathons. Our Online Courts Hackathon saw entries from half of London’s top 20 law firms, some of the top UK universities as well as teams flying in from as far away as India and Australia. If you want unleash the potential of a hackathon for your corporate, drop us a line at [email protected] [yes it’s .co] and check out a video of the hackathon we organised for our Law for Good arm:


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