What’s the point of hackathons anyway?
Legal Geek - 06/06/2017

When lawyers want to change something they tend to put a big, hierarchical team together. A partner or two to take the big decisions and all the credit; associates to run things day to day; assistants and paralegals to do the actual work; maybe a project or business manager to keep things moving. So while there are a whole bunch of progressive firms doing exciting things, the hackathon methodology tends to not be the way that lawyers solve problems: get a group of people pointing in the same direction in a room, agree on some objectives, then throw code, pizza and teamwork at it until you’ve moved closer to the goal. Repeat.

Law might not be used to hackathons but hackathons are definitely ready for law. Our first hackathon last year, Law for Good, focused on law centres and appointments. It took us through 24 hours with no sleep and an amazing range of solutions, including an AI-automated SMS receptionist, and it brought together Magic Circle law firms and community charities, alongside our turbo-charged geek community.

With our next hackathon, we’re aiming to make that one look like a WhatsApp group. This time we’ve got future law Professor Richard Susskind, the Society for Computers and Law and the Judiciary of England and Wales together, to try and change the way justice is delivered in the UK. Don’t forget to throw your team’s hat in the ring.

It’s not just us – legal tech hackathons have gone global. In Switzerland, Thomson Reuters’ hack the valley tried to crack the intersection of blockchain and the IoT; that followed their London event that squished blockchain solutions into smart contracts. At the Berlin Legal Tech event this year, the winners came up with RENO Jane, and AI-driven voice assistant that grapples with lawyers’ workflows, freeing them up to use their grey matter for juicier purposes.

At Legal Geek we love the hackathon methodology, and not just because it lets us mainline pizza while we stare at macbooks. It’s a great way of jamming together branches of the legal industry that don’t always play well alongside each other: fee-earning partners, whose experience of all things digital might be tempered by years of attritional IT projects on the one hand, and cutting-edge coders on the other, who might not fancy hanging around in law libraries for a few weeks.

The place where we all meet in the middle has the potential to solve huge problems and crazy inefficiencies, which pop up in every industry and market – and legal is no different. Whether it’s meeting commercial needs, or improving access to justice, we back the legal tech community to find some answers. Hackathons have even taken on cultural issues in law firms, outside the workflow, to try and intensify efforts to beat the age-old problem of gender representation in the legal industry. If we can start to tackle those kind of issues, maybe the fight for who takes the credit won’t seem so important anymore.

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