LexHacks: Hacking to Improve Legal-Service Delivery

When I invited colleagues to participate in LexHacks, a legal hackathon in Chicago, many were perplexed. Just last year I was partner at Honigman handling complex litigation and data breaches. Now I was promoting hacking? Yes, because the legal industry needs more hackers.

Hackers are problem solvers. When confronted with a problem, hackers take things apart, see how they work, and get started building solutions. Hackers do more, talk less. Hackers love the challenge of an “impossible” problem. Like lean thinkers, hackers take action, build solutions, and iterate to continuously improve those solutions.

Lawyers are also problem solvers. But we lawyers haven’t excelled at applying our problem-solving skills to improving legal-service delivery. LexHacks illustrated how we can do better. When we hack on legal problems, we can quickly generate solutions that improve legal-service delivery.

To expand upon this, here are my top seven reasons for conducting LexHacks:

  1. Multidisciplinary Teams. LexHacks brought together lawyers, developers, lean thinkers, law students, academics, and others who share a passion for hacking on problems and developing solutions. The legal industry must break down the lawyer/“non-lawyer” divide. Multi-disciplinary teams produce better solutions in every industry. Law is no exception.
  2. Client Engagement Leads to Valued Solutions. Well-defined problems lead to better solutions. Seven challenge sponsors (clients) funded $5,250 in prizes for creating solutions. Challenge sponsors invested time defining the problems to be solved. They also provided representatives to answer questions and coach the teams. Teams that listened to and engaged with the challenge sponsors produced solutions the challenge sponsors valued.
  3. Sustained Hacking. Teams hacked on problems for 33 hours over the weekend. This was long enough to move from brainstorming to building. But it was also short enough to show that a lot can be accomplished quickly if we simply get started and embrace a continuous-improvement mindset.
  4. T-Shaped Lawyers. LexHacks required competitors to exercise more than technical skills. Excellent communication with clients and team members produced better solutions, as did superior project management. Pitching solutions required marketing, sales, and presentation skills. LexHacks demonstrated why T-shaped lawyers are adept at working with multidisciplinary teams to create innovative solutions are increasingly in demand.
  5. Public Benefit. Each solution was contributed to the public domain, making each available for future improvement and implementation to solve other problems. For example, the eVantage Services challenge sought a solution to detect personally identifiable information (PII) and prevent its inadvertent disclosure in email attachments. Courts could implement this solution to prevent litigants from inadvertently e-filing documents containing PII.
  6. Twitter Crowd Funding. Lisa Colpoys at Illinois Legal Aid Online and Angela Tripp at Michigan Legal Help contributed excellent challenges: Pursuit Evaluator and Gamified Legal-Health Checkup. Challenges so good that our Twitter crowd-funding campaign raised $2,001 to fund these public-interest challenges.
  7. Career Opportunities. Many technology companies engage in hiring at hackathons. Legal hackathons present the same opportunities. It was no surprise when LexHacks challenge sponsors began approaching participants to discuss future employment opportunities.

As good as the first LexHacks was, we look forward to doing better next time. Jonathan Pasky and Ric Gruber of OpenLegal, Andy Ninh of MSU Law, and I will soon announce the schedule for the next LexHacks. Until then, check out www.LexHacks.org for general information and lexhacks.challengepost.com to see the challenges and solutions submitted at LexHacks Chicago.

Photo credit: Daniel W. Linna.

About Daniel W. Linna

Daniel W. Linna
Daniel W. Linna Jr. is the assistant dean for career development and a professor of law in residence at Michigan State University College of Law. Before attending the University of Michigan Law School, he was an information technology director and independent information technology and business consultant. After law school, he was a U.S. Court of Appeals judicial clerk. Before he joined MSU Law, Dan was a partner at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP.

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