The first round of the inaugural Global Legal Hackathon took place in 40 cities across 20 countries in February, bringing together representatives of law schools, law firms, in-house law departments, legal tech companies, government entities and services providers with a common purpose of speeding the development of solutions to improve the legal industry on a global level. It was a fun and inspiring event, and it was a great reminder that a little friendly competition can go a long way toward fostering meaningful innovation.
I had a front-row seat as a judge at the Denver site hosted by Legal Talk Network at its company headquarters, and I was struck by the extraordinary energy and creative thinking on display as lawyers and non-lawyers alike collaborated on new ideas. While I learned a lot about what makes a successful hackathon as a first-time judge, I also came away with some key takeaways that participants should consider when they compete in future events.
Understand the Purpose of the Competition
To host a compelling hackathon that attracts a broad set of participants, organizers must identify a goal that both resonates with and motivates its audience. In the case of the Global Legal Hackathon, the organizers tasked participants with building solutions designed to either:
- Provide a private benefit by enhancing the business of law, or
- Provide a public benefit by fostering better governance, improved legal systems or access to justice (A2J).
The concept of making the law more accessible struck a chord with attendees, and all of the teams submitted proposals that aimed to bridge the divide between people in need of representation and providers of essential legal services.
For any budding hackathon participant, I strongly recommend you consider the overarching goal of the event you are participating in before registering. Competitors typically face the uncomfortable challenge of having to both think and act beyond having conversations about what should be done, and actually take the difficult steps to make those conversations a reality.
Identify the Value Proposition
Consumers typically judge service providers in any industry on three core metrics: quality, cost and convenience. Legal providers (and the legal industry as a whole) generally struggle with finding ways to make legal services more accessible and the delivery of those services more convenient.
Providing a more engaging, accessible and convenient customer experience in a cost-sensitive industry is a difficult challenge that other complex industries have solved. The legal industry lags far behind in offering even the most basic services to consumers conveniently in a world where anyone can purchase a first-class flight to Hong Kong, a suite at a five-star hotel just about anywhere in the world, or an auto insurance policy in a matter of minutes using a mobile device.
However, we are beginning to see signs of change in the industry. For example, the AI-enabled chatbot DoNotPay has successfully contested hundreds of thousands of parking tickets across London and New York. VisaBot developed a live solution that helps consumers answer basic legal questions regarding visas and immigration. In addition, “comparator” apps from companies like LexMachina now empower lawyers to instantly compare courts, judges and law firms.
Prioritize the Idea
Judges focus on how solutions will solve a given problem, and they will place a premium on technology—dazzling or not—that serves this specific purpose. Competitors should be mindful that technology facilitates a solution, it is not itself the solution. Participants who try to mold a business idea to support a specific tool or process they are excited about creating will likely struggle to convince the judging panel that they developed a compelling and viable solution.
Today, technologies such as AI and blockchain are disrupting the legal industry and creating an environment where it is possible to create low-cost solutions which significantly increase access to legal services. In this context, it was refreshing to see how aware the Global Legal Hackathon participants were of the challenges legal technology needs to solve, and how passionate they were in their determination to create new tools to close the gap.
Study the Judging Criteria
The criteria judges use to determine a winner tend to focus on whether a team offers a:
- Viable business case for a new product or service.
- Minimally operational solution for the judges to demo.
- Presentation that convincingly ties together the problem a team is trying to solve with the solution that it created to address the problem.
Examples of questions the judges typically ask themselves include:
- Did the team conduct enough market research to better inform its idea?
- Did the team test the viability of its idea with potential end-users and incorporate feedback to improve on the concept?
- Does the team have a business model to support both the launch and continued operation of the proposed solution?
- How does the proposed solution address the user requirements articulated in the business model?
- Has the team carefully thought through the feasibility and scalability of the solution?
- Does the team leverage the right technology to build this specific solution?
- Can the team demonstrate a working prototype?
Hackathons serve a vital purpose by providing a competitive but nurturing forum where participants can quickly propel big ideas into viable solutions. The Global Legal Hackathon exemplified how truly promising innovation can rapidly take place in the legal industry today. The competitors inspired me and my fellow judges, and the event offered an exciting preview into the kinds of creative solutions that may lie ahead. When both participants and hackathon organizers are aligned in their vision for an event, any possibility can rapidly transform into a reality.