In the past two years, there has been a trend of law firms hosting and sponsoring ‘hackathons’, in an effort to foster creativity within the firms and present themselves as innovative leaders across the legal industry. As a computing graduate, I have seen a number of hackathons and even participated in one recently. Let me introduce you to this new and exciting competition.
The word ‘hackathon’ is a combination of ‘hacking’ and ‘marathon’. These competitions originate from big technology companies in the US, where teams of four to eight participants collaborate to create, build and launch a product or service within a weekend to solve an existing problem. The final product could be a mobile application or website. At the end of the weekend, each team presents their idea and creates a pitch about their product to compete for the grand champion title. The goal of a hackathon is to foster creative problem solving, to discover problems and to test solutions.
Ideating and creating a minimum viable product within 60 hours (Friday evening to Sunday afternoon) is not easy. Not only does it test teamwork and presentation skills, but it also requires endurance and the ability to learn quickly. You can easily find participants working away after midnight and using lots of free beer and caffeine to sustain themselves. Technical problems can emerge quite late into the competition, so quick problem solving is important.
Before 2019, the most well-known hackathon was the Online Court Hackathon 2017 at the University of Law, co-hosted by the Society of Computers and Law, Legal Geek and the UK Judiciary. The hackathon was held for a shorter period than normal – only 24 hours – but it was an easy introduction to hackathons for the legal sector and professionals. There were over 200 participants from all around the world who were of different backgrounds: law students, designers, coders and business professionals. The theme of the hackathon was to create or improve processes to make way for online courts. Examples include improving form filling, drafting orders, automating bundling and case outcome prediction.
Although the Online Court Hackathon was a success, it has not been held again. A new hackathon, the Global Legal Hackathon, has taken the spotlight and has been the world’s largest hackathon devoted for the legal sector. I was fortunate to take part in it – and I will share my experience in the next post!