#DisruptingLaw 2019: practical tools for the legal profession

When lawyers and law students think about time-limits they normally get anxious, stressed or worried. Having a good time and growing as professionals is the last thing they can think of.

But hackathons change this. They are an opportunity for creativity. Within a short period, students manage to pinpoint a genuine problem in the legal profession and devise a viable solution to that problem.

That’s why the University of Western Australia’s Law School, The Legal Forecast and The Piddington Society and a range of sponsors put on a #DisruptingLaw Hackathon for the second year. The Hackathon started on Friday 18 August and concluding with a showcase on Sunday 18 August

Kate Offer, Director of Disruption at UWA Law School, says the idea of putting “is to get the legal community thinking creatively about improving the way law is both practiced and accessed”.

The process of a hackathon, especially at a law school, instils in students a pragmatic focus to legal and client issues. “The best lawyers give legal advice and representation which answers their client’s problem in the quickest and most efficient manner”, said Aaron McDonald, Director of Pragma Lawyers and one of the sponsors of the event.

He says that one of the good things about the Hackathon is that it helps law grads find new and interesting jobs which are different to the traditional law firm roles.

Portia McDonald, who heads The Legal Forecast in Western Australia, participated in the 2018 hackathon, also run at UWA, and says she sees law as ripe for disruption. “Legal hackathons are preparing students to address gaps in the legal industry, to think about the industry from a macro perspective and to apply disruptive thinking to solve the big questions like how to improve access to justice.”

Kate Offer with #DisruptingLaw 2019 mascot and mental health adviser, Sally.

This is one of the aims that UWA seeks too, according to Assistant Professor Offer. “It’s important for students to realise that they have ideas that can help the profession. Students sometimes have a tendency to underestimate themselves but by Sunday afternoon they are all presenting innovative ideas that are actually implementable.”

This year coders were more involved in the process, so students were helped by their expertise alongside legal practictioners. This meant that ideas were targeted and more implementable from day one.

For Assistant Professor Offer there was a buzz in the room. “People are energised and engaged in the room. Students are realising that they can come up with a good idea and that they are worth implementing.”

Mr McDonald, from Pragma Lawyers who also sponsored the 2018 hackathon at UWA, agreed saying that the ideas were better developed by the time they were presented. “This meant the students really enjoyed the weekend too.”

Ms McDonald said that all teams manage to pull together an amazing pitch in the final hour. “No matter how far behind or stressed a team may appear, every team manages to produce high-quality work and eloquent pitches.”

She’s interested in hackathons and innovation in law because they get people to critically evaluate the way things have always been done. “You start to question structures, processes and attitudes that you otherwise would have taken as a given. I think it is extremely important to question these things if we are to create meaningful change in the legal industry.”

Mr McDonald’s interest in innovation in law comes partly from the increased discussion and commentary on the issue. “The talk doesn’t seem to be reflected in the action”, he laments.

He points to Stanford Law School’s Tech index, which shows that there are currently over a thousand legal tech companies operating but less than 10 years ago there were only 28

Aaron McDonald, Director, Pragma Lawyers, with the winning team of #DisruptingLaw 2019, Team Pragma, who won for the app Latch.

This year the winning team, Team Pragma, developed Latch, a program which matches clients needing legal assistance with lawyers that are suited to their needs, including through communication styles and personality types.

Other ideas included an app which ensured employees were being lawfully paid, an app which provided family law advice in a plain-English manner and a project management platform for lawyers.

In an update from the 2018 Hackathon, the winning team returned to share their advice with the teams.

Their app, Lawra, is in development in conjunction with the UWA Law School, the Community Legal Centres Association. Lawra pairs people needing legal assistance with the right community legal centre, which speeds up this process for consumers and alleviates unnecessary administration for the lawyers.

Judges assessing the pitches.

More photos are available here.

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