The Top 9 Tips to Get the Most out of Your First Legal Hackathon Experience

A legal hackathon is a relatively new concept that seeks to apply the tendency towards creative disruption, common among the technology start-up scene today, to the legal industry.

Over the course of a weekend, each team of participants (usually comprising a variety of people – from law students, legal service providers and legal technology entrepreneurs to practising lawyers from a range of organisations) collaborates to develop an innovative idea and deliver a pitch for the idea, overseen by a panel of judges who decide on a winner based on the impact and feasibility of the idea. It’s a great environment in which to practise collaborative thinking and challenge traditional forms of legal practice.

These tips will help you make your first hackathon a rewarding experience.

Tip 1: Be open-minded

The purpose of legal hackathons is to get us thinking not only as lawyers, but as people and polymaths. Don’t be afraid to set aside the terminologies and structures designed for your workplace, and anything else that may limit you. Let out all the ideas you would otherwise bracket away in the course of everyday life. Above all, be open to the ideas of others. Practise critical empathy as a way of moving between different perspectives.

Tip 2: Embrace teamwork and embrace diversity

Developing a good and feasible idea within the time given requires a team effort. For your team, assemble a mix of people with different skills and backgrounds. Delegate work to ensure that you make the most of everyone’s time and unique skills. If you tend to dominate conversations then moderate your contributions, and if you tend to be a quieter voice, ensure that you get your ideas across. Be particularly mindful that nobody is excluded on account of their gender, impairments or any such traits.

Tip 3: Don’t shy away from criticism

While brainstorming may be a good default for putting ideas on the table, allowing criticism can enhance the quantity and quality of ideas. Productive criticism is a good way of bringing real-life obstacles into the conversation and people generally respond by employing innovative problem-solving strategies. After all, legal hackathons are for identifying the problems with current legal practice and finding ways to move beyond them. Speak freely and mindfully, and take criticism well.

Tip 4: Set achievable goals

Ensure that the team sets achievable goals for every step of the journey, however simple or complex they may be. These will guide your progress and time management, and alert you to possible obstacles in its development and implementation.

Tip 5: Use a range of media

Not every proposal can be developed from beginning to end through the use of pen and paper or table conversations. Use online platforms such as Slack, Bubbl and Google Docs to ensure that contributions are effectively stored, conveyed and linked, and that everyone is included and updated every step of the way. Use presentation tools such as Prezi to break the mould of a typical PowerPoint presentation.

Tip 6: Expect change

Any experienced ballgame playmaker will tell you that the best passes aren’t those that aim for where the play is at that point in time, but where the play will be in the next instance, or even where you want it to be. The legal industry is a moving target, and coming up with a powerful proposal in the current period of accelerated change requires one to make predictions about where the industry will be in the coming years and where one may influence it. This level of vision will give your team credibility and your proposal feasibility.

Tip 7: Tell stories

The presentation stage allows the judges to make up their mind about your project’s merits. A good presenter isn’t a snake-oil salesman; their main aim is to ensure that the greatest strengths of their proposal leave the clearest imprint on listeners’ minds. Rather than overloading your listeners with information, engage audiences through a brain-friendly medium – the medium of storytelling.

Remember the following tips:

  • Stories should describe the practical application of your proposal in a manner that creates an emotional resonance with the audience.
  • Stories leave the greatest impression when told at the beginning and/or the end of the presentation.

Tip 8: Stay motivated

Make sure everyone gets a say in creating a productive environment. Manage energy levels by taking regular breaks and snacks. Don’t forget that you’ll all be full of tension and emotion throughout the weekend – no words of motivation will go to waste.

Tip 9: Have fun

A legal hackathon isn’t meant to be another hard day at the office. Take advantage of opportunities to meet new people and have stimulating conversations about the legal industry, or about anything, really. Get competitive but always be a good sport!

The Sydney Round of the Global Legal Hackathon, which was co-sponsored by Thomson Reuters and Herbert Smith Freehills, took place between the 23rd and 25th of February at the University of New South Wales. The event involved approximately 60 hackathon participants and was organised by a raft of volunteers from The Legal Forecast and 23Legal and a range of mentors, including technology, sales, legal and strategy mentors from Practical Law Australia and other teams within Thomson Reuters.

Edwin Montoya Zorrilla is a Legal Editor in the Practical Law Knowledge Central team and a member of The Legal Forecast. His particular interests include alternative dispute resolution, and how legal transformation can improve workplace transparency and fairness, and further access to justice.

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