Imagine if the immense, diverse, dispersed, and energetic pool of legal industry talent coalesced and created solutions for some of the most pressing legal, regulatory, and civil society challenges caused by the pandemic. This is not some Panglossian illusion. It is happening now at the FT Innovative Lawyers-Global Legal Hackathon. This inaugural event is a collaboration involving the Global Legal Hackathon (GLH) and the FT Innovative Lawyers (FTIL) program.
The Global Legal Hackathon (GLH) was launched in 2018 by David Fisher, CEO of Integra Ledger, a blockchain company. The goal was to tap into the creative energy of legal hackers around the world and to unite them in an annual Hackathon. The event has been a big success, drawing more than 15,000 thousand participants from around the globe and serving as a nucleating force for legal tech enthusiasts.
The FTIL team-up with GLH is taking the Hackathon to a whole new level. The corporate gravitas of FTIL, a long-standing joint venture between the Financial Times and RSG Consulting, has caught the attention of the corporate legal establishment and big business. So too has the pragmatic, solution to problems-worth-solving approach taken by the FTIL-GLH galvanized large-scale legal consumers and organizations and brought them into the Hackathon mix. The list of official supporting organizations includes The Association of Corporate Counsel, CLOC, and Barclays Eagle Lags. The list of participating organizations is broad, deep, and includes: Barclays Bank, HSBC, DBS Bank, Unilever, Cisco, Santander, Rio Tinto, and IBM.
The FT Global Legal Hackathon has issued a challenge to the legal industry : “To unleash the talent and creativity of the world’s legal industry to collaboratively innovate solutions to the most pressing legal, regulatory, and civil society challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis.” The response has been overwhelming—2,700 participants from 225 organizations and 70 countries have submitted 170 projects. Twelve of the world’s twenty largest law firms are involved as are several of the world’s largest multinationals and banks as well as giant multidisciplinary professional service companies and consultancies.
The FT Global Legal Hackathon is a watershed legal industry event, a global call-to-arms to identify, create, and deliver a new product or service that addresses real-time, real-life legal challenges. Not only do participants collaborate to problem-solve, but also—and more importantly—they identify and agree upon a problem worth solving. Too often, legal tech enthusiasts and hackers have focused on the “cool factor” rather than practical, pressing real-life challenges warranting tech-enabled solutions. A Hackathon, like technology more broadly, is only as relevant as the problems participants attempt to solve. The FTIL-GLH challenge is a reminder that the application of tech solutions to real-time, real life challenges that positively impact consumers is what matters.
The FTIL-GLH has just released an online gallery of projects, teams, and Hackathon participants. Here are just a few examples. COVID-19 and the move to office-less, paper-less and contact-less working has accelerated the need for businesses to use e-signatures. In response, an e-signature adoption playbook was developed by a diverse Hackathon team of 63 members from Barclays Eagle Labs, law firms Clifford Chance, Ashurst, and Norton Rose Fulbright, and technology companies Adobe Sign, Docusign, NeotaLogic and Litera. The team developed a prototype tool designed to help business drive greater adoption of e-signatures and providing them with a step-by-step workflow to execute documents digitally.
A team from Rio Tinto, The University of Western Australia Law School, and Australian law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth created a digital legal toolkit to help company lawyers manage health, safety and environment incidents. The mobile phone app helps the user conduct an initial assessment and provides a range of guidance and communications functions.
Other Hackathon teams tackled some of the fundamental legal challenges governments and industry face responding to the COVID-19 crisis. For example, IBM Corp developed a framework for intellectual property co-creation of technology applications, platforms and data to promote greater collaboration between entities for combating COVID-19 and future pandemics.
The breadth and scope of issues addressed, participants, and solutions is a testament not only to the event organizers but also to the energy and enthusiasm of its diverse participants. What is even more eye-raising is the level of collaboration among team members from different organizations and parts of the legal ecosystem, the work product achieved in a remarkably compressed timeframe, the potential of the solutions, and the talent on display. This underscores that legal services can be reimagined when long-standing assumptions and paradigms are put aside. For example, the fluidity of a workforce where required competency is more important that organizational provenance is a hallmark of digital organizations. This is a cultural issue, not a technological one. Legal culture—and its structural, economic, and delivery models must be geared to the customer, not to the preservation of the legal guild and its zero-sum mindset.
The FTIL-GLH Hackathon— like the pandemic it is responding to—has cast a bright light on what new models, underutilized technologies, and agile, collaborative, data-driven, and diverse workforces can do. This is a glimpse into the latent ability the legal industry has to ameliorate its wicked problems. Those challenges are both customer-based and internal (e.g. drug abuse, alcoholism, mental health issues, etc.). Law in the digital age can and will do better for customers and its workforce. It all starts with cultural reformation.
The pragmatic, consumer-centric, tech-enabled, multidisciplinary, collective approach of Hackathon teams is a look into the way the legal industry will function going forward. The focus of legal providers will cease to be on sustaining their economic models through input but on solving consumer challenges efficiently, holistically, collaboratively, and measurably by efficient, data-driven output . The Hackathon challenge evidences law’s transition from a lawyer-centric, labor intensive service profession to a multidisciplinary, tech-enabled industry operating at the intersection of legal, business, and technological expertise. The focus on the customer and new ways of meeting challenges is a significant step in law’s late but necessary entry into the digital age. This helps explain why many of the world’s largest legal consumers and providers are participating in the FTIL-GLH event.
Law Enters The Digital Age
Law has lagged digital transformation, even as that has become a C-Suite priority during the past few years. A Gartner study found that only 19% of all in-house teams are equipped to represent digital companies. A notable exception is in-house legal departments of large companies and other businesses in the vanguard of digital transformation.
COVID-19 has created a new, broader urgency for business to go digital, and the legal function will not receive a hall pass. Law’s incumbent delivery models, entrenched stakeholders, risk-aversion, and adherence to precedent and resistance to innovation are no match for the pandemic. The Coronavirus has caused the legal establishment to utilize latent technologies, work remotely, engage in online learning, and adopt new methods of operation, delivery, collaboration, and social interaction. In a matter of weeks, the legal industry has undergone seismic change and learned that there are viable alternatives to legal delivery, education/training, and the administration of justice. The legal industry has embarked on its digital journey, and there is no turning back. The profession is no longer holding the reins; buyers are. They are already demanding a re-imagination of the legal function. This will shake up legal education, training, workforce, division of labor, delivery models, culture, pricing, use of data, and shift the focus from lawyers to clients/customers.
The FT-GLH event has accomplished another important milestone: it has cast a spotlight on agile, collaborative approaches to problem solving in the legal industry. It has promoted organic diversity, collaboration, focus on materiality, replacing brute-force labor with products for the benefit of consumers, and reconfirmed that the business of law is not constrained by parochial regulations and borders. Most importantly it has transitioned from theory to action, making the Hackathon an innovation driver. This is a reminder that innovation is not simply a word, it is the byproduct of meaningful action that positively impacts people. It is also a reminder that law’s wicked problems cannot be solved by individuals or individual organizations alone. Solutions to complex challenges are achieved by collective effort drawn from multiple skills, backgrounds, and mindsets. The common denominator is customer focus and identification of problems worth solving.
The FT-GLH is a legal digital coming-out party. Like the enthusiasm and mix of old and new/establishment and NexGen that Legal Geek—“law’s Woodstock”— has tapped into, the FT-GLH Hackathon has brought the entire legal ecosystem together. . This is new to a legal industry long reticent to collaborate or to meld legal expertise with other necessary skills required to provide holistic, rapid responses to urgent customer needs.
The FT-GLH has confronted the challenge and tapped into the promise of law in the digital age. It took a pandemic to reveal what some legal buyers and providers already knew: tools and resources exist to reimagine legal delivery for the betterment of clients/customers as well as those in need of its products and services. The FT-GLH provides compelling evidence.