I recently went on an exhausting and exhilarating trip to a Legal Hackathon with the Music City Legal Hackers! What’s a Legal Hackathon? Well, quite simply a perfect mishmash for two industries who have very different skills, different experiences in the professional sector, different ideas of “work-wear” and two different languages (Truly, I have never heard so many acronyms and letters mashed into words as these two groups had in conversation). My group was a partnership between Music City Legal Hackers and Code For Nashville. These two volunteer groups are trying to utilize technology to both help their respective industries… and to help change the world – one problem at a time. There was a J.D. Vanderbilt law professor, software developers, designers, project managers and technologists of all sorts. My job – a simple cat herder. I was hoping to keep the group organized, on task and bring coffee if anyone needed some late night pick-me-ups.
I, as a former staff member in small law and currently as an entrepreneur in the legal field, have a genuine love of the legal field and a passion for bridging the gap between tech and legal. I have served as an interpreter between the two industries in various forms – but always from a non-lawyer position. This has been helpful, quite simply, because I can ask all of the “dumb” questions most people do not wish to ask. I believe both groups have so much to offer and know that if we ever get that bridge built – the entire practice of law will not only benefit itself – but use its newfound energy, efficiency and time to benefit all those in need of legal services.
So, this Legal Hackathon. The State Bar of Georgia hosted their first annual Legal Hackathon in September of 2016. We started the first day with presentations by four very different, but very deserving non-profit groups who were facing all of the difficulties our legal field knows all too well. The needs included obtaining information from their clients, lack of funds and an overwhelming amount of work with very little manpower. What was simply amazing, was being a part of the conversation of the techies as they learned of these groups – and their respective missions. I saw a group of young men become horrified, angry and then simply determined. Determined to build or do something that could make an impact. Their passion was not only awesome to watch grow – but was inspiring to be in the midst of. Combining their passion with the passion of all those who had already been “fighting the fight” was like being the midst of a storm of do-gooders. It was exhilarating, messy and a little terrifying all at the same time.
As the Hackathon continued, the most amazing part? The techies insisted that they knowledge they had was not unique, special or important. It simply was their skill set and they were much more interested in learning about the “user experience” – i.e. hearing about whether the item they developed would have any impact on the non-profit group(s) they had designed it for. And the legal field - the lawyers, and non-lawyers alike – were invested in hearing how they could provide whatever small information they had to help these techies fix their various inefficiencies so they could do more good. I am not sure my basic words can ever describe the feeling as I watched these two industries not only come together – but both insist their part was small in comparison to the other ones. I, of course, offered to take all of their credit – I am a great cat herder after all!
The item built – a messaging option that allowed domestic violence victims to text messages and images to a non-profit group with no evidence of having sent the information to this group. A folder is automatically created in Dropbox (or the storage program of your choice) and within that folder all messages or pictures are saved and accessible to the non-profit group as needed. This – this amazing tool that has implications not only across the four groups we heard from – but for any attorney who has ever had to give their cell phone number to a – was built in a few hours. LESS THAN A DAY!
The moral of this story – and the thing I learned? Well, I learned lots of little lessons.
Our legal field has as many needs to actually learn and use existing technology as it does for custom built solutions. We as a legal field must be willing to learn. Techies as the holder of not only skills to build new technology, but as information resources must be willing to teach and not just build.
Technologists don’t see their skill sets as the all-powerful magic that some of us seem to. Lawyers, at their heart, see their skills as tools of the people and their needs. Once the fear of “asking dumb questions” is put aside, the knowledge and magic these two groups create is awe-inspiring.
Techies are people – just like lawyers are people. When we remember we are all people at our core, put aside any ego, and simply work together, we are amazed at the people behind the skills.
But the main lesson I learned – there is almost nothing we cannot solve when we combine not just the skills and knowledge – but the actual passion for serving those who are in need we all have at our cores. A simple cat herding, non-lawyer, interpreter can be part of something that impacts not only these two industries she loves – but also will become a tool to help clients and victims who are in need. I simply cannot wait to become a part of my next Legal Hackathon. My hope is if you are inspired by this brief story you will join us in Tennessee in April 2017 as we change the world….or really just learn more about each other as we solve simple problems with simple tools that have amazing use and implication.