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Hackney Community Law Centre Hosts Europe’s First Ever Law-Tech Hackathon

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Cllr Sade Etti, Speaker of Hackney, attends the Law for Good Hackathon at Hackney Community Law centre; photo courtesy of Legal Geek

Legal Geek, the UK’s largest law focused tech community, founded by entrepreneur Jimmy Vestbirk took over Google Campus during the weekend of 18th March as teams from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Mischon de Reya as well as more than 150 delegates from as far afield as Romania and the US battled it out during 72 hours of coding and programming mayhem.

This was officially Europe’s first ever Law-Tech Hackathon; its aim to create innovative and technical solutions to the issues affecting legal services in the borough of Hackney.

The Hackney Community Law Centre, on behalf of whom the “Law for Good” event was organised, operates on a limited budget and often struggles to meet demand for its services.

“The main problem faced is that 50% of clients drop out after one meeting for a variety of cultural, social and language reasons”, Vestbirk explained; “we thought that more developers and coders need to be involved in LawTech disruption to combat this problem and the hackathon was a creative and effective way to do this.”

“The LawTech community is seeking to help the most vulnerable people in the community by solving these issues with technology”, he added.

The Hackathon was a resounding success; once the event had been officially launched by Counsellor Sade Etti, Speaker of Hackney, HCLC’s Sean Canning and Miranda Grell gave brief speeches to outline some of the difficulties the centre faced; a lack of secretarial assistance, forcing lawyers to chase up and prepare documentation for every one of their clients; no interpreters to help counsel take instruction from non-English speaking clients, and too much paperwork and not enough streamlined services, the assembled “hackers and hustlers” split into 10 teams and began to brainstorm.

Before long the hacking was in full swing; lawyers are used to long working hours but its unlikely many had been asked to work for 36 hours straight before – still, come Saturday evening, all 10 teams pitched their ideas and it was up to the judges, including tech journalist Joanna Goodman, Matthew Ryder QC of Matrix Chambers, and Julia Salasky, founder of Crowd Justice, to make their choice.

3 teams were awarded prizes – the overall winners comprised a team of coders from Freshfields, who helped to create a completely new HCLC portal management system, which “triaged” in no fewer than seven languages and helped solve legal problems in housing, welfare and benefits, immigration, and employment – you can check the pitch out for yourself, here.

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Legal Geek’s Jimmy Vestbirk’s helps the judges reach a decision; photo courtesy of Legal Geek

In joint second place were Team Lawtomaton, who created a Virtual SMS assistant capable of translating and transmitting messages in different languages via mobile, and team TBFE, who created a text reminder service to manage bookings and appointments.

“The various Hackathon groups came up with some great ideas which we hope to follow up – if there is any tech firm in tech city that can help us develop some of these ideas we have been given, then please get in touch!” pleaded Cllr Ian Rathbone, HCLC chair.

“It’s yet another sign that London – already a global legal hub – is really embracing the potential of new LawTech projects” commented Matthew Ryder QC, and Julia Salasky, Crowd Justice, added, “What a thrill to see so many people with such different skill sets giving their weekend to solve one of the hardest problems of the legal sector – how to improve access to advice for the most vulnerable.”

Winning team member Milos Kresojevic said “Technology has huge potential to improve access to justice for people everywhere. This hackathon has shown what can be done in a very short time. We’ve enjoyed the experience and hope we can help more in the future.”

The event was another feather in the cap of Legal Geek’s Vestbirk, who brought the idea to London after successfully implementing it in San Francisco, probably the only place on the planet where tech disruption is a hotter subject than in London.

Look out for the next Legal Geek event coming up in May; London’s Law Tech practicioners seem to be thriving in all the right places, giving communities not just their tools, but also their time, which in turn helps them serve residents better. A virtuous circle indeed.

 

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