Recently I was excited to be a part of the inaugural Disrupting Law Hackathon in Perth – organised by the Legal Forecast and hosted by UWA Law School. Over 54 hours, 35 law students working in 7 teams came up with innovative, creative and disruptive solutions to real-world legal problems. I felt privileged to be involved as a roaming mentor supporting the teams in refining their solutions and building their final pitches for the “shark-tank” style judging panel on Sunday night!
It was great to see an event like this come to Perth and exciting to see the teams go through the process of brainstorming problems, identifying potential solutions, and refining their pitches. I know from first-hand experience how technology can provide powerful tools to solve difficult problems in the law. There is a huge amount of scope for lawyers, clients, courts and the community to benefit from applying technology to legal problems, and the teams involved in the Hackathon are helping to move the profession forward in this journey.
There were a number of major themes that teams focused on, including:
- access to justice;
- transparency and accountability;
- minimising administrative overheads; and
- improving client experience.
Legal puns also seemed to form a core part of the naming strategy for many teams. Many teams said this was to ensure their products were accessible and engaging to the public as well as lawyers (but it's possible law students just love a clever pun!)
Here's a full rundown of the inspirational pitches from the seven teams outlining their visions for their proposed solutions.
"Resolving neighbourhood disputes at the touch of a button"
PocketLaw is an app to help people proactively resolve neighbourhood disputes. The team opened by highlighting the extent of the problem – less than 10% of the population have ready access to legal services but over 60% experience neighbourhood nuisance issues like noisy dogs, fencing disputes, and overhanging branches. PocketLaw focuses on providing consumers with legal information, rather than advice, by linking them to useful resources that already exist online. The goal is to put the power in people’s pockets by giving them access to the most accurate and up-to-date information, whenever they need it. The app is designed to be engaging for laypersons (rather than lawyers) using plain language and lots of humourous tree puns to keep content light and accessible.
“A legal guide dog for defendants in the criminal justice system”
Lawbrador is a web app that acts as a legal guide dog for defendants throughout criminal justice proceedings. Currently, defendants often struggle to navigate the congested court system and end up with additional penalties simply because they aren't in the right place at the right time. In addition, lawyers working with Legal Aid or community legal centres often spend a significant amount of time answering basic questions from defendants or physically directing them to where they need to go. Lawbrador enables defendants to enter the details from their summons straight into the app and then provides push notifications for important dates plus information on where to go and what do (including basic court etiquette). The goal of the app is to provide a triple benefit – better experiences for defendants, reduced time burden for lawyers and greater efficiency for the court system.
"Connecting people to the best CLC to solve their legal needs"
The scale of the problem LawLink was trying to solve was astounding – every year nearly 160,000 people are turned away from community legal centres, 70% of these because their legal issue is outside the mandate of the CLC the person reached out to. It takes CLC staff approximately 20 minutes to take each of these calls, which equates to over 37,000 hours of lost time every single year. LawLink aims to solve this issue by providing a plugin for CLC websites that quickly directs people to the CLC that best suits their legal needs. The plugin would run consumers through a series of questions to help identify the CLC that can help, hosted by an avatar humourously named "Lawra". The prototype demo put together by the team was very slick and creative, making it easy to envisage how LawLink could save consumers and CLCs a lot of valuable time!
"Real-time tracking of case progress to provide greater transparency for clients"
Lawyer-client relationships can be fraught, particularly when clients don't really understand what their lawyers are spending time on or how their matter is progressing. Invision seeks to improve transparency in legal services by providing clients with a real-time view of how their case is progressing. The Invision app would link to the document management software used by a law firm, allowing lawyers working on a matter to upload relevant documents to the client's account, and to add additional features such as timelines estimating when work will be completed by. It would also allow the lawyers to prompt clients to provide input or feedback when needed, helping matters to progress more smoothly. The Invision team saw family law as the best place to start piloting their product, later expanding into other areas of law.
"Saving time for lawyers and clients in the onboarding process"
OB1 is a software as a service solution (SAAS) that enables law firms to onboard clients more efficiently. New clients are taken step by step through an automated process to collect critical onboarding information -saving lawyers' time and providing flexibility for clients, who can complete the process from anywhere with an internet connection. This has the added benefit of reducing the cost of the initial consultation for clients. The goal of OB1 was to help smaller firms to service clients with less financial resources in a more time and cost effective manner for everyone involved.
"Tapping the power of litigation data to improve client outcomes"
The idea of helping law firms to utilise litigation data isn't new - but most of these businesses rely on publicly available information. With over 98% of civil litigation settling before trial, this has meant most litigation data is inaccessible -; until now! Enter Constellation - a software solution designed to help law firms effectively leverage the litigation data they already have at their fingertips. It works like this - law firms enter key data points on past settlements handled by the firm to create a comprehensive database. Lawyers can then enter information about current matters and Constellation's algorithm draws on the past data to provide a likely range for any settlement payout. This helps lawyers to give clients better advice on the likely settlement payout for their case - and may also help to promote early settlement of disputes. The team who created Constellation envisage starting by focusing on personal injury litigation and then expanding to cover other types of litigation in future. As the judges said - the future is bright for Constellation!
“Transparent estate administration to protect our elderly from financial abuse”
Financial elder abuse is a growing problem in Australia, as our population ages and more people need to rely on enduring powers of attorney to manage their affairs. Trusty is an app designed to prevent this issue by transparently administering estates under a power of attorney. Family members can link Trusty to bank accounts and use it to track all financial transactions – they can even set transaction limits and receive alerts for suspicious activity. The data can also be exported and used in court proceedings if necessary. Team Trusty is certainly trying to solve a live issue – the Australian Law Reform Commission has previously called for a national register of enduring powers of attorney to be created to prevent financial elder abuse.
And the winner is...
After the final pitches, the judges convened to decide on the overall winner and minor prize winners. The judging panel included Joshua Sanchez-Lawson (Blackstone Society), Oliver Tod (Herbert Smith Freehills), John Naughton (King & Wood Mallesons), Julia Powles (NY School of Law) and Kate Offer (UWA Law School).
The minor prize winners were:
- PocketLaw – Blackstone Award for Best Team Collaboration
- Constellation – HBA Legal Award for Most Creative Team Presentation
- Trusty – HSF Award for Most Commercial Concept
- LawLink – Piddington Award for Idea with Greatest Social Impact
And the overall winner of the inaugural UWA Disrupting Law Hackathon was... LawLink!
The judges said that LawLink stood apart for its user-focused tech solution that focused on creating positive outcomes for legal consumers and the community legal sector.
Kate Offer closed the event by thanking students for stepping up and getting involved with the very first legal Hackathon held in Perth, and for the creativity, enthusiasm and out-of-the-box thinking demonstrated throughout the weekend.
It's exciting to see more of these events focusing on the future of law, and how technology can enable lawyers to achieve so much more than they do now. Now we are looking forward to the next Hackathon, which we hope won’t be too far off!
Sarah Mateljan is Co-Founder and Director of LawCPD.com.au
 Attorney General Annual Report 16/17 https://department.justice.wa.gov.au/_files/DotAG_Final-Report-2016-2017.pdf
 Elder abuse inquiry calls for power of attorney changes to stop children ripping parents off: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-11/elder-abuse-inquiry-calls-for-law-changes/8106528