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Lawyers and students to collaborate on tech solutions

Participants in an upcoming hackathon, run by the University of Technology Sydney and King and Wood Mallesons, will prototype solutions to real-world legal problems using digital technology.

user iconTom Lodewyke 28 March 2017 Corporate Counsel
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The #breakinglaw Hackathon will be held at UTS from 31 March to 2 April. Students from a range of faculties, including law, engineering, IT, business and design, will partner with KWM lawyers to develop solutions to legal problems.

“A Hackathon [is] a whole different way of working,” KWM executive director of innovation Michelle Mahoney told Lawyers Weekly.

“It is truly collaborative, so the students that are coming in get exposed to us in a whole different way. They’re pivoting, prototyping, designing, really working with people they’d never usually work with.”


Professor Lesley Hitchens, dean of the law faculty at UTS, said the hackathon will address the dynamic environment facing future legal professionals.

“Future lawyers will need a range of skills in addition to the disciplinary knowledge,” she said. 

“The hackathon provides an opportunity for students to build their skills in collaboration with other lawyers and other professionals; broader-based problem solving; develop solutions that are more practical and responsive to client needs; and see how technology is becoming part of the lawyer’s tool kit.”

To foster collaboration, each team will be a mixture of UTS students and KWM lawyers.

Ms Mahoney said the problems they will tackle are based on issues that are currently affecting the legal profession, or are expected to in the future.

“They include things like RegTech: regulatory compliance in the increasingly data-driven, open-data world; digital identity: how to manage and control your identity; we've got some around the changing way that we work and live, so this idea around a portfolio of careers and people increasingly moving around and how to manage remote working in careers, and perhaps how to manage contracting in those sorts of [arrangements]; online personal data; a bit around drones. It’s a really good cross-section of topics depending on what you’re interested in,” she said.

“[The hackathon] tries to truly distribute or look at the kind of problems we are solving with clients. Each time we do this, we talk to clients [and ask whether] they have a problem they’d like us to throw into the mix.”

There are also benefits for academics, with events such as the hackathon creating dialogue between universities and law firms, said Professor Hitchens.

“Law is a dynamic profession,” she said.

“It is important that we are aware of how lawyers are working and changing their practices so that we can offer the best practically oriented, future-focused education that we can to our students.”

Participants in the hackathon will workshop their ideas on Saturday, followed by pitching education on Sunday. The event will conclude with the pitching of each idea to the judging panel, which will consist of UTS engineering and technology dean Michael Blumenstein, KWM managing partner Berkeley Cox, Professor Hitchens and Ms Mahoney.

Ms Mahoney said hackathons are an effective way to break down barriers and inspire lawyers to think about what they could change.

“A hackathon is not just about ideation. It's a lot about energy. Our people in the last one came out of it hugely engaged,” she said.

“We often have meetings, we think about things, we talk about things, [but a hackathon] is actually all doing. You can’t sit and have a meeting for an hour and think ‘What should we do?’.

“I think [people] get surprised by it, how quickly you can get through it in a short period of time when you actually focus.”

UTS is also working with Allens and Neota Logic on the ‘Tech Challenge for Social Justice’. The program involves UTS students and Allens staff using Neota Logic software to develop solutions on problems faced by NGOs. The tech challenge will conclude in August.

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