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How Legal Hackers Are Changing The Legal Industry


What is your first impression when you hear the term ‘hacker’? Let me guess. A person who hacks a system illegally and damage companies, creating a financial problem or stealing data? This reputation took shape in society at the beginning of the development of the era of the Internet. Could you ever imagine that hackers could make your life better and more secure in different spheres? For example, protecting your rights. Or that hackers could make justice accessible for six billion people all over the world?

Approximately six billion people in today’s global population don’t have adequate access to justice. Every year, one billion people face a new justice problem. Of the most severe ones, a mere 18% are completely resolved. The statistic says that 80% of US citizen can’t afford lawyer services in civil matters because they are too expensive. You can imagine how detrimental the situation is in less developed countries. The consequences of this are very serious: violence, loss of livelihood, damaged relationships, and health problems. Justice must become more user-friendly to change this. Legal tech can solve these problems.

Let’s start over. Who are hackers? A ‘hacker’ is any skilled computer person who uses their technical knowledge to overcome different problems. Since the end of the 20th century, a new meaning has emerged in popular culture – ‘computer hacker’ – a programmer who deliberately hacks computer security systems. Often, IT hackers are classified into different types, of which the two main ones are White Hat and Black Hat. It so happens that the term hacker is more associated with the negative connotation. The reasons for this are the activities of stereotypical illegal hacking groups who can destroy, modify, or steal data, or make networks unusable. Mass culture and films have also played a role in shaping hacker culture. For example, in 1995 the movie ‘Hackers’ was released, starring one of the most famous Hollywood actresses, Angelina Jolie. Moreover, there are some books on this topic – one of the most popular is The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick.

Despite the fact that historically ‘hackers’ were increasingly associated with harm, a new meaning started to take hold – ‘white hat’ – white ethical hacking. The Cambridge Dictionary says that a ‘white hacker’ is a person who gets into computer systems without permission and has morally good reasons for doing this. White hackers are an integral part of the cybersecurity community. They exploit systems to make them better or to provide their own systems and keep black hat hackers out. For example, one of the white hat companies – Hacken offers a cybersecurity utility token for a full stack of countermeasures, aimed at reducing threats, vulnerabilities, and attacks by eliminating or preventing them. The utility token named HKN is the only payment method inside the Hacken ecosystem.

There are also some different types of hacking, and one of the most popular and fast-growing is legal hacking. It means that lawyers are using technologies to solve legal problems and optimize their work process on the one side, and people are using technologies to solve their own legal problems on the other.

In 2012, in New York, a global non-commercial community of lawyers appeared: IT specialists who all work at the intersection of technology and law – Legal Hackers. It was the time of protests against two proposed laws in the US Congress – the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). People were concerned that the bills intended to provide more robust responses to copyright piracy arising outside the United States, contained measures that could possibly infringe online freedom of speech. After discussing innovations in copyright law, for the first time, American lawyers tried to answer the question of how they could use technology to resolve legal issues. Professor of the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic, Jonathan Askin, students from the Brooklyn Legal Incubator, and policy-makers decided to hold the first ever hackathon of legal innovations, held at Brooklyn Law School in April 2012. It was Jonathan Askin’s challenge to an auditorium of law students, lawyers, and entrepreneurs at the first-ever Legal Hackathon, a day-long event held Sunday at Brooklyn Law School to help lawyers, traditionally the guardians of rules, think more like hackers, the mischief makers and problem solvers of the tech world.

The meeting was called New York Legal Hackers. After a successful hackathon, the idea of having these meetings was accepted by Washington, and then the community spread to other states and continents. In 2016, the co-founder of DC Legal Hackers Jameson Dempsey presented the Legal Hackers Community at the Le Hackie Awards. Then Dempsey met the father of Legal Hackers, Phil Weiss, at the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic just when the SOPA/PIPA debates were swirling. Some time later, Jonathan Askin, Jameson Dempsey, and Phil Weiss became a core team of the Global Legal Hackers Community.

Today, Legal Hackers chapters have spread to all continents and exist in 110 cities in the world. Every year, the community gathers more and more people from all over the world. Some countries have several chapters in different cities. For example, there are nine chapters in Brazil which are so active that the total number of participants is about 1,500. Brazil’s legal market is really huge. Brazil was ranked as the country with the largest number of lawyers in the world. With a population of  210 million people, they have one million registered lawyers. Also, there are more than a million law school students – the potential for automation and integration of legal innovations in this country is truly enormous.

As the Legal Hackers community was created in New York, the International Legal Hackers Summit, the main idea of which is the exchange of experience among local branches, is also held in the United States annually. They also discuss ideas for future community development. In total, in 2018, 85 people from different countries attended the International Legal Hackers Summit in New York.

Participants of the International Legal Hackers Summit are interacting with each other.archive photo Valentin Pivovarov

Talking about Europe, in May 2018, the Kyiv Legal Hackers team held the first European Legal Hackers Summit in history and gathered about 150 participants from 12 countries, who shared their international perspectives and ideas for legal tech development in their countries.

Real legal tech solutions that were created by Legal Hackers members:

During the first Eastern Europe LegalTech Hackathon in May 2017, a project was created called Pinky Solution which six months later was recognized as one the best legal innovation of the year by the version of The Hague Institute of Innovation in Law and received a grant for the development. It’s an online dispute resolution platform – its approach avoids judicial red tape and an additional waste of time and money for proceedings by using the advantages of e-commerce.

After attending the LegalTech Hackathon in May 2017, lawyers from Moscow created the Moscow Legal Hackers chapter. The project FastLaw was created at the Moscow LegalTech Hackathon in November 2017, took first place there, and became a member of the Skolkovo IT Cluster. FastLaw is a smart assistant that can help with small matters such as hiring employees and solving legal and accounting issues for the automation of standard business processes. Founders of FastLaw say that the conversion of paper documents into a machine-readable form for further analysis, and analysis of contracts for typical risks under compliance and due diligence are the most in demand in the legal market in Russia.

Founders of FastLaw after the winning of Moscow LegalTech Hackathon.Photo – Facebook Moscow Legal Hackers

To improve all legal tech skills, legal hacker teams all over the world organize workshops teaching lawyers the basics of coding, data science, and design thinking and have given entrepreneurs a platform to share their innovations. They have also hosted events on the topics of artificial intelligence, blockchain, criminal justice, crowdfunding, cybersecurity, data protection, drone policy, intellectual property, mindfulness, network neutrality, open data, the sharing economy, startup law, and many others.

By the way, on December 8-9 in Lviv (Ukraine), there will be the Access to Justice Hackathon. All participants will create products that will help to take advantage of people’s rights, fight against discrimination, or force decision-makers to be brought to justice.

Colombia Legal Hackers are actively preparing for a major international event in Bogota in February 2019. There are so many lawyers in Colombia that, according to America’s Justice Studies Center, it’s the country with the second highest number of lawyers in the world per 100,000 inhabitants (354), only after Costa Rica. So Colombia can be called Lawyer Country. Also, Colombian lawyers are analyzing the technological revolution within the legal sphere.

Co-organizer of Colombia Legal Hackers Daniel Acevedo presents Colombia’s chapter at the International Legal Hackers Summit in New York.Twitter Legal Hackers Brazil

These are just a few examples that show that the Legal Hackers community is a real legal tech unicorn, at least from the influencers’ side. It is driving the legal technologies with the resources of young legal tech enthusiasts, creating startups, the main goal of which is to help people to access to justice all over the world; it is really successful and international. All of these things change the perception of the legal profession in the world and make young professionals think outside the box. After all, who else will hack the system, improve it, and make justice accessible in any part of the world?

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