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Hacking the Future of the Legal Industry Through Innovative Ideas

Hacking the Future of the Legal Industry Through Innovative Ideas
by Sean Sonnenberg

July 20, 2018

By: Ioana Good, Amy Norris and Erin Ryan

The Legal Intelligencer

Facebook. Google. Microsoft. These are a few of the tech-savvy giants that regularly host hackathons—intense brainstorming sessions designed to solve pain points and enhance the client experience. Thanks to deliberate “hacks” and “hackers,” companies like Facebook have delivered the “like,” “safety” and “donation” buttons over the years to improve the user experience. Thanks also to organized events like Disrupt SF 2017 Hackathon, new ideas such as Alexa Shop Assist have hatched. Even some in the legal tech industry have caught on, evidenced by the inaugural Global Legal Hackathon in 2018, dedicated to the “rapid development of solutions for improving the legal industry, worldwide.”

Technology aside, could hackathons impact the business of law and improve client experience?

First, let’s look at the origins and nature of what hackathons are. The word is derived from merging the words “hack” and “marathon.” In the tech sense, these “hackings” are typically comprised of software coders, designers and engineers that come together for a short period of time (up to 24 hours) to find technology solutions to a problem. Hackathons are typically:

  • Exploratory in nature. They are intended to remove preconceived notions and “the way we’ve always done things.”
  • Altruistic. They solve a problem for the greater good.
  • Demonstrable. They end with a formal, persuasive demonstration to peers and judges, which forces participants to think both deeply and linearly, not just conceptually.
  • Measurable. A winner is crowned based on objective criteria, but success of the hackathon itself is measured by the level of participation and engagement.

In the legal industry, these sessions can take on several types of challenges. Hackathons bring legal and business leaders together to solve problems—even client issues! Massaging this idea a step further, these meetings don’t have to focus on something big. They can be broken down to something smaller in scale, and even be extended over a longer period of time. In fact, your first hackathon may work best if you focus on modifying, expanding or enhancing a current process instead of tackling something brand new.

For example, at McGuireWoods, the marketing and business development team conducted a month-long hackathon to improve its process around certain directory submissions. The firm already had a fairly routine approach, but incorporating members of the proposal and competitive intelligence teams resulted in a refined process that was replicable by the entire team. Similarly, the Legal Marketing Association Southeast Regional Board is conducting an 8-hour hackathon to enhance the region’s communication plan during its upcoming board meeting.

The hackathon concept could also be applied to onboarding, lateral integration, client communication processes, or any issue that is preventing the absolute best client experience. Hopefully your wheels are turning by now! If you’re ready, here are some things to consider when conducting a hackathon:

  • What specific pain points are you aiming to solve?
  • What is the mission to be achieved by your hackathon teams?
  • What diverse perspectives and roles are represented on your teams? Consider everyone inside (or outside) your organization who could help achieve the mission.
  • What process will you follow? Identify the timeline, deliverables, judging criteria and the prize.
  • What parameters need to be observed, including resource availability and constraints?

It’s true. Hackathons are not a new concept, yet we are now seeing them gain traction in the legal industry, enhancing client experience and impacting the bottom line. Are you ready to hack your firm and bring it to the next level? We sure hope so!

Ioana Good is the immediate past president of the Legal Marketing Association for the Southeast Region, and this year she is leading the R&D arm for the organization. She manages business development and communications for Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed. Contact her at