Why Hackathons are great for lawyers

KLIEMT Hackathon 2019

Hackathons are a great way to dive into innovative concepts, build high-potential teams and work with cutting-edge technology.

They give you the opportunity to innovate in the legal and regulatory fields with your team, get a sense of rapid development, and gain insight into the daily grind of software development.

Maybe you have noticed that we post a lot about hackathons. We admit: they do happen with great frequency. Many of our customers have organized their own hackathons, such as Ashurst and Freshfields. Additionally, we are promoting our own Student Speed Hackathon series. Hackathons are a unique concept with a large number of benefits for law firms and corporate regulatory departments.

There is a lot of buzz about what legal technology can and cannot do. Johannes Maurer, our Head of Business Development for the EU region, shares the following insight:   

“Hackathons are about exploring ideas and new ways of doing things. A lot of the talk about legal technology is just that, talk. Hackathons help surface new ideas, bringing them to tangible reality. They’re about doing, instead of just talking.”

Why hackathons?

First and foremost, let us get past the hype. Hackathons have been around for over a decade. Although the concept receives its fair share of media coverage, it has lost nothing of its original charm and purpose.

The word hackathon comes from the words hack and marathon. Hack means “to quickly put together”, whereas marathon refers to the endurance required to work on-and-off for 24 hours straight. Marathon hacking, hence, Hackathon.

In theory, organizing a hackathon is simple: you round up software developers for a certain period of time – usually overnight – and let them build as much as possible before the final presentation. A few key ingredients are necessary; a comfortable space for participating teams, notebooks, a stable internet connection, a lasting supply of food and drink, and enough motivation for the groups to pull through.

While Salesforce, Box, and the Silicon Valley media outlet TechCrunch may have been amongst the first to discover the concept as a major hiring, marketing or team building event, other companies quickly followed suit. Originally, hackathons were mostly focused on the development of actual products. After, they turned into multi-day mass-events with live acts and multi-million-dollar prizes. However, the goals have now shifted from app-building towards teambuilding, testing, brainstorming, hiring, and marketing.

The concept is persuasive: if you have ever participated in a hackathon, you remember how thrilling it is. That feeling of excitement, commitment, and as if you are part of something bigger. The time limit provides the necessary impetus to push everybody past their limits and go beyond what they thought was possible.

Sound cheesy? Have a look what the team of Hogan Lovells has to say about their 30-hour-hackathon sprint last year:

Hogan Lovells Legal Tech Hackathon 2018

Hackathons help you get everybody engaged

If you have ever tried to assemble a group of people for a product demo, a brainstorming session, or a kickoff meeting that was not directly linked to professional operations, you know the challenge: people are quick to profess interest in all sorts of extracurricular activities but actually getting them to the table is a challenge. This is especially true for large organizations.

A hackathon, with its sensational character, evokes a different level of commitment. People want to be a link in the chain. Thus, when participants sign up for a hackathon, they not only agree to its terms (time and place), they also commit to a mindset of active participation, thereby ensuring an environment where participants are not afraid to bounce their ideas off one another to create something tangible and new.

We have seen it happen many times: from the first intro call to the actual kick-off, hackathons bring together the most curious minds.

Hackathons are the best place to brainstorm & recalibrate

People’s everyday lives are busy and fast-paced. They have neither the time nor energy to rethink routines and processes. This is the case in law firms or consulting firms where time equals billable hours and free time for research and development is limited. But like all other industries, firms and corporate regulatory departments benefit substantially from making innovation and change part of their employees’ workflows.

The success formula is fairly simple: the best brainstorming happens when there is a reason, a purpose, and a deadline. A hackathon provides just that: a framework where participants have room to expand their thinking and to explore uncharted territory.

Are you convinced that you are on the right track? That your strategy is just perfect? Then carve out a few hours to fine-tune that concept to give your organization that extra tactical edge – you will see the bigger picture and discover new paths. 

There’s a way to do it better — find it 

Thomas Alva Edison

Hackathons drive the innovation process  

Hackathons are part of tech culture. They are the perfect opportunity to explore possibilities. With hackathons, lawyers can take identified client needs, translate them into themes and problem topics, then open them up for ideation and prototype development. It is a simple, fun and resourceful way to tap into the creativity of the participants.

Hackathons are a unique tool as they enable the creation of minimum viable products or prototypes from ideas. There is no other innovation activity that covers almost all stages of the innovation process (read more about it here).

Despite the inherently chaotic and short-lived nature – with teams often working through sleepless nights – hackathons force participants to zero in on an issue and think innovatively using a diverse set of inputs.

Hackathons are a great way to solidify the digital transformation process in the minds of employees, bringing together creative thinking and practical implementation. Whatever the challenge is, hackathons can be an effective way to accelerate the adoption of innovative solutions and drive digital transformation.

Hackathons allow you to prototype ideas

Even when you have ideas for apps and tools, there is a huge difference between a sheet of paper and a working prototype.

Ideas in and of themselves cannot be used within your company or sold on a large scale. You will want to get hands-on with your idea, play around and create a prototype that ultimately lets you experience firsthand what works and what does not. When you turn an idea into a prototype, it helps you visualize what your app or tool might look like in action. The benefits and shortcomings of your tool become apparent, with the latter creating a new opportunity to modify the idea to rid the tool of them. A prototype lets you demo what you envision to your team – without first having to prove Return on Investment or negotiate for a budget.

Using a no-code platform like BRYTER, you can even go further: we have seen teams at Ashurst, HoganLovells, Kliemt or Fieldfisher turn ideas into actual working tools ready for organizational deployment.

Check how BRYTER can be utilized to create your own workflow automation tools, sign up for a demo with one of our experts. Alternatively, read our No-Code and Legal-Operations guides to find out how to automate your processes.

Hackathons allow you to test what actually works

While hackathons are a good means for achieving a strong bond between team members, they are even better for identifying and examining problems and their solutions. A hackathon is the most hands-on way of testing what actually works.

Everyone can talk about their powerful solutions. Vendors typically exaggerate when they talk about their own abilities and those of their products. As a result, the realm of possibility often remains unclear to the customer.

A hackathon, however, leaves little to the imagination. Its inherent feature is to provide a platform where one can observe the change that – quite literally – happens overnight. The participants are confronted with a problem and given the tools to solve them. With these tools, they can get their hands dirty. And through their own advances and setbacks, they create a transparent environment, where they and the organizers get to see what does or does not work. On top of it all, you get a natural feeling for the relation between time, effort and cost, as well as the benefits derived from the tools.

Hackathons are great for marketing

Last but certainly not least, hackathons are a brilliant marketing tool. Organizers can benefit from hosting a hackathon in multiple ways. 

When you organize a hackathon, you put yourself out there. You position your brand within your market and highlight your commitment towards creating a space for innovation, creativity, and receptiveness.

Hackathons are also a great networking opportunity. They provide a forum for collaboration that is rarely encountered in most professional services contexts. You can observe potential new talent in action and get an idea of their working method, which can be invaluable in assessing their potential fit within your company. Additionally, when participants feel a sense of purpose and dedication, they gain an underlying sympathy towards the company that hosts the event, a sort of shared identity. A hackathon provides fertile ground for establishing work relations. 

We are hackers at heart

“Eat your own dog food” is a common phrase in the startup world that we strongly believe in. That is why we are hacking ourselves quite regularly. We do this mostly using BRYTER, which is a great tool for the job – we are not all coders.

Our platform is used on a regular basis for our customers’ hackathons, too, as it equips both coders and lawyers with the right tools to be highly productive. Of course, you can do a hackathon in a traditional way: get some software developers together and start hacking. But if you cannot code, and want to be really fast in getting to a working prototype, then no-code development is the way to go. Our tool is a great platform if you want multi-disciplinary teams from across the world and different industries to collaborate, or if you want to create an equal set of tech for everyone.

Let us know if you want to learn more about hackathons. Or, reach out to some of our customers to hear about their experiences.

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