Kyiv Legal Tech Hackathon — Epilogue

This is my first post to Medium, so it might as well be about the first legal tech hackathon in Eastern Europe. I am talking about the Kyiv Legal Tech Hackathon (May 27/28), which I had the pleasure to be invited to as a mentor. The hackathon was organized by — who else — Kyiv Legal Hackers.

When it comes to legal technology, Ukraine is Nike territory — the battle cry is “Just do it”.

The tech-loving community of lawyers there is a dynamic bunch that gets shit done. Not everything may turn out a unicorn even by local standards, but that’s not the point. The point is to try relentlessly to make the legal profession and access to justice better one step at a time.

The hackathon drew an amazingly large crowd — proof that lawyers and software developers alike do not know the concept of «weekend». The median age of the attendees was somewhere around the point where you still must show your ID to buy a bottle of beer 😉. So, I was the outlier. On Sunday, some brought their kids with them, and people, glancing at me, probably thought “How nice, somebody brought his dad as well”. But in tech, youth is an advantage. You don’t think in terms “will it work?”, but “why shouldn’t it work?”. And this is what drives mankind. If you think that Jian-Yang’s “Not Hotdog” app is bat shit crazy, read on to see what was pitched at Kyiv Legal Tech Hackathon. And you know what — those ideas might even work…

We started with a short introduction by Wilfried de Wever of Hiil Justice Accelerator. Hiil is one of the very few organizations crazy, scratch that, farsighted enough to invest in legal tech startups outside the geographical comfort zone of usual seed investors. Anybody can invest in Facebook in 2017, right? No big deal. With bitcoin hitting the USD 2500 mark recently, I see more and more messages popping up like “If I only had invested when a bitcoin was at 60 cents”.

Well, ideas like PlayBook or or Claim Discovery might as well be your bitcoin moment.

Wilfried’s opening note was followed by a workshop on “Projects without Programming” about tools even lawyers can use to make something useful without JS or python.

After those words of wisdom, it was brainstorming time. The crowd split into three groups that went through three sessions — “Optimizing the law firm” (you get the idea), “Justice” (how to improve access to and the delivery of justice) and “Open data” (access to relevant data to crunch and build solutions upon). Everybody was invited to chip in and name their problems in those three areas. And boy did they chip in. One could get the impression that the legal business is one big pile of unsolvable problems.

Clearly everybody came well prepared and ready to tackle those problems. When it was time to come up with ideas for solutions and to ask for people that are needed to join the team, the whiteboard was too short to write them down in one column. In total, 23 ideas were announced, which is a fantastic outcome. The pre-pitches started with the concept for an AI powered case analysis tool and ended with the idea for crowdfunding bribes to judges or set up a fight club where lawyers can engage in very active dispute resolution (remember, Jian-Yang is a frickin’ boy scout compared to Ukrainian legal hackers). In-between, there were many, many solutions for real problems.

Teams were built around those 23 ideas, and they started to toil. Later in the afternoon, all teams had to pitch their refined ideas to the mentors. Those Simon Cowell’s of the legal and IT worlds scrutinized the concepts under several aspects — does it solve a problem, is there demand in the market, will it monetize, etc. Advice was doled out generously, and off the teams went to hack. The IDF Reforms Lab turned into a sweat shop, a lot of teams worked through the night.

I left at 10 pm because, you know, to cite Sgt. Murtaugh, “I’m getting too old for this shit”.

Came back at 8 am the next day. You could clearly see who left for the night — they came freshly dressed. Pussies. Since Sunday was the great day — pitching day — it started with a workshop about “Mastering the pitch deck” by Roman Podenezhny. He should know, he wore a t-shirt with “Palo Alto. California” on it. And back to the computers, code monkeys. Teams were busily coding and drafting presentations (fueled by some fancy energy drinks, on the house), mentors were busily mentoring, in one sentence — legal tech hacking history was written.

At 3 pm sharp everybody gathered before the presentation stage to see the remaining 15 teams pitch their products to the jury. 200 people feeling more excited than before the launch of a new iPhone. This was the moment of truth — the local godfathers (and two godmothers) of legal tech picking the winners. Every team pitched like there is no tomorrow. Some were auditioning for a role in HBO’s “Silicon Valley” — such was their amazing performance. My bias towards lawyers’ presentations being a boring waste of time was changed forever when I saw a presentation entirely designed with a “Lord of the Rings” theme. By a law firm with the unlawyerly name “Underdogs”. One hour of prime entertainment.

Did I forget something? Right, the winners. In fact, everybody was a winner, there’s no doubt about it. But the judges had to pick three, you know, contractual obligations and stuff. So here they are:

The bronze medal went to two teams — Legal HedgeHog (they build a Quora-like platform where lawyers can sell their expertise for a fair price) and Law Game (in short, lawyers can place bets on other lawyers).

Silver was awarded to Safe Property, a bot that checks real estate listings for problems with the properties.

And the winner of this years’ Kyiv Legal Tech Hackathon is — PlayBook, an app for seed investors to make sure their startups get their legal stuff in perfect order right from the beginning.

Every solution presented by the 15 teams solicits an extended explanation, and maybe the hackathon organizers together with the teams will come up with a repository, and some follow-ups about the development of each product. The team that I mentored, (an app that will limit legal research to a list of curated resources) will definitely pursue the further development of their idea, and others will follow.

Last, but not least — a big tip of the hat to the amazing organizers Valentyn Pivovarov, Nestor Dubnevych, Nataliia Komarnytska, Dima Gadomsky, Mykyta Pidgainiy, Dmytro Foremnyi and Denis Ivanov. They showed, that James A. Baldwin was right: “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.

A publisher by heart, interested in everything around information and technology, and generally a curious mind.