Originally published at www.forbes.com on December 13, 2018.
On December 10th, people all over the world celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), thanks to which the dignity of millions has been restored, untold human suffering prevented and the foundations for a more just world have been laid. However, six billion people still don’t have adequate access to justice yet. This problem can be solved by legal tech. One of the best ways to run a legal tech project is by taking part in a legal tech hackathon. It’s easy to come up with a project at the hackathon, form a team, get feedback from qualified mentors and even attract your first customers.
The first legal tech hackathon was held in New York (US) in 2012, during protests against two proposed laws US Congress was considering — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Since then, legal tech hackathons have spread around the world.
In February 2018 the first Global Legal Hackathon was also held, and it included 30 countries and 50 cities. Of the 14 finalists from around the world, four came out as winners. Several have incorporated artificial intelligence and machine learning into their unique legal solutions. One of the winners, Revealu, helps people download their personal data from online service providers under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. Another winner was a tool from Hong Kong that helped users navigate statutory language, a voice-activated legal information tool from New York and a platform that rated online consumer contracts.
On December 8th-9th, the Access to Justice Hackathon was held simultaneously in four countries: Ukraine (Lviv), Kazakhstan (Almaty), Moldova (Chisinau), and Belarus (Minsk). They coincided with the 70th anniversary of the UDHR and the Week of Justice. The main goal of the hackathons was to simplify and expand opportunities for people who cannot make their voices heard and to create products that will help people take advantage of their rights, fight against discrimination, or bring corrupt decision-makers to justice via technology.
What were the four hackathons like?
The Chisinau Legal Hackers Chapter was officially launched in May 2018 during the European Legal Hackers Summit and became the first Legal Hackers chapter in Moldova. The Access to Justice Hackathon gathered 43 participants, who created 10 teams. The winner was NewcJS — a personal data anonymization service for Moldovan Supreme Court decisions & a service that optimized the search engine for the Moldovan Supreme Court platform. The second place team was Judicial — a specialized mobile application for lawyers that communicated with the court to send and receive documents with legal significance, as well as a convenient organizer integrated with the calendar on your mobile device to remind users about scheduled sessions.
One of the main goals of the hackathon in Chisinau, according to the organizers, was to help the state institutions to develop, and to give them an opportunity to discuss their problems and decide how legal tech products can solve them. Moldova does have lots of challenges in access to justice, but for the last few years, legal tech projects have begun to appear, and these projects are focused on transforming the legal industry.
The development of the IT industry plays a key role in the economy of Belarus. In the IT products and services segment, the government has introduced measures including the Hi-Tech Park, a special regulation for IT companies that was introduced in 2006 and applies throughout the country. Resident companies enjoy important government support: they are exempted from most taxes, including value-added tax and income tax. Further, employees of the resident companies enjoy a 30% reduction in personal income tax compared with other sectors of the economy. Despite a large number of IT specialists, the legal tech industry started in Belarus over the past few years. Despite this, the country has already begun to show good results for its efforts.
In Belarus (Minsk), the hackathon started on December 7 and lasted until December 9. This was the biggest hackathon of the four countries. 160 participants have created 19 teams, 16 of which have reached the final. All of the products in the final already had demo versions. The winner of the Access to Justice Hackathon in Belarus was Covenant Control — a Russian-Belarusian project in the field of contract review. The program analyzes contracts for commitments and allows users to maintain important conditions for further monitoring and processing. The product is not just a database that makes it convenient to structure covenants for contracts and projects. Its most important feature is the possibility of auto scanning a contract for certain provisions. This feature solves many problems legal departments face, including controlling the presence of dozens of covenants in contracts that are rarely taken into account and often forgotten. Second place was taken by Legaleyes — a Belarusian contract review project. The program analyzes the provisions in contracts and classifies their respective norms into mandatory, dispositive and indifferent. So lawyers (and in the future, other customers) can quickly check the contracts. The team also showed a working prototype on the final pitch.
Kazakhstan’s legal market is small and immature. The legal profession in Kazakhstan is divided into two types of lawyers: commercial lawyers who provide commercial legal services, and attorneys-at-law who are authorized to represent clients in the courts of Kazakhstan in civil cases. But technology development also has a big impact on the industry. Legal tech solutions have begun to gain traction. Kazakhstan also has more than 70 universities, producing thousands of engineers, mathematicians and IT specialists every year.
In Kazakhstan, the Access to Justice Hackathon, which was held in Almaty, gathered 53 participants, who created 14 teams. The winner was Veritas — a mobile app and a bot in Telegram, which helps to solve the problem of the inaccessibility of legal services through online consultations by lawyers. Second place was taken by BlackStone — a 24/7 online legal aid service, which allows getting help from a lawyer on any topic in a few clicks. All these products aim to provide access to justice for everyone, regardless of time and location.
One of the most important parts of all hackathons is the collaboration between lawyers and IT specialists. Ukraine is a country with a huge number of lawyers and programmers. Annually, more than 22,000 lawyers and about 16,000–20,000 IT specialists graduate in Ukraine. There has been quite a mix of legal tech solutions that have appeared in Ukraine over the last four years. Some projects have been born at legal tech hackathons.
At the Access to Justice Hackathon, which was held at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, 60 participants created 12 teams. The winner was SpozhyWatch. It is a platform like Airhelp, which helps protect customer’s rights in transportation. The winner in the “Product for Business” category was AR Bot — a bot that helps to automate the process of creating and filing attorney’s request.
Also, for the first time in history, a real-time connection through video-conference was held with teams from Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan to discuss the problems with access to justice in every country and to share ideas about how they can be solved.
If teams continue to develop the products they created at the hackathons starting from their ideas and demo versions, they can turn them into startups. I’m sure that these businesses have the potential to change the legal industry and to make it better both for people around the world and for businesses.
Originally published at www.forbes.com on December 13, 2018.